Students Poised To Tip The Power Of Balance In May's 2015 General Election, Study Shows

A voter places a ballot paper in the ballot box at the polling station at Market Hall in Swadlincote, Derbyshire, as the General Election got underway across the UK.
A voter places a ballot paper in the ballot box at the polling station at Market Hall in Swadlincote, Derbyshire, as the General Election got underway across the UK.
Rui Vieira/PA Archive

Students could swing the result in up to 10 constituencies in next year’s general election despite only making up 3% of the population, research has revealed.

Tight opinion polls, a collapse in student support for the Liberal Democrats and Ukip’s unpopularity among students are all factors in a pattern that largely favours the Labour Party and the Greens ahead of the vote next May.

The study, by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), confirmed the student vote hinges on a political party’s policy on tuition fees.

Although students swung towards the Liberal Democrats in the three previous elections, the research shows they may turn to Labour in 2015 with support for Nick Clegg’s party falling from 44% in 2010 to 9% in 2014, according to the British Election Study.

Two seats could change hands from the Lib Dems to the Tories with another two shifting from the Lib Dems to Labour. But more significantly, Ed Miliband could snatch up to six seats from the Tories.

Among prominent coalition MPs identified to be at risk of losing their seats are the education secretary Nicky Morgan, and the justice minister Simon Hughes.

Students could also be crucial in any potential success for the Greens; their hopes of retaining their one seat or even wining a second may depend on the reaffirmation of its youth support. The data shows students are twice as likely to vote for the Greens than Ukip (25% versus 11%).

The study follows Nation Union of Students (NUS) research from October that suggested students could hold the balance of power in almost 200 constituencies.

The HEPI, however, distanced itself from this claim, indicating students are often young and live in short-term rented accommodation, typically with only loose links to their communities. They would, as a result, be unlikely to have registered to vote, and even less likely to turn out.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI and co-author of the report insisted that for students to make a difference, they must register to vote, turn out to vote and live in marginal constituencies.

He said: “The likelihood is that these factors will determine the outcome in only around ten constituencies. But, if the opinion polls are a guide to the next election, then students could just swing the overall result and hold the keys to power.”

But he also warned that the change in electoral system from household registration to individual registration threatens the influence of students, as it does not match their highly mobile lifestyles.

Nick Clegg, whose own constituency of Sheffield Hallam faces the risk of a Labour challenge due to the high numbers of students living there, recently announced he had secured a £10m commitment to ensuring students register in time to vote in May's election.

Mr Hillman added: “Students have as much right to be on the electoral roll as everyone else and it would be a tragedy if the new registration system weakened their voice to a whisper.”

Youth Campaigner Alvin Carpio, speaking to the Huffington Post last month, said the key to engaging with the disillusioned youth vote lies with communicating how Parliament can improve people’s day-to-day lives.

He said: “Can we inspire a new generation of young voters? The problem is, inspiration without delivery is like an iPhone without a charger - it's useless. That's why we've got to fight tooth and nail against the Russell Brand brand of politics which unthinkingly tells young people not to vote - we do this by arguing for the value of democratic participation in the public realm."

"Events like Parliament Week remind us of the great achievements of Parliament such as the passing of minimum wage legislation, universal healthcare, and the characters who have led within the halls of Parliament. Figures who have stood the test of time like Winston Churchill, and have inspired generations. Parliament Week gives young people the opportunity to learn about it."

"The challenge now will be to make politics and active citizenry an everyday thing: let's have people engaging with Parliament throughout their lives!"