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28th October 2015

Report highlights the weakness of the student vote in the general election

A study has highlighted how limitations in opinion poll methodology and the geographic dispersal of students resulted in their vote being weaker than expected in this year’s election
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A report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has argued that the student vote was not as significant an electoral force in this year’s general election as had been originally assumed by opinion polls, the NUS or students themselves.

The report, written by Nick Hillman, shows that even though students were offered ‘promises’ by opposition parties on student finance and other matters which would directly affect them, the impact they actually had on the elections results was limited.

Hillman also insists on the need to effectively analyse the role the student vote plays in advance of the upcoming European Union referendum.

The report explains that there are three main reasons behind the low electoral importance of students in May. First of all, the Tories won seats that were believed to be impenetrable Labour strongholds, such as Loughborough.

The “collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote” was also an important factor. The absence of Proportional Representation once again seriously damaged the Liberal Democrat’s fortunes, and despite receiving 23 per cent of votes in 2010, they secured just 7.9 per cent in 2015. Most of their lost endorsement was originally from students, and there was almost no difference in the fortunes of Lib Dem candidates who were against the tuition fee hike.

The third reason given for the low student impact is that Labour’s commitment to reduce full-time undergraduate tuition fees was not effective, likely due to the short amount of time the new fee policy has been in place.

Most of the conclusions shown in the report are only assumptions, but they do highlight the volatile and ever-changing vote of the young electorate according to opinion poll data.

Hillman also points out those cities with large numbers of student voters largely turned out to be narrow victories for Labour.

The report concludes that “the answer to the question of whether students had the impact expected of them in 2015 is: No. But they may have had a similarly proportionate impact nonetheless.”

Hillman points out that as the amount of students registered to vote was “relatively high,” their “impact as a bloc” was less powerful because many went back home to cast their ballots.

Another possible explanation to the apparent weakness of the student vote is the difference in academic calendars between universities, which likely affected the schedule of students and their ability to vote.

Related to this, Hillman points out that most opinion polls do not use the term ‘student’ to identify individuals in higher education alone, which makes data “often out-of-date.” Many 16- and 17-year-olds who are not eligible to vote are also considered full-time students by the British Election Study (BES), which means conclusions drawn from opinion poll data did not necessarily translate into electoral impact.

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