An exclusive survey reveals that Conservative popularity is rising, reports Claire Sanders
The Conservative Party could be about to enjoy a small campus revival, according to an exclusive poll for The Times Higher .
In an ICM poll of academics 14 per cent said they would vote Conservative if there were a general election tomorrow. This is up from 10 per cent in a similar poll taken before last year's election. In 2001, 7 per cent of academics said they would vote Tory.
Boris Johnson, the party's Higher Education Spokesman, said: "This is fantastic news. I hope that it is part of an increasing trend as academics realise that the Tories see the colossal value of universities to our economy and also recognise that education is an end in itself." He added that his party was committed firmly to expansion and to properly funding universities.
The Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have seen their share of the academic vote fall.
The Lib Dems are still the most popular party among academics, with 38 per cent support. But this is down from their record of 44 per cent in the last election.
Labour, whose share of the academic vote crashed from 65 per cent in 2001 to 41 per cent last year, is now down to 35 per cent.
Stephen Williams, Higher Education Spokesman for the Lib Dems, said: "It is nice that Boris Johnson is so happy but, remember, this effectively means the Conservatives are probably vying for fourth place with the Green Party.
"I am delighted the Liberal Democrats are still the leading party among academics and that we have maintained the differential with Labour.
We would expect that Lib Dem vote to harden the closer we get to the next election."
Mr Williams said that the reason for his party's popularity among academics was due both to its general appeal among well-educated voters and to its clear anti-tuition fees policy.
The Lib Dems are due to review their higher education policy, including their stance on tuition fees, in the light of the Government's planned review of top-up fees, due in 2009. Mr Williams said: "It will be a different world at the time of the next election."
The vast majority of academics surveyed, 69 per cent, said that they were likely to vote in the next election. Just 5 per cent said they were certain not to vote.
Last year, the campus vote was key to Lib Dem gains in the general election, tipping the balance in five out of ten marginal seats identified by The Times Higher as vulnerable to a swing in academic and student allegiances. The latest survey was conducted primarily to find out if academics were likely to accept the recent pay offer. As The Times Higher reported last week, the deal hangs in the balance.