It’s the first time in nearly 100 years since we’ve had a General Election in December and students are a key demographic in this political battle. Harry Wyld conducted a survey of SHU students to get their views.
Over 50 million Britons are registered to vote in the December 12th General Election, a record number in UK history.
One of the most important demographics is students and what they want from a future government.
In a survey conducted with 87 Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) students, 68.2% said they were voting in the 2019 election from their home constituency, despite 83.9% still studying and living in Sheffield on the date of the election. How SHU students are voting reflects a similar pattern seen in 2017, as 70% of students across the UK voted from their home constituency in the general election two years ago.
Of the 87 respondents, more than half (54.5%) said they are voting Labour.
Amongst SHU students, Labour clearly has the edge. Unsurprising, as age was a stark dividing line in the 2017 general election, with younger voters overwhelmingly backing Labour (over 60% of 18-29-year olds).
But despite most SHU students voting Labour, just 12.5% believe they are going to win this year’s election.
The majority of SHU students (47%) said the NHS was the most important issue in the election. Brexit fell second, as just 27% of students said that it was a political issue that mattered to them the most. These statistics support a majority Labour vote amongst students, as the NHS and free healthcare has been at the forefront of Labour’s manifesto for decades.
A strong majority of SHU students (59.1%) believe the Conservatives are going to win.
The bookies think the same. The most likely outcome of the General Election is a Conservative majority with odds currently floating at 1/4.
Opinion polls also tell a similar story. Most recent polls show the Conservative Party still in front, with a 10-point lead over Labour. However, with one week until election day, there is still time for public opinion to shift, much like it did away from Theresa May in 2017.
Secretary of SHU Labour, Steffen Gordo, believes it’s the higher turnout amongst the older generation, a demographic that generally vote Conservative, that could push the Tories to victory. This could well be the case. During the 2017 election, voter turnout among the youngest voters (aged 18 to 19) was just 57%, while 84% of the over 70s turned out to vote, according to YouGov.
But whilst Boris Johnson and his campaign rhetoric “get Brexit done” seems to be working for him, Dr Knut Roder, Head of Politics at Sheffield Hallam University, believes the Prime Minister’s claims are presumptuous. He said: “Nobody is holding Boris Johnson accountable for his Brexit plans. Boris has promised he will get Brexit done on the 31st January next year. But he still needs to negotiate a deal. A negotiation as complex as Brexit will take years. Look at the Canada and Japan agreements, they took seven.”
What’s also striking in the survey, is the lack of votes, and faith, for the Liberal Democrat party. Of the 87 SHU students, just 6.8% are voting for the Lib Dems in this year’s election. Not one respondent believes the party can win. Surprising, given 70.5% of SHU students said they want to remain in the EU, a side of Brexit Jo Swinson and her party stand on.
SHU students’ views on this election race seem to reflect a traditional political narrative: it’s a head to head battle between Labour and the Conservatives, with no alternative party contending to knock them off their podium positions.
George Turner, SHU student and Liberal Democrat, believes the Lib Dems need to appeal to a wider audience to rival the two broad church parties. He said: “Rather than having to make alliances to squeeze enough middle-upper class voters, they need to change the image they embody: elitist, university educated, Remainers. But this will take time, perhaps it’s impossible. They need fresh blood and fresh ideas, with a different vision of what it means to be centrist, rather than being seen as Blairite or one nation. Getting rid of Jo Swinson wouldn’t be a bad start!”
Dr Roder believes Labour and Conservative dominance is a product of our First-past-the-post (FPTP) system. In order to see change, the UK electoral system needs to be more proportionally representative.
SHU students critiqued the UK’s FPTP system for other reasons too. Of the 87 respondents, 39.8% are voting tactically for the party that favours their views on Brexit. Fifty-three percent of students said they’re willing to vote tactically over Brexit in a wider study conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute. Both findings suggest there’s no denying many students will implement a tactical vote in the December election.
But many students don’t agree with tactical voting. Alex Brown, Chairman of SHU Conservatives, said: “If you have proportional representation, then you wouldn’t have the need to vote tactically because you could vote for whoever you want and every vote would count. Tactical voting is a product of the FPTP system we’ve got. It disheartens me on a personal level. Vote for who you want to vote for, otherwise your party won’t hear you.”
Steffen said: “I don’t like tactical voting, but it is a necessary evil in our first-past-the-post system. It can only be solved with electoral reform.”