There has been considerable debate, in recent months, over specific actors who could decide the outcome of the next general election, from a variety of media, pressure groups, “ordinary citizens” and political parties themselves. In particular three types of voters have been sounded out as the groups who could decide the outcome in many constituencies. These three groups are as follows; Scottish voters, BME voters and students. This article will examine these three groups and discuss their potential.
The first group, Scottish voters are a group that could have a tremendous impact on 2015. After all, as far back as three months ago, they nearly seceded from the state to form a new sovereign state. Nearly 85% of the 4.2 million electorate participated in a referendum that could have made Scotland an independent state, with over 1.6 million citizens (45% of the electorate) voting to leave the union. This means that Scottish voters can are already a force to be reckoned with. This is further supported by the rise of the Scottish national party (SNP) which has over 100,000 members overall in the weeks following the decision of Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom and is growing. This could be seen as backlash against the outcome of the referendum.
Many of the SNP’s members are now also targeting prominent seats in Westminster. Alex Salmond, the former leader of the SNP and First Minister for Scotland in the Scottish Parliament will contest the Westminster constituency seat of Gordon. Many other Scottish nationalist MPs are predicted to contest other seats.
Scottish voters will definitely make the Westminster village inhabitants give more importance to Scotland, and gain far more than the six seats that they currently have. Scottish voters will win the SNP as many as at least around 20 and keep the six they currently have. Since Scotland has 59 constituencies, this will account for nearly half of the Scottish Westminster seats and will make the SNP the largest party in Scotland in terms of Westminster constituencies and have significant influence in mainstream British politics. However this doesn’t mean that Scottish voters are absolute. They may have their demand met through further devolution or federalism and this may lessen the impact of Scottish voters who having acquired what they contend, will be happy with voting for parties other than the SNP.
Black and minority ethnic voters or BME voters are the second group with the power to determine the 2015 election. There was ground-breaking research recently by Operation black vote, an influential organisation highly versed in race-related issues and inequalities. This research states that 168 Westminster constituency seats have a BME electorate that is higher than the majority that was needed to win that particular seat. For example the seat of Oxford West and Abingdon was won by a majority of just 176 votes by the Conservative MP Nicola Blackwood with the nearest competition, the Liberal Democrat candidate coming just 176 votes short of winning the seat. In this constituency there are 7,764 BME voters. This means that the BME voters are 44 times the margin by which the seat was won and if large numbers of BME voters seemed to sway in a particular direction then they could easily be the ones who would change. There are many seats which have got a lesser. BME electorate: swing ratio, but a few are such as close. Even the ones with a lower ratio are predicted to feel the impact of the BME vote. Operation black vote predicts there are 168 such seats.
The methodology of this research can be criticized to a large extent but this might actually further strengthen the role. The methodology of this survey counts the BME electorate of the 2011 census and the number of votes that an MP won by. It itself self-reports that a larger number of BME voters could be present in 2015 as BME population are generally younger than average and have more members who could be illegible to vote in 2015.This too makes the BME vote more powerful.
The traditional stereotypes that BME voters are traditionally concentrated in the Labour strongholds and almost always vote labour is false, and while 68% of voters at the last election voted Labour, almost 1 in 3 didn’t. BME voters are no longer concentrated completely or almost completely in certain areas and are in charge of making an impact in seats as far apart as Bradford east and Leicester west to South Swindon and Guildford. This further makes them a more powerful voting group.
However the researchers of operation black vote are self-reporting that as high as 18% of the BME population is not registered to vote with certain ethnic groups such as Black Africans having a non-registration rate of 28%. One of the main aims of Operation Black Vote is to decrease this non-registration rate. A counter argument of this is that while BME voters are more than twice as likely to be non-registrants (only 7% of the white British population is not registered to vote), they have a higher turnout in voting , although this varies by ethnicity.
The final group which could upset the balance of power could be students. According to the National Union of Students’ own research, around 73% of students are registered to vote. The fact that this figure has gone up since 2010 when a lesser number circa 66% of students were registered to vote shows that students are increasingly becoming aware of their position in society and are more willing to take part in formal politics and make their voice heard.
Much like BME voters, students could decide the swing seats in which MPs win marginally. This is because there are many seats in which the students can decide the small majority by which the swing is won. This occurs as like with BME voters, the number of students is often greater than the number of votes that the MP won by. Students are now in a more powerful position than before and can be a threat to all parties.
Students are particularly likely to be a threat to one party that in recent years has seen to be failing its electorate. The Liberal Democrats who had a strong policy of not increasing tuition-fees, as part of their coalition agreement did just that. This would have angered many of their younger long-time supporters and the parents/guardians or those otherwise financially responsible for the educational needs of these younger supporters. The Lib Dems gained steady support in the 2001 and 2005 election by refusing to increase tuition fees and making a strong commitment to the area of higher education. Now they seem to be on thin ice for breaking those vows, and Liberal Democrat MPs who are in students swing constituencies are particularly in trouble.
Students, many of which study away from home, however could potentially have issues with registering. This may come about mainly as they may have accidentally registered with the wrong address (their home as opposed to their term time address or vice versa). This survey’s methodology may also have other shortcomings. A large number of the students may be international students and thus this means that only certain of the international students can vote. Another thing to be taken into account is that as little as 4% of current students are strongly affiliated with any party and higher than 7 in 10 have at least a moderate level of apathy with politics at the present time. All this shows that a combination of non-registration, mis-registration and political apathy might mean that the student vote may not be much of a help or hindrance as previously thought, even to seats currently held by Liberal Democrats.
A factor that is common amongst all these three groups if that this will be the first election that they will all have had a very powerful voice. This may or may not be because mainstream voters are more disillusioned and also may or may not be because issues regarding these groups are at an all-time high. All in all this will be a very interesting election to watch!
By Neil Marathe, Junior Writer for Daily Political View