Using his extensive experience in the Students’ Union, two-time president and current senate member Bryan West lays bare the political wheels turning behind the scenes as candidates gear up for the upcoming general election. In this first installment, West details the various factors candidates must keep in mind in order to plot a successful campaign and lets student voters know where their potential leaders’ priorities really lie.
As would-be student leaders begin their campaign later this week for the top jobs in the Students’ Union there are a host of factors they must keep in mind to chart a course from wanna-be to putting a key in their shiny new office door. In regards to election campaigning, strategy has become a dirty word associated with many people’s cynical views of politicians and politics in general. It brings up images of coldly calculating pollsters forming meaningless speech lines and empty policy proposals in order to trick citizens into casting a vote for their candidate. Despite this negative connotation, I believe what matters most in these elections is the issues candidates are faced with and the policy proposals they put forth to confront them. However, even the best policies in the world won’t do a lick of good if the candidate isn’t elected to implement them.
A candidate who seriously wants a shot at winning must find a balance between their passion for the issues and the necessity for strategy. The unique conditions of our
campus offer an interesting microcosm of social and political culture, from which we can draw out key components candidates should keep in mind when beginning to chart a course to the finish line. For reading clarity, I have placed those I think are least important to most important below.
10. The Electoral Demographic
A good piece of advice often offered by those with speech making experience is to know your audience, and this axiom translates well to the campaign trial. Thus, the first thing candidates should consider is the voting demographic of the University of Calgary electoral body.
First of all, although there around 22,500 eligible students to vote at the U of C, if historical trends hold true, only around 15 to 28 per cent will choose to vote. During a highly competitive election this number will land near the higher end of the spectrum while during a normal year it will be more around 18 to 20 per cent. Candidates must ask themselves who these voters are. Well, the average voter is most likely female (54 per cent of the student population), in their first or second year of university, living in residence and taking her undergraduate in social science, which is the largest faculty and also has the best comparative participation rate.
Though this might be the most common type of voter, deciding how many fall within this category is anyone’s guess. A candidate needs to keep this average voter in mind, but must remember concentrating only on this demographic likely won’t be successful.
9. The Web
The web hasn’t been too important to the outcome of past SU races. Past efforts to gain support through unsolicited emails have usually backfired-students hate spam, even democratically-spirited spam. This might change with the addition of the new SU election website, which contains platforms, pictures, and links to videos. For now, however, it’s a peripheral consideration.
8. The Clubs
Generally speaking, campus clubs are too diverse, scattered, and disparate to have any real impact on the election. Occasionally someone will try to run on a pro-club platform, but this rarely gains candidates much traction except for possible Gauntlet editorial support.
Unfortunately 90 per cent of clubs on campus are paper tigers, meaning they’re executive members and their friends. Exceptions to this rule include the Snow Board Club, the Engineering Student Society and the Muslim Student Association. The more cohesive the group, the more it can bring votes out in numbers and the greater potential sway it has over candidates. For example, the MSA has used this rule in the past to exert greater influence than its numbers would suggest in order to advance their cause for prayer space.
As a whole, clubs aren’t overly important, although some key groups may help in garnering a few hundred votes here and there.
7. The Dinos
The Dinos vote is a much sought after, but often illusory, chunk pursued every year by SU candidates. In truth, there are only around 500 Dino athletes, not all of them vote and they hardly ever vote together. Two years ago when the Dinos’ fee was on the line the teams moved into action to support pro-fee candidates, but without similar motivation the Dinos don’t hold much influence in the election.
6. The Gender Factor
All things being equal, female candidates in SU elections have an advantage over their male competitors. Why this happens is hard to figure out, but generally speaking there are fewer women who run in the elections than men. In crowded races this means female names and faces will stand out from the crowd. If nothing else is known about a candidate, male and female voters alike prefer voting for a female candidate. In the 2005 general election, female candidates had a 77 per cent success rating, while males hovered around the 30 per cent mark. In 2004 it was 70 per cent and in 2003 it was 75 per cent.
In commissioner races where only one female candidate runs, there is a near unbroken string of victory, often by a landslide. This trend of preferential gender voting appears more commonly in commissioner races than in executive races, where greater coverage dilutes this preference.
Unfortunately-or fortunately, as the case may be-candidates can’t do much about this phenomenon, though a male candidate named Ashley did successfully run for an executive position in the ’90s by mis-representing himself as a buxom blonde bombshell. Sadly for Ashley, the race was overturned and the by-laws were soon changed to disallow such practices.
5. Under-the-Gun Groups
Like the Dinos’ story above, there’s usually at least one group a year under-the-gun by a fee referendum. In 2005 it was the Dinos, in 2004 it was the Legal Aid Society, in 2003 it was the U-Pass users. These groups are usually very motivated to vote and will align themselves with candidates who support their cause. For example, in 2003 only two students from the faculty of law voted in the election, whereas in 2004, when the legal aid fee was under-the-gun, it jumped to 129. Candidates thinking strategically will find these groups and make friends.
Check out the features section next week for the rest of Bryan West’s list and our annual SU candidate reviews. Make sure to get informed enough to get out there and vote for who we tell you to.