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The ‘student election’: how we shook up #GE2017

Friday 9 June 2017 Campaigns News

Political pundits and commentators don’t always see eye-to-eye but one thing everyone’s agreeing on is that yesterday’s general election was a remarkable one. It’s a result that no one saw coming in a poll that two months ago, no-one knew was coming.

One of the biggest talking points right now is the impact that students and young people have had.

Everyone is agreed that the tired stereotype of students being an apathetic generation is becoming increasingly redundant.

So, what and where is the student impact?

Establishing turnout

There’s still very little data about how many people who could vote, did vote – and definitely scant evidence about turnout amongst different demographics. But youth turnout is almost certainly much higher than we’ve seen before.

In the previous few elections, youth turnout has stood at around 40-45 per cent. However, there’s been a trend for greater youth engagement in politics: the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 saw youth turnout of 68 per cent, while the EU Referendum saw two-thirds of young people voting.

In the run up to yesterday’s election, we saw an unprecedented two million millennials registering in just five weeks.

The enthusiasm from students taking part in the election has been unsurprising to us all at NUS from our work on campuses and politicians and pundits have attested to this enthusiasm translating into them getting out to vote on polling day.

We also know that YouGov – one of the few pollsters that didn’t weight the youth vote according to previous election turnouts, but instead according to recent stated voting intentions – had the most accurate forecasts for this year’s result.

This would point towards the youth vote being higher than usual, rather than following the trends of previous elections, like the other pollsters expected.

Student seats

We can also look to key student seats – those with high student populations – for an insight, as local turnout is published with each constituency’s results.

In these constituencies, turnout is decidedly up. For example, in Bristol West, turnout is up from 72.0 to 77.1 per cent; in Brighton Kemptown, turnout is up from 66.8 to 72.5 per cent; and, in Cambridge, turnout is up from 62.1 to 71.7 per cent.

Other student constituencies follow similar trends – and whilst this increase won’t entirely be down to students, it at least gives us an early indicator.

In the week before the voter registration deadline, NUS took to the roads to tour students’ unions across the country. We visited SUs in constituencies with high student populations and small majorities to make sure that students were registered in enough numbers to make all parties listen to them.

In these constituencies, the turnout suggest students went to the polls in their droves too.

  • Our first stop was Sheffield: in Hallam, turnout rose 75 to 77 per cent; in Central, 57 to 62 per cent; in Heeley, 60 to 65 per cent.

  • Moving onto Wolverhampton, the South West seat – where the Wolverhampton University is based – saw a 70 per cent turnout, compared to the seat in the North (60 per cent) and South East (51 per cent) of the city.

  • Our tour also visited Bristol – mentioned above – and Birmingham, where the power of the student vote was seen in Edgbaston.

  • We headed next to Norwich, where both seats – Norwich North and Norwich South – saw their own turnout increases.

  • And, finally, ending in Brighton, the three constituencies saw phenomenal turnout increases with Hove at 77 per cent, Pavilion at 76 per cent and Kemptown at 72 per cent.


Student swing

Not only did students turn up to show they can’t continue being ignored by politicians, they played their part in swinging a number of key seats. From Leeds North East to Sheffield Hallam to Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, university seats saw plenty of change as the results came in last night.<

In the wake of the 2015 general election, HEPI published a report identifying where students had only swung six seats of 14 ‘student marginals’, (with a mix of them being Conservative/Labour; Lib Dem/Conservative; and, Labour/Lib Dem battles).

In this 2017 election, only two of these seats that have not changed hands and those that swung in 2015 saw majorities extended even further.

More details will emerge about the impact of students over the coming days and weeks, but it is clear that students played a big part in shaping the new face of UK politics.

Whatever happens in the wake of this result and the uncertainty of the future, it is clear that students and young people cannot continue to be ignored.