Topline Findings On UK Students & Brexit - Registration, Turnout and Post-Referendum Blues

Voting | 24 Jul 2016


Students in the UK turned out in large numbers to vote in the EU referendum but have to live with a result that they feel very negatively about.


Headline findings:

      • Registration – 94% of the eligible UK student population registered to vote in the EU referendum.
      • Turnout – 87% of eligible UK students voted in the EU referendum.
      • Vote – Remain had 85% of the student vote, with only 15% voting Leave.
      • Post-Referendum Blues - More than three quarters (77%) of UK students feel negative about the result of the EU Referendum, 55% feel very negative. 17% of students who voted Leave would change their vote if they could – this equates to more than 236,000 people.


Almost exactly a month after the EU referendum, YouthSight has asked students at UK universities to share their voting behaviours and opinions on the result. The survey was based on a sample of 1000 students and was representative of the UK’s population of nearly 1.4 million full time undergraduates in full time education, conducted between the 15th and 20th July.

Vote image 1

87% of students voted

Despite worries about youth turnout and confusion over student voter registration, we can reveal that 87% of eligible students at UK universities voted in the referendum. This is a higher rate of turnout than the general population (the Electoral Commission reports a 72% turnout amongst the overall confirmed electorate).Students were overwhelmingly in favour of Remain. Eighty five percent of students who voted in the referendum voted to remain in the EU (74% of the eligible UK student population) while 15% voted Leave. This means that for every one student who voted Leave there were 5.7 who voted Remain.


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Almost 1 million students voted remain

This means that almost one million students out of the UK’s population of 1.4 million full time undergraduates voted Remain. This is a higher proportion than anticipated in the pre-referendum research conducted by YouthSight for Universities UK (UUK) which reported that 78% of eligible students with ‘strong’ intention to vote intended to vote Remain. At that stage, 9% of students likely to vote were undecided, implying that most students who were undecided with a month to go ended up voting Remain.


17% of students voting leave feel regret

Of the students who voted to Leave, 17% reported that, in light of the events of the past month since the result was announced, they would change their vote if they could. Three percent of student Remain voters also reported that they would change their vote if they could. If these levels of voter regret are similar amongst the general population, were another vote to be held now Leave would receive 44.51% of the vote, and Remain 55.46%.


77% of students feel negatively about the result

More than three quarters (77%) of all UK students (including those ineligible to vote) stated that they felt negatively about the result. Twelve percent felt positive about the result, meaning for every one student who feels positively, there are more than six students who feel negatively. We asked those who stated they felt ‘very’ negatively to state why they felt this way.

Many cited concerns over the economy, a rise of racial discrimination and violence, concerns over visas for study, travel, and work, and reduced funding for scientific and academic programmes in the UK. Students who felt very positive about the result cited the perceived benefits of the UK regaining sovereignty, hope for reduced spend on EU membership fees, and expectations of reduced immigration.. Comments included:

“I have lost the right and opportunity to work and/or live in 27 difference countries. The Leave campaign has brought to light the xenophobic and racist views that are still very much alive in this country and it's sickening."

First year female, University of Gloucestershire

“Because I now feel really uncertain about my future, I feel like we no longer have a really positive connection with the EU and so England feels so much more like an island than it did before.”

Second year female, Kingston University

“I believe Leave to have been the right choice for the long run”

Third year female, Manchester Metropolitan University



Six percent of eligible students did not register to vote. Confusion over how to register did not seem to be a major issue, as less than 1% expressed confusion about how to register to vote.

However, five percent of eligible students said that they did not vote because they would be away from the address that they were registered at (and did not take advantage of a postal vote or proxy vote or did not know how to). In our May research for UUK, it was predicted that this figure could have been far higher, because 20% of eligible students indicated that they would not be at the address where they were registered at the time of the referendum. Thus it appears that many students, heeded the warnings, recognised the importance of the debate, and made alternative arrangements (e.g. re-registering at the correct address, or registering for a postal/proxy vote). This could suggest that the campaign by the government, UUK, NUS and others to increase youth registration was successful.


Question? Speak to our youth expert Josephine Hansom.

    1. Data for this press release was gathered from a survey of 1000 full-time undergraduates in the UK. Quotas were set and weighting subsequently applied to ensure the sample is representative by age, course year and university group. The survey took an average of 4 minutes for respondents to complete. The survey was conducted between the 15th and the 20th of July 2016.
    2. Click here to download the data
    3. For information on the poll conducted on behalf of UUK in May, click here.

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