Wednesday, 7 June 2017

#GE2017 - What Will Happen to Student Seats?

This is a quick note on something I expect to see come out in election results analysis tomorrow - the dispersal of student voters out from 'student seats' into the wider electorate.

A good deal of Universities are now finished for the summer, or are about to at the end of this week. This means that instead of voting in their term-time, 'student seats' (such as Sheffield Central, Manchester Central, and early declarers such as Newcastle Central), a whole bunch of student voters may be dispersing back into the student population.

This effect will be quite dramatic at least on the 'student seats' themselves. Take Sheffield Central for example - here, according to the 2011 Census, students made up 38% of the population (the highest in the country). But the population of students usually resident in the constituency is just 16% according to the same Census data. This suggests that there could well be under half the amount of students voting in Sheffield Central tomorrow than otherwise might in a May General Election.

This effect will be repeated across all student towns and cities. In Manchester Central the figures stand at 30% and 15% respectively, 31% and 14% in Liverpool Riverside, 28% and 12% in Cambridge, the list goes on and on.

This has two important consequences, both of which may well emerge as the election results come in over the course of Thursday night and Friday morning.

Firstly, we may see a substantial drop in turnout in student seats. Newcastle Central will declare early (probably 1st, I am told). Here, around 20% of the population are students. If even half of them are not voting in the seat (term time officially finishes on Friday), then we could see turnout decrease there dramatically. We should not however interpret this as indicative of a huge fall in turnout across the nation - it will only be student voters voting elsewhere.

Secondly, and perhaps less likely and definitely harder to detect, this dispersal of student voters could mean that instead of Labour 'racking up' votes in safe, student seats, these extra votes could well diffuse into the wider electorate. Though it is true that the highest concentration of this diffusing is likely to be into seats with younger, more educated populations (which naturally provide more students) which also would be more likely to be Labour strongholds.

That said, if a few hundred students are returning to vote in constituencies such as Derby North and Ealing Central and Acton, then if the result is tight as some polls are suggesting, they could well be the difference in these key battleground seats.

Much of this also depends on whether or not the students themselves will stick around to vote in student seats, or had the foresight to organise voting at home. It is certainly something to look out for!

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