Today's students are left-wing, but less so on economic issues

August 18, 2015, 4:42 PM GMT+0

New research from YouGov Profiles reveals that as a group, today's university students are mainly interested in traditional left-wing issues – but on core economic matters they are actually to the right of the general public

From the civil rights movement in the 1960s to the occupations and tuition fee protests of 2010, student politics has a reputation for left-wing activism. New research from YouGov Profiles shows that while issues from the left still dominate, the average student has become more moderate than the country as a whole on a range of key economic issues.

A new analysis of the profile data from 14,455 students reveals the ten issues students care most about. Tuition fees tops the list, ranked as a top issue by 43% of students, followed by climate change and the European Union. On all three of these issues students are to the left of the public. However on the fourth top issue, healthcare, they're only slightly more likely than the public to say the NHS would be improved by less private sector involvement (53% compared to 52% respectively).

Each of the left/right scores are calculated by seeing how much more likely students are than the public to choose a left or right wing answer to the standard question for that issue. For example, on climate change 78% of students are confident it's been caused by human activity, compared to 61% of the public. On the minimum wage, 74% of students say it's too low compared to 76% of the public.

The issues shown in the table are those students are most passionate about, but in many cases these issues have only slightly more enthusiasm among students than the general public, as seen in the second column. The issues that have a particularly high intensity of interest in the small student body relative to the total population are abortion, positive gender discrimination, social mobility and grammar schools. Although immigration makes it on to the top ten list with 21% of students rating it as a top issue, it is much more of a concern among the public at large, rated as a top issue by 34%.

In total, on 37 out of 52 issues tracked, students are to the left of the general public – but interestingly they are less likely to be to the left on economic issues. On all of the core economic issues – taxes for the wealthy, nationalisation, redistribution, wages and the role of the government in the economy – the average student is actually to the right of the general public.

This doesn't mean they tend to fall on the right-wing side of the debate, but simply that they fall on the left-wing side to a lesser extent. For example, 45% of students say the top rate of tax should be 50p or more compared to 56% of the public. And 47% of students support the nationalisation of utilities, but among the general public support is at 57%.

In order for the left to win over the student vote, then, the key issues where interest is highest and views are most distinguishable from the rest of Britain are tuition fees, climate change and the E.U. But in contrast to much received wisdom, a programme of nationalisation and higher taxes for the wealthy won't hold any extra sway over the student body, and may even be less well-received.

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