Is Rishi Sunak’s 4 July general election a strategic move to hit uni student voter turnout?

By Charlie Sawyer

Published May 30, 2024 at 09:00 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

On Wednesday 22 May 2024, Rishi Sunak, glum-faced as per usual, stood outside 10 Downing Street in the torrential rain and announced that on 4 July, aka only six weeks from now, there will be a UK general election. Awkwardly posed in a suit so drenched it looked as though he was attempting to cosplay as Dennis Quad in The Parent Trap, the current Prime Minister asked the public: “Who do you trust?” Well, I can tell you for free, it ain’t you babe.

The reason we’re dedicating an Explained By a Blonde column to the UK general election this week is that we need to talk about how its timing might negatively impact voter turnout among university students.

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Why has Rishi Sunak called a general election for 4 July?

Rishi Sunak calling an election with only six weeks’ notice is a pretty big deal—as to why he’s done it, well that’s pretty obvious. The Conservative party are on their way to being kicked out of power for the first time after a 14-year-long stronghold. Sunak’s alleged strategy is to use the “element of surprise” to disrupt Labour’s efforts.

Moreover, as reported by The Guardian, the Prime Minister knows that his popularity will likely only continue to dip in the coming months. So, clearly, Sunak is planning to kind of quietly plod along over the next month or so, hoping that everyone experiences short-term amnesia and forgets how absolutely terrible he’s been as a leader.

But that’s enough about that. Let’s get into it, shall we?

How will having a general election in July 2024 impact voter turnout among university students?

Although Gen Z is a very politically engaged generation, there are still a lot of uni students who, as each election rolls around, either forget to register, forget to update their address information or forget to vote entirely.

The Electoral Commission has regularly found that young people, students and those who have recently moved are the least likely groups to be registered. Previously, up until 2015, students were immediately registered to vote when they enrolled at university. The school acted as the “head of the household” and therefore this ensured a 100 per cent registration rate.

While administrative faff isn’t the only thing that’s going to impact student turnout, it’s something to consider. In the 2019 general election, we saw a turnout of around 47 per cent among voters aged 18-24, a decrease of 7 per cent compared to 2017.

Universities have gotten much better at coming up with ways to encourage students to register and reminding them about key dates etc. That being said, it does make sense that an easy solution to this problem would be reintroducing auto-enrolment. As explained by education experts at Wonkhe, the process is pretty simple: under auto-enrolment, students can opt-in to register to vote automatically when they fill in their enrolment form at the beginning of each year. The university then hands this information to the local council, which verifies the student’s eligibility and adds them to the electoral register.

Things to remember ahead of the 2024 UK general election if you’re a student

To make sure you know exactly what the rules are and what it is you need to do ahead of the general election, let your favourite blondie break it down for you.

First things first, while you can be registered at both your home address and your uni address, you can only vote in one place. Registering to vote is incredibly simple—all you need to do is follow a few steps and provide some basic information. You can find the right page here.

If you aren’t able to physically be in your chosen registered location at the time of the election you can apply for either a postal vote or a proxy vote.

A postal vote is, you know when you vote via post. A proxy vote is when you send a trusted individual to vote on your behalf. So, small tip, perhaps don’t ask your probably very Tory-inclined nan to go—no offence.

The deadline to register to vote is 18 June, so make sure you set at least five alarms and reminders. Think about it this way, if you haven’t registered by the day part two of Bridgerton comes out, you’re running out of time.

Young people are an incredibly important voting bloc, and it’s integral that they take the time to organise themselves and ensure their voice isn’t lost once July rolls around.

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