Students turn against the Liberal Democrats and embrace Labour as opposition mounts to the Coalition Government’s plan to treble university tuition fees.
A Channel 4 News/OpinionPanel poll of students has found that just 11 per cent of those eligible to vote would back the Lib Dems in a General Election, while 40 per cent would support Labour and 15 per cent the Conservatives.
In contrast, 42 per cent of students who voted at the May election supported the Lib Dems, following their pledge to oppose a rise in tuition fees. Labour had the backing of 24 per cent of students and the Conservatives 21 per cent.
Of all those questioned, 83 per cent said they felt let down by the Lib Dem leadership’s decision to back higher fees.
The poll was carried out over several days last week, starting on Thursday, when the Commons voted to raise fees to up to £9,000 a year from 2012.
Of 57 Lib Dem MPs, 21 rebelled against the Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition Government, including former leaders Sir Menzies Campbell and Charles Kennedy and party president Tim Farron. Last night, four Lib Dem peers followed their lead in the Lords.
Rebels could be rewarded by student voters – 62 per cent of poll respondents said they would be more likely to back a Lib Dem MP who voted against a rise in fees.
But when they were asked to imagine a situation in which the Lib Dem leadership voted for an increase, but an individual MP voted against, 49 per cent said it would either not make any difference or they would not be any more likely to support that MP (36 per cent said they would be more likely).
Those eligible to vote were asked if they thought of themselves as Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat. Although Labour came out top, on 31 per cent, 17 per cent said they identified with the Lib Dems. This suggests that while many students feel an affinity with the party, they are loath to support it at an election.
The latest Reuters/Ipsos MORI poll shows that Lib Dem support among all voters has also declined – from 24 per cent at the General Election to just 11 per cent today.
Although in voting intention terms the Lib Dems have taken the biggest hit over the tuition fees issue, our poll reveals that 16 per cent of students believe Nick Clegg’s party is best for them, compared with 5 per cent who say the same about the Conservatives. Labour are on 39 per cent.
But when respondents were asked which party was best for long-term employment prospects, just 4 per cent chose the Lib Dems, compared with 27 per cent the Conservatives and 34 per cent Labour.
“Young voters feel betrayed” NUS President Aaron Porter
The plan to raise fees has led to student demonstrations across Britain. Commenting on our poll findings, National Union of Students president, Aaron Porter, said: “”This is further demonstration of the depth of public feeling against the Government’s plans to cut back our education system.
“Young voters feel betrayed and are unlikely to forgive or forget at the ballot box. It is unfortunate that so many Liberal Democrat MPs who stood up for students and kept to their pledge might be tarred with the same brush as the party leadership that let both them and the electorate down.”
A Liberal Democrat spokesperson said: “Before making a judgement, we hope students and families will take the time to look at how the new higher education funding system will work. No-one will pay a penny up front, including part-time students for the first time, and people will only pay back once they start earning more than £21,000.
“Every student will pay less per month than they do now, those who go on to earn less will pay less and those who earn the most will pay the most; and the poorest quarter of all graduates will pay back less overall than they would under the current system.”