Can’t vote, won’t vote?
A large majority of students across the UK may not be registered to vote on 7 May. Most of the students I’ve spoken to in the last week said they wanted to vote but had no idea they weren’t automatically registered. Until last year, when voter registration was done by household, they would have been: students living in university accommodation were enrolled en masse to vote in local and national elections.
The coalition government’s policy of individual voter registration, which received royal assent in early 2013, came into force last summer. It has resulted in a nationwide drop in voter registration levels, especially in cities with large numbers of students.
According to the Office of National Statistics, all university cities have seen their voter registration numbers fall over the last year by up to 10 per cent. Registration numbers in Newcastle, Cambridge and Oxford had all been going up since 2010, in line with the increasing population; by December 2014, they had fallen drastically.
Oxford has one of the highest student to non-student ratios (1:3.7). As of last month, two-thirds of Oxford students were not registered to vote. Data collected by the student union showed that in wards such as Holywell (with a student presence of 93 per cent), 60 per cent of people were not registered. The cut-off point to register in time for the general election is 20 April.
Nick Clegg has promised to put £10 million towards a large-scale advertising campaign to boost student registration. Student unions around the UK are organising ‘Register to Vote’ sessions with tea and biscuits. But it will take more than that to persuade the students who see no reason to vote, or think it makes more sense to pursue politics by other means.