Support for the Liberal Democrats amongst student voters has slumped catastrophically since the last election, a new poll reveals today.
A poll of 1,200 students in higher education institutions throughout the UK reveals it has fallen from a high of 50 per cent just before the last election, following leader Nick Clegg's first TV debate of the campaign, to just six per cent in the latest poll.
The result poses a serious risk to the party of losing seats in university cities or towns won at the last election, such as Cambridge and even Mr Clegg's Sheffield Hallam constituency.
Other university towns or cities where the Liberal Democrats currently hold a seat include Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester and Norwich [University of East Anglia].
The poll also pushes the party into fourth place among student voters, behind Labour (43 per cent), the Conservatives (24 per cent) and the Greens (14 per cent) - and in danger also of being overtaken by UKIP, which has seen a rise in support from two per cent to five per cent.
One of the main reasons for the slump in support is said to be the Liberal Democrats' U-turn on tuition fees when the party changed from supporting a "no fees increase" policy to backing the plan to introduce fees of up to £9,000 a year.
"The Liberal Democrats' reputation both with students and the general electorate continues to be damaged by their participation in the Coalition Government," concludes the research, which was carried out by YouthSight, a market research company specialising in student issues. "Traditionally the Liberal Democrats have polled better with students than the general public."
This, though, it adds, is no longer the case with their share of the student vote threatening to be lower than the meagre poll ratings they have been getting nationally, where they hover at around 10 per cent.
The poll of students also reveals that they are heavily in support of the UK retaining its membership of the EU, with 83 per cent of those polled saying they would vote "yes" to retain membership if there was a referendum on the issue. The pro-EU vote is perhaps ironic, considering they are not prepared to vote for the party which has been most vigorous in promoting EU membership.
"On the whole," says the report, "UK students tend to adopt a more pro-European stance than the general population where anti-European feeling appears to be rising."
Labour retains a clear lead in first place amongst student voters, polling six per cent higher than their 37 per cent nationally. However, this is down on the figure of a year ago when the party polled 50 per cent amongst students.
By contrast, the Conservatives - though well behind on 24 per cent - have seen a rise in the student vote of between two and three percentage points during the past year.
"The recent upturn in the British economy will mitigate, for some, the desire to cast a protest vote," the report said.
In student circles, it seems that any withering away of support for the main parties is advantaging the Green Party rather than UKIP - as is the case amongst the general public. The Greens have seen their student vote rise from six per cent to 14 per cent the last election while UKIP has gone up from two per cent to five per cent.
"The Green party appears to be gaining some traction with the general electorate, too, perhaps as a result of environmental issues highlighted by the extreme weather experienced in the UK last winter," the research adds.
In a separate poll of 200 Scottish students, researchers found that they were more likely to vote "no" in the referendum as to whether it should leave the United Kingdom. In all, 58 per cent said they would vote for Scotland to stay in the UK, while 35 per cent would vote for independence. Support for remaining in the UK is higher than amongst the general public where 46 per cent support the idea as opposed to 41 per cent who favour independence.