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28 October 2019

No, the election date won’t mean that students can’t vote

There is a common meme that the election date falls outside of term time. In most cases, this is untrue.

By Stephen Bush

There is a particularly ineradicable meme that the reason why the election date matters is because it will change whether the election falls in term time, when students – who are, the argument runs, so important to the electoral prospects of Labour and the Liberal Democrats – will be on holiday.

There are a couple of problems with this argument. The first is that it relies on a big misread of who the voters are in university seats: the voters who decide the outcome are people employed by the university and its surrounding industries, academics and other graduates who tend to have liberal-left values. These people do not all leave at the end of term. Most students (around 70 per cent according to YouGov) vote in their home constituencies in any case.  Students, particularly undergraduate students, don’t matter all that much electorally speaking, even in university seats. They matter most as committed activists, particularly for Labour but all parties, even the Conservatives, rely heavily on the volunteer work done by students.

But the bigger problem is that this: in most universities, term will not be over on 12 December. In all but one of the top ten most marginal constituencies, all of the universities nearby or within the constituency will still be teaching students on 12 December – and that constituency is Glasgow North East, where the two parties in contention, the SNP and the Labour Party, both do well among liberal graduates. It is true of none of the universities nearby or within the 30 Conservative seats that the Labour Party would need to win to be the largest party. It is true of none of the ten seats the Conservatives would need to gain from Labour to have a majority. It is true of just one university near or within of the thirty most vulnerable Labour seats – the University of Warwick.

It is not true of Edinburgh or Southampton, to pick two universities in either marginal constituencies or with a recent history of electoral volatility. It is true of a handful of universities nearby or in a marginal constituency: the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are one of them. That may explain why so many people at Westminster have causally asserted that the 12 December date falls out of term time.

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