Lib Dems Lagging On Student Votes

20 April 2015, 08:24 | Updated: 30 March 2016, 13:50

University students are around five times more likely to vote Labour or Tory at the General Election than they are Liberal Democrat, according to a poll.

It reveals that the two major parties are tied for support on the UK's leading university campuses at 31%.

But just 6% of the more than 13,000 final-year undergraduates questioned said they plan to back the Lib Dems on May 7 - a figure the authors of the survey suggested is linked to the party's U-turn on tuition fees.

Students in the final year of a degree were the first to pay the higher, £9,000 maximum tuition fee introduced under the coalition Government in 2010 - months after the Lib Dems campaigned on a pledge to oppose any hike.

More than half (53%) of those polled said they would not vote for the Lib Dems because of the tuition fee increase.

The latest poll, published by High Fliers Research, shows that 25% of students plan to vote for the Green Party, while 3% are backing the SNP and 1% are in favour of Ukip.

It puts the Conservatives in front at 14 out of the 30 universities in the survey, with support the greatest at Loughborough, while Labour are the front-runners at 11, with support the greatest at Liverpool University.

The Green Party is top at Leeds, while the SNP is leading at Strathclyde and Glasgow and Sinn Fein is the top choice at Queen's University Belfast.

Around 14% of students said they were undecided about which party to support or did not intend to vote.

More than nine in 10 (91%) said they plan to back the party they think has the best policies, while just over half (52%) said the next government's main priority should be to reduce the deficit.

Around two fifths (41%) intend to vote for the party with the most convincing leader, 44% think it will make little difference to them who wins next month, and nearly a third (32%) say they will be voting for the party their parents support.

The findings also give an indication of the background of different types of student voter.

An analysis of the results by High Fliers suggests that students who plan to vote Conservative are the most likely to have attended a private school. They have the most ambitious career plans, with 53% expecting to start a graduate job after finishing their degree - the highest proportion of all the political parties included, and have applied to work in industries such as management consulting, investment banking, marketing, accountancy and finance.

They expect to earn £25,500 for their first job, rising to an average of £44,900 within five years of graduating.

Labour-voting students are most likely to have attended a state school or college, and lower numbers think they will find a graduate job after leaving university. Those who do want to work in areas such as teaching, the media, the charity or voluntary sector and research and development. They expect to earn £22,600 on average after graduating, rising to £37,300 within five years.

Students who plan to vote Lib Dem are likely to want to work in marketing, the media or consulting after graduating. These young people are expecting an average starting salary of £22,700, rising to £38,300 in five years.

High Fliers director Martin Birchall said: "Our research not only confirms that first-time voters at the country's top universities are set to vote for Labour and the Conservatives in almost equal numbers in the General Election, but that there has been a huge surge in support for the Green Party on campus, taking them to within just a few percentage points of the two leading parties. By contrast, just 6% of students are planning to vote Liberal Democrat, a quarter of the number who supported the party in 2010.''

He added: "We know from our supplementary question that over half would not vote Lib Dem because of the increase in university tuition fees. About two-thirds are those which were the first to pay the higher fees.''

Mr Birchall suggested that at the last election, for many students, voting Lib Dem was a protest vote.

"Having had five years of a coalition Government, that doesn't seem like a protest vote now.''

He said the Greens have been very active on campus, adding: "It feels as if the natural protest vote was Lib Dems and it's now the Green Party.''

A Lib Dem spokesman said: "We did not win the election, so we could not deliver every policy that we wanted to, especially as we went into government with a party that was determined to raise fees at a time when there's no money. Instead we tried to get the fairest deal we could.''

He added: "There will be some people who will judge us for one thing we could not do. But many fair- minded people will judge us by what we have been able to do: tax cuts for millions of working people; more money for poor children in schools; a record two million apprentices; equal marriage; shared parental leave and many more policies that have made Britain fairer.''