That is the message from a report by the Higher Education Policy Institute, which looks at the student vote in past elections and at possible scenarios for next year’s general election – when the Liberal Democrats may suffer at the hands of students.
But the analysis also warns that Individual Electoral Registration – which replaces the previous system whereby householders were responsible for registering voters – creates “a risk that the democratic voice of students…could be diluted by the new bureaucratic hurdles”.
The report suggests that “students are not as powerful an electoral force as is sometimes supposed, but they could swing the result in just over 10 constituencies – principally to the advantage of the Labour Party. In a close fight, that could be enough to hold the keys to power.”
The Hepi analysis is written by Nick Hillman, Hepi director, and Stephen Fisher, associate professor in political sociology and fellow and tutor in politics at Trinity College, Oxford.
The report, titled Do Students Swing Elections? Registration, turnout and voting behaviour among full-time students, says that Individual Electoral Registration poses “particular challenges” for students. It praises Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Sheffield for working with councils to “embed voter registration in to the student enrolment process”.
Looking at past election results and the student vote, the report argues that “many student voters are motivated by policies that directly affect students” – even if they themselves will no longer be students by the time those policies would have come into effect.
The report identifies student-heavy seats where the Liberal Democrats finished ahead of Labour in the 2010 election, suggesting that Manchester Withington and Norwich South “look very difficult for the Liberal Democrats to hold without a major revival of support”.
And seats such as Bermondsey & Old Southwark and Bristol West “might be won by Labour” from the Lib Dems “if there is an extra Liberal to Labour swing in the student vote”.
The report concludes: “Assuming that students vote in similar numbers as previously, that recent surveys and the European Parliament election are indicative of the ways in which the student vote will differ from the overall vote and that recent opinion polls are close to the final result overall, then it seems that the result in a small number of constituencies – around 10 – are likely to depend on the choices of student voters.”
The report then poses the question of whether Labour would need to commit to a policy to lower fees to £6,000 to secure the student vote, adding: “The main beneficiaries, depending on their final manifesto position on student issues, look set to be the Labour Party.”