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Student voters to hold the balance of power in 50 marginal constituencies in the 2024 General Election

  • 17 June 2024

New research from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and the National Union of Students (NUS) shows the potential impact of student voters in the 2024 general election.

Based on data from the 2021 census, we identify the constituencies where the number of student voters is projected to be larger than the majority of the winning candidate – and where students can therefore be said to hold the balance of power.

The report includes a Foreword from Chloe Field, Vice President for Higher Education at the NUS.

Read the report here.

Impact of students in 2019 (under 2024 boundaries)

We use three methods to determine the impact of student voters. Firstly, we look at a projection of the 2019 election, had it occurred under 2024 boundaries. We find 75 constituencies where the number of students would have exceeded the majority of the winning MP, under these boundaries. This includes the seats of Cabinet minister Steve Baker and former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith.

Impact of students in 2024

Secondly, we look at a projection of the 2024 election by YouGov. We use YouGov’s June 2024 MRP [constituency-level] poll to identify the constituencies expected to be marginal.

We find 50 constituencies YouGov has labelled as ‘tossups’ (i.e. where the result is too close to call) where the number of students exceeds the projected majority – and so where students can be said to hold the balance of power.

All 50 of these marginal seats were won by the Conservatives in 2019 and most are in Conservative heartlands in the South East, South West and East of England.

Impact of returning students

These results assume students will vote at their main address – which is their term-time address for those who live away from home during the term. But most students are likely to return to vote at their home address, because:

  1. The election will take place in the summer holidays, after term has ended for most students; and
  2. Most students are only registered to vote at their home address.

Therefore, students are likely to ‘disperse’ from mainly safe Labour-held seats in university towns and cities into newly marginal Conservative-held seats.

We find 35 constituencies where the number of returning students exceeds the majority projected by YouGov. All of these were held by the Conservatives in 2019. They include seats formerly considered safe by the Conservatives including Surrey Heath (formerly the seat of Cabinet minister Michael Gove) and Tatton (seat of Cabinet minister Esther McVey).

As a result of these findings, political parties should carefully consider the priorities of student voters, which currently centre on the NHS, education and reducing poverty.

Josh Freeman, Policy Manager at HEPI and author of the report, said:

The 2024 General Election will be unusual. Most recent elections have taken place in term-time, giving Labour large majorities in constituencies with lots of student voters. But in 2024, many of these students will go back to their home addresses. Some of these happen to be the formerly safe seats the Conservatives are now rushing to defend.

With the deadline for registering to vote on Tuesday, students should make sure they register to vote so their voices can be heard. The factors mentioned in this paper mean the student vote might be more powerful than usual. Students should take the time to register so they aren’t kicking themselves on 5th July. And the political parties, whether or not they have historically attracted many student voters, should think carefully about how they can win over students on election day.

Chloe Field, Vice President for Higher Education at the National Union of Students, said:

When the election was called for early July, we were concerned that this would severely hamper many students’ efforts to engage in democracy: we might be between addresses, or away from campuses outside of term time.

However, the student vote dispersing outside of historically safe seats could have a massive impact on the electoral maths of this country. By calling the election at a time when young people are highly politicised, highly engaged and desperate for change, the Prime Minister could have handed student voters not just the keys to university towns but to the country: and it’s now up to all politicians to take note and give us a convincing offer: bring back maintenance grants, control rents, abolish tuition fees and give young people some hope and a reason to vote enthusiastically.

The link to register to vote is here:

Notes for Editors:

  1. HEPI was founded in 2002 to influence the higher education debate with evidence. We are UK-wide, independent and non-partisan. We are funded by organisations and higher education institutions that wish to support vibrant policy discussions, as well as through our own events. HEPI is a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity.
  2. The National Union of Students kindly provided some support for this project. However, editorial independence was retained at all times by HEPI.

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