A poll undertaken by YouthSight shows a surge in support for The Green Party amongst students.
The Green Party are now the second choice party for students, moving ahead of the Conservatives for the first time. Labour remain the first choice party, but support is slipping as the General Election approaches, a trend seen amongst the wider population. Support for the Liberal Democrats continues to fall, having dropped a dramatic 45% since the last election, putting them in 5th place – 1% behind UKIP and only just ahead of the SNP.
This is the first time since the polling began ten years ago that any party apart from the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats or Labour have been in a top three position. The below chart shows the shifting voting intentions since July 2013 and the current state of the polls in December 2014:
The last 18 months have seen the Green Party gain 14 percentage points and move from 4th to 2nd place amongst students. This means a quarter of students who are likely to vote would cast their ballot for the Green Party if there were an election tomorrow.
This is partly due to a significant drop in support for the Liberal Democrats, which has plummeted from a 50% high at the time of the last general election, to the 5% low recorded in this latest poll. In 2010, the Lib Dems were the ‘student’s party’ but their entry into the Coalition and perceived reneging on their top-up fees pledge has caused them serious electoral damage.
However, Lib Dem losses do not tell the whole story. It is no secret that the UK electorate are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the current political parties and system. In the last year, this has manifested itself in a surge in support for UKIP and the stronger than expected backing of Scottish Independence. However, unlike among the general population, UKIP has not been a beneficiary of this disenchantment among students, having seen only a minimal growth in support from this group. It therefore appears that supporting The Green Party is the way that students may express their disillusion with mainstream political parties.
Whilst student voting patterns are not traditionally reflective of the wider population, recent research by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) highlighted that the student vote could swing the results in up to ten constituencies. But Labour will be counting on students supporting them in a number of student-heavy seats that they hope to gain from incumbent Conservatives or Liberal Democrats. If a similar level of support for The Green Party expressed in today’s poll was replicated at the ballot box, Labour would likely find it incredibly difficult to win seats from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats on the back of student support.
There is widespread speculation that Labour will announce a policy of lower tuition fees ahead of the General Election as a ‘retail offer’ for students, parents and others that could benefit. With what is shaping up to be an incredibly close race, the final results in those ten constituencies in which students could make an impact, could easily make a difference to the ultimate outcome of the General Election. As Labour’s support slips, and with another party surging, the party may feel it needs to shore up its support in the student population, potentially making the lower tuition fee policy ever-more attractive.