The assumption that getting new voters out in force would be a windfall for Labour has likely proved false.

Ironically, it could be Labour’s free education policy that has held them back from ticking red.

Tertiary students in the midst of student-loan induced poverty do not want to see their younger colleagues get free education when they themselves are struggling under the weight of debt.

It appears many went for National, the Greens, or TOP, where Gareth Morgan’s unusual policies caught their attention, in particular his ideas for taxing housing wealth.

Labour’s free tertiary education policy came out of the blue. There was no real demand for it, with students having long ago accepted they will be paying for their education. The rationale behind it wasn’t well explained. It was bait.

Justification for the move could have been explained as an evening up of an unfair generational situation caused by rocketing house prices. Where their parents who bought property 20 years ago are now unexpectedly well off, young people look at their own chances of home ownership evaporating. Free student fees could have been positioned as a house deposit boost. But it wasn’t sold that way.

I have a first time voter in the family, and he’s been paying as much attention to the election campaign as he does to his homework. So, not much. He leapt from the couch when he first heard Jacinda Ardern talk about free university – because he can’t make up his mind what he will do when his school days end this year, and saw it as an opportunity to put that decision off for three years. No direction, no motivation, just a free ride. That’s not the way to upskill the nation.

We can thank the rejuvenated Labour leadership for one thing – getting students motivated to enrol and vote.

When he allowed that his path was more likely to involve a trade than another three years at school, he went off Labour in a big way. Why?

He thought Ardern was evasive, and too vague when it came to answering questions. He doesn’t like Bill English either but thought he was more likely to take advice – and less likely to be making party decisions all by himself.

And that’s all there was to it really.

Obviously those 18 year olds looking to universities next year will feel differently, but only 60 percent of school leavers go on to tertiary education. Of those, there will be a strong cohort voting Green, and that is likely to show up in the special votes. TOP, whose party vote this election was more than that of ACT and Maori combined, has also been a factor in  youth voting. 

And Bernard Hickey reminds me this morning we can’t discount a youthquake yet. Around 15 percent of the vote has still not been counted, and students will make up a good proportion of that 200,000. Special votes skew towards the left and women, but no poll has yet been able to show who students placed their tick with. 

Regardless, we can thank the rejuvenated Labour leadership for one thing – getting students motivated to enrol and vote. How wonderful to see queues of young people lined up at university polling booths to have their say in the days leading up to election day.

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