The UK political landscape has been rocked in the last few years, from Brexit to COVID-19, and scandalous lockdown parties to controversial immigration policies. And not to mention, the cost of living crisis that has 85% of adults in the UK worried about day-to-day expenses. What happens in government now is likely to have a profound impact on our lives in the future, especially for younger generations. So we decided to find out how young adults really feel. Our research asked students about their voting intentions and behaviour, from who they’ll be voting for to what factors influence their decision the most. The results are pretty interesting…

Who do students intend to vote for?

Overall, 48% of students said they support Labour, which is over twice the amount who claimed they supported conservatives (20%) and over three times as many as liberal democrats (15%). 17% supported a different party.

These findings are fairly consistent with previous research, where students, or young people, typically tend to vote for more ‘left’ parties.

“I think that politics in this country is broken. Simple as. The Conservative party through 13 years of austerity has irreversibly changed the country. The wealthiest in this country are being rewarded for doing nothing yet those people actually making a difference and helping people, doctors, teachers, nurses, train drivers, are severely overworked and underpaid and have to resort to food banks just to survive. So much noise is (rightfully) made about the Tories and how much damage they’ve done to the country.” (Anonymous student)

However, an analysis of the voting behaviour of young people during the last election shows that the support for Labour is slightly less comparatively. It found that 57% of 18-24 year olds intended to vote Labour, 19% Conservatives, and 12% Liberal Democrats. It’s clear that the majority of students and young people are still in favour of Labour, but could this be shifting slightly? As age is considered one of the biggest reasons for the divide between Conservatives and Labour, understanding voting intentions and attitudes of young people may be indicative of what’s to come.

Who do students think will win the next election?

Interestingly, when asked who they thought would win at the next election, most students thought Labour (69%). This was more than the number that said they supported Labour, suggesting that some students think Labour will win even if they vote Conservatives themselves. This may be a result of the many scandals the Conservatives have faced in the last few years, such as lockdown parties, resigning PMs (including the record for the shortest ever PM tenure), MPs found guilty of serious offences, tax evasion, and more. That’s not to say scandals haven’t happened across parties either. Moreover, not all students believe Labour provides sufficient opposition.

“Labour, primarily by weeding out the progressive left wing side of the party, don’t provide any legitimate opposition. They’re just the Red Tories pretty much.” (Anonymous student)

Do students intend to vote in the next election in 2025?

“I still vote and will still vote because it’s the right thing to do, but it doesn’t really feel like it matters. Nothing will really change no matter which party is in power and the inequalities within society will just continue to get bigger and bigger and nothing will change.” (Anonymous student)

Some students will continue to vote even if they are disheartened, while others might not see the point of going at all. Nevertheless, our results also showed that 79% of students intend to vote in the next election, meaning that 1/5th young people didn’t plan on voting. In the last election in 2019, only 47% of 18-24 year olds voted. Perhaps the next election will continue the upward trend and see more young people hitting the polling stations.

What factors influence students’ voting attitudes and behaviour?

The research also wanted to find out more about what influences students’ voting intentions and behaviour. We asked which what was the biggest factor influencing their voting intention. 75% stated that the cost of living crisis influenced their decision, while 15% chose climate change, 6% chose immigration and 4% chose ‘other’. This is hardly surprising, given that a recent study found UK students are more impacted by the cost of living crisis than other countries.

student voting intentions

To find out more, we asked students an open question as to what is the one thing they would change about the political system. A range of results came in, from specifics such as ‘the minimal women in leadership’ to generally ‘the government’ or ‘its existence’. There appeared to be a lack of concern about the integrity of politicians too, with students wanting more ‘honest and accountable’ politicians and to get rid of the corruption. Interestingly, one student felt that if MPs were given higher wages, there would be more talent attracted to the role.

Some students even felt that the UK political system fostered segregation through access to higher education:

“There are more barriers for working class students to access higher education. Students from middle class families are likely to have more resources and afford private tuition. This in turn means they’re more likely to go to grammar schools and subsequently attend more prestigious universities as they are more likely to study ‘intellectual’ subjects like Latin at school and get more help with university applications from teachers. They’ve also probably been about value education from a young age, rather than thinking about how to make money and secure an income. This is something that needs to change” (Anonymous student)

“There’s negative attitudes towards non-Russell group unis sometimes, or practical/vocational courses. The political system needs to normalise these, as well as studying locally for those who can’t commute or afford living in other cities.” (Anonymous student)

There’s quickly a link between how UK politics shape education, from access to our perceptions of it. It’s also evident that students are observing the impacts of the cost of living crisis within higher education opportunities, where some have not been able to stay at uni due to ongoing inflation and rising daily expenses.

Meanwhile, others noted how higher education experiences have changed as a result of current politics (namely Brexit):

“Brexit has had a huge impact on higher education. Many of my friends who are on their year abroad had to apply for a visa to be successfully accepted in their exchange. Studying abroad in the UK is now much more expensive and much less accessible. There will likely be fewer European students coming to the UK.” (Anonymous student)

Overall, the research on students voting intentions and what factors influence these were varied. However, from the participants who took part in our social media poll, it’s clear most students are not happy. It seems all political parties have a lot of work to do to serve the student and young adult community in the UK before 2025 comes around.