One of the many unpredictable factors of the 2019 election is the surge in new voter registration. More than three million people have applied to join the electoral roll since the December polling day was announced, and one-third of them are under the age of 25.
Large numbers of these young people are likely to be students registering at their university addresses, including influential first-time voters.
In some areas, their impact may only be to increase majorities in existing Labour safe-seats. In others, students heading home for the Christmas holidays may mute any expected effect.
But there is still a number of important marginals where university populations may hold the balance of power. Here are ten battles where their votes could be crucial.
1. University of St. Andrews
Constituency: North East Fife
SNP majority: 2
If you’re a student in North East Fife, you probably live in the marginal of all marginals. The Liberal Democrats have improved their Scottish polling numbers since the 2017 election and hope to win the seat back for the first time since 2010, but it isn’t clear that young voters will be queuing up to help them do so.
2. University of Southampton, Solent
Constituency: Southampton Itchen
Conservative majority: 31
Southampton Itchen sits at the top of Labour’s list of target seats, having missed out on taking it in 2017 by a mere 31 votes. Students at both Southhampton and Solent universities will be essential to the party if it is to win in a constituency where 60% voted to leave the EU.
3. University of Stirling
Conservative majority: 148
There’s no shortage of ultra-marginals to be found in Scotland; and while the SNP will have its eye on winning back Stirling, the Conservative party has been doing better in Scottish polls than many expected at the start of the campaign. The SNP will need to mobilise all the student votes they can.
4. University of Suffolk
Labour majority: 831
Labour won Ipswich from the Conservatives’ Benedict Gummer in 2017, defeating him by just 0.03% of the vote. Whether Gummer can win it back this time around could be down to the 5,000+ students at the University of Suffolk.
5. University of Glasgow
Constituency: Glasgow North
SNP majority of 1,060
The SNP will expect to hold on to Glasgow North, but a lot will depend on whether students living in the constituency back the independence party or Labour, which has seen its overall support in Scotland appear to collapse.
6. Middlesex University
Conservative majority: 1,072
Middlesex University has a student body of almost 20,000, making up a huge chunk of Hendon’s diverse electorate. If they vote in large numbers they could well win the seat for Labour for the first time since 2005. However, a recent poll saw the Conservatives pulling further ahead as previous Labour voters indicated support for the Liberal Democrats.
7. University of Lincoln
Labour majority: 1,538
Lincoln is a leave-voting marginal and will be one of Labour’s many tricky defences on election day when they may see their vote squeezed by both the Brexit party and the Lib Dems. The party’s hopes of holding on to the seat could lie at the feet of Lincoln’s students, who are likely to vote mostly in Labour’s favour.
8. University of Roehampton
Conservative majority: 1,554
Putney was held by Justine Greening of the Conservatives, but a fallout over Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan saw her lose the whip and subsequently decide not to stand for re-election. It’s a tough seat to call, having voted heavily to remain part of the EU. It could go to the Lib Dems, Labour, or neither. How Roehampton students vote – and how many – could be key.
9. University of Northampton
Constituency: Northampton South
Conservative majority: 1,554
Taking leave-voting Northampton South could be a long shot for Labour, which hasn’t won there since 2001. But if it has any hope of doing so, the strategy must lie with persuading a large number of the University of Northampton’s 12,000 students to vote Labour.
10. University of Wolverhampton
Constituency: Wolverhampton South West
Labour majority: 2,185
The Conservatives are taking aim at all of Wolverhampton’s constituencies this election, with a strong pro-Brexit message at the heart of their strategy. But it may not be enough in this particular seat, where a large student population will work in favour of Labour’s Eleanor Smith.
The wildcard: University of Bristol
Constituency: Bristol West
Labour majority: 37,997
You might think that Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire couldn’t be in a safer seat, after defending it in 2017 with a thumping majority of 37,997. But the Green party has been eyeing it up since its strong second place in the 2015 election, and there are signs it may cause an upset. The Liberal Democrats have stood their candidate down, leaving the Green’s Carla Denyer as the only Remainer on the ticket in a constituency where almost 80% voted to stay in the EU. And in the 2019 European elections, the Greens won the popular vote in Bristol, taking over 35% of all ballots cast. The votes of Bristol’s students could be a crucial factor.