Student vote could topple Nick Clegg in Sheffield Hallam

Hepi report predicts that the student vote could swing the advantage to Labour at the general election

December 4, 2014

Source: Chatham House

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister, “may not be safe” in his Sheffield Hallam seat at the next election, according to a report on the student vote.

The Higher Education Policy Institute’s report, published on 1 December, predicts that the student vote could swing the advantage to Labour in about 10 seats at the next election and thus “hold the keys to power” in a close fight.

The report 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. Even though the report states that Sheffield Hallam is one of three seats that are “the only student seats in England that look safe” for the Lib Dems – in light of recent voting and polling trends – it notes that there are other factors at play.

The report singles out the University of Sheffield as a notable example of an institution that has “worked with councils to embed voter registration into the student enrolment process” – in its case, Labour-run Sheffield City Council.

The Sheffield Hallam seat also has a high proportion of people working in higher education and the public sector, who have “generally…been affected by austerity measures”, says the report, titled Do Students Swing Elections? Registration, Turnout and Voting Behaviour among Full-time Students. “So despite a large majority at the last election [of 15,284], even Nick Clegg’s seat may not be safe,” it adds.

Dr Fisher, who studies elections and voting behaviour, noted the polling released last week by Lord Ashcroft, the Tory peer, which found the Lib Dems just 3 percentage points ahead of Labour in Sheffield Hallam.

“I wouldn’t say that Nick Clegg is safe,” Dr Fisher told Times Higher Education. He said that even if Mr Clegg were to hold on but the seat turned marginal, “people will be immediately pointing to the student vote and wondering whether that was a big part of it”.

Asked whether Labour would need an alternative offer on fees in order to secure the student vote nationally, Dr Fisher offered a “hunch” that that would not be the case. “The main thing is going to be the extent to which the student vote aims to punish the Lib Dems,” he said.

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