Student voters had ‘less impact than expected’ on general election

Lack of enthusiasm for Labour £6K fees policy could have been factor, says Hepi report

October 15, 2015
Man putting vote in ballot box

Students had less impact on the outcome of this year’s UK general election than expected, according to the Higher Education Policy Institute.

The “most striking example” was in Loughborough, where Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, won the 16th biggest increase in the Conservative vote despite being vulnerable to an average pro-Labour swing in the student-heavy constituency, Hepi says.

The report, published on 15 October and written by Nick Hillman, Hepi director, is a follow-up to the thinktank’s pre-election report on student voting behaviour.

The pre-election report forecast that students could determine the outcome in about 10 constituencies.

But the follow-up report says that students had “less impact on the election result in the seats Hepi identified than was expected”.

Mr Hillman identifies three reasons: a stronger than expected Conservative performance in holding marginal seats with large numbers of students; a collapse in the Liberal Democrat vote “so dramatic” that marginal Lib Dem seats with high numbers of students would have fallen regardless of the student vote; and the “limited electoral impact” of Labour’s election pledge to lower tuition fees to £6,000.

Only one of the six Tory seats Hepi forecast might shift from Conservative to Labour because of the student vote actually did change hands (Lancaster and Fleetwood).

“In all the Conservative seats expected to fall to Labour as a result of students’ voting behaviour (including the one they lost), [the Conservatives’] vote share increased,” the report says.

On the Lib Dems, Mr Hillman notes that the eight MPs who survived included four who voted against higher fees and four who voted for them. The “slim” difference in vote share between the two groups “seems surprising, especially given” the National Union of Students’ “Liar, Liar” campaign aimed at unseating MPs who broke their pre-2010 election pledge to oppose tuition fee increases, he adds.

The switch to Individual Electoral Registration – meaning universities no longer registered students – “did not have as much negative impact on students’ propensity to vote as had been feared, but it continues to pose a challenge”, the report adds.

In a foreword to the report, John Denham, former secretary of state for universities, says the amount of unregistered students “cannot be healthy” for the democratic process.

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