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Labour leaking student vote to Lib Dems

A fresh poll conducted by Roar suggests that Labour’s awkward Brexit balance has pushed key student votes to the Liberal Democrats.

Labour’s share of the student-dominated youth vote will dive by 26.3 points, while the Liberal Democrats’ will surge by 11 points, should Roar’s poll of KCL students provide an accurate indication to the mood of the 18 to 24-year-old electorate.

Only 36.7 per cent of polled KCL students said they intend to vote Labour at the General Election on December 12, a dramatic slide on the party’s 63 per cent share of the national 18 to 24-year-old vote at the 2017 election. Comparatively, 20 per cent of polled KCL students said they would vote Liberal Democrat, with the minor party looking to better the 9 per cent vote it gained among 18 to 24-year-olds in 2017.

The poll placed the Conservatives at third with 11.7 per cent, while the Green Party managed 1.7 per cent.

A further 30 per cent of KCL students were undecided.

In 2017, Labour campaign strategists enjoyed a 20 per cent swing to the party among 18 to 24-year-olds. Leader Jeremy Corbyn was praised for galvanising a youth vote that almost swept the party into government despite early polling that predicted a comfortable Conservative win.

But in 2019, Labour’s comparatively-low support among KCL students may be explained by the party’s difficulty in addressing a Brexit divide that has fissured its traditional voting base.

A huge 70 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted Remain at the 2016 referendum and current polling suggests that over 80 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds with a voting preference would vote Remain in a second referendum today. However, most estimates also show that some three to four million of Labour’s vote in 2017 voted Leave in 2016, marking a middle-aged working-class demographic that Labour strategists worry could slide to the Conservatives or the Brexit Party.

It is an electoral dilemma magnified by a Conservative victory in 2017 that owed to the party’s dominance among middle-aged and elder Brits. Some 58 per cent of voters aged over-50 voted Conservative in a cohort with disproportionately higher voting turnout than the rest of the population.

Where Johnson’s premiership has also allowed the Conservatives to limit their losses to the Brexit Party among that demographic, Labour has struggled to do the same. Polling by YouGov shows that the percentage of 2017 Labour voters supporting the Brexit Party has remained remarkably consistent since June while the number of 2017 Conservatives voting Brexit Party has slid from 45 per cent in June to 15 per cent today.

Corbyn has subsequently been unable to firm as the pro-Remain party that much of his urban support would have enjoyed. Instead, he has sought to embrace both the pro-Remain youth vote and the pro-Leave worker vote by recasting the electoral contest in economic terms. An appeal to the traditional economic-left has been evident in his pledge to pursue “tax dodgers, dodgy landlords and bad bosses” and re-nationalise telecom services, rail, water and mail delivery.

In the party’s manifesto released last week, Corbyn also promised to raise the minimum wage at a higher and faster rate than the Tories, freeze the pension age at 66, provide free personal care for older people, create a new benefits system, provide free bus travel for under-25’s and build 100,000 council homes.

When pressed to provide a position on Brexit during Tuesday night’s leaders debate, Corbyn repeatedly declined. Labour’s policy has instead been a commitment to hold a second referendum at which Corbyn will advocate neither Leave nor Remain.

The Liberal Democrats have taken this opportunity to emerge as the sole pro-Remain party. Leader Jo Swinson has pledged to revoke Article 50 should she win an unlikely majority and declared that Labour and the Conservatives are “merged into one” on Brexit.

Roar‘s poll suggests Swinson’s calculation is paying off amongst King’s students. Although a shifting youth vote is unlikely to see the Lib Dems steal any vast swathe of seats from Labour, it may do enough alongside the Brexit Party to bolster the Conservatives’ chances in some crucial electorates.

It seems likely the election will rest on whether Corbyn can overcome the Brexit divide and lure Labour’s traditional support base to his broader economic and social reforms.

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