This year has been very different for everyone, and this student election season has also seen a change. Many of the Sabb roles had a handful of candidates, much more than previous years. Furthermore, there were two student-wide Spring Elections, although both not equally advertised.
In 2020, 2,145 students voted in the Spring elections, electing both sabbatical roles and student officers. This year, SUSU decided to split sabbatical roles and student leader roles into two different elections, to encourage more people to take part in the sabbatical elections, whether as candidates or electors. In the 2021 elections, Sabbatical roles received votes from 2,415 students. The Student Leader elections as a whole received just 113 votes.
Overall, this represents an increase in student participation. However, it’s estimated that below 15% percent of the student population voted, following from the estimates of last year’s elections.
The role of Union President (Ben Dolbear) was won by a margin of 300 votes in Round 4. VP Activities (Ella Foxhall) was won with a margin of 357 votes in Round 1. A majority of 274 votes in Round 5 took Charlotte James over the finish line in the race for VP Education and Democracy. VP Sports (Matthew Smith) beat R.O.N by 1,375 votes. VP Welfare and Community (Savanna Cutts) won by 63 votes in Round 4.
A further breakdown of votes can be found on the SUSU website here.
What is clear from this infographic is that the Student Leader elections (where the Presidents of SUSUtv, Surge Radio, The Edge, Wessex Scene and RAG, are all elected) have not benefitted from the separation. While all but one of the Student Leader roles were uncontested this year, the level of engagement has dropped significantly. Last year, these roles received between 308 and 390 votes, representing a 300% decrease this year.
A possible explanation for this lies in the promotion of these elections. On Facebook alone, SUSU posted 8 times on the subject of the Spring Elections, but said nothing about the Student Leader elections. On Twitter, it was a similar story, with SUSU’s Academic Awards promoted over any mention of student media’s elections.
The pandemic has not seemed to change student voting patterns, and in fact, this year has seen an increase in people standing for important roles. However, student engagement with their media has suffered. Splitting off the elections for student media leaders from the Spring cohort seems to have reduced the perceived importance of student media, in both the eyes of SUSU and the student body. It will be interesting to see how SUSU approach future elections.
A SUSU spokesperson said:
The circumstances of this year have made it very challenging to engage students in SUSU democracy. We believe that the elected roles within SUSU are incredibly important, though, and wanted to promote them as effectively as possible. Union Senate approved the separation of the Student Leader roles from the other roles that would traditionally have been elected in Spring, which allowed us to market the Spring elections as the Leadership elections and focus on the roles which provide the SUSU leadership (Sabbatical Officers, Trustees, Senators, Faculty Officers and PGR Officers). We were really pleased that the results showed an improvement on last year’s voting figures, with 2,415 students taking part, up on 2,145 last Spring. As usual, once the Summer elections are finished, we will be reviewing the changes made this year, including any potential impact on roles not included in the Spring elections. We would then take any recommendations to Senate for approval.