CANTERBURY, England — The historic English university town of Canterbury, a Conservative stronghold with a high proportion of young voters, has elected a Labour lawmaker for the first time since the constituency was formed a century ago.
Some say that remarkable win for Labour — echoed elsewhere in places with big student populations — suggests that a rise in college-age voters helped prevent a widely expected victory for Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives in Thursday’s election.
The Conservatives still hold the largest number of seats in Parliament but lost an overall majority. Labour, written off as almost unelectable just weeks ago, surpassed expectations by securing 261 seats in a last-minute surge of support.
“We had 10 percent more voters than in 2015, and those voters were mainly younger voters — and they were really attracted by Labour’s promise to abolish tuition fees,” said Edward Morgan-Jones, a politics lecturer at the University of Kent in Canterbury.
Students and staff at the institution, which bills itself as “the U.K.’s European university” because of its diverse population, also were worried about how May was going to lead Britain out of the European Union, he added.
While unpopular with the mainstream press, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has a large, enthusiastic following among young voters with his promises to boost spending for schools and public health, raise taxes on the wealthy and tackle growing inequality.
Toby French, a 19-year-old political science student, said Labour’s message — and the way it was delivered, via popular social media platforms — resonated with him.
“I felt it’s all about the internet. Jeremy Corbyn has done a huge job here, here’s done pretty well on Snapchat, Facebook, you know — stuff young people look at — and we’ve been inspired by this,” French said.
No turnout figures for young voters have yet been released. But government data shows that more than 2 million people aged 34 or under signed up online to vote in the month before the May 22 registration deadline — compared with about 1.46 million in the same period ahead of the 2015 election.
Ipsos Mori, the polling agency, says its studies showed that 55 percent of those aged 24 and under intended to vote in 2015. But this time, that number was 77 percent.
The National Union of Students also reported that while voter registration among 18- to 24-year-olds has been falling steadily since the 1970s, the number of young voters jumped 20 percent between the 2015 election and the EU referendum in June 2016.
Ben Page, CEO of Ipsos Mori, said that while Corbyn was demonized for his socialist views in the conservative media, he was trending on Facebook.
Young voters are fed up with squeezed incomes, and many didn’t want to leave the EU, Page said.
“It appears clear they were determined this time to make a difference and vote,” he said.