SU Electioneering, Part II

Two-time SU president and current board of governors student rep Bryan West concludes his look at the crucial factors SU candidates must keep in mind.

4. The residence voter

A common complaint among Students’ Union politicos states a candidate must be from residence to become president. There is a seed of truth to this. For instance, a large proportion of elected SU officials do come from residence. Since 2000, five out of the six presidents have come from residence.

The reasons for this are simple enough. More than any other group students in rez are intimately connected to campus. They aren’t just here every day; they live here. To these students, Den prices are a big deal, thus motivating them to vote and run for office. The leadership training rez students can receive through the Residence Students’ Association and working for the Residence Life Team also help build skills useful in the SU. Finally, more often than not, residence voters vote for one of their own.

Success in residence, however, doesn’t guarantee success in SU elections. In the 2005 general election, the president and a vice-president of the RSA both lost races for less competitive commissioner positions. In 2002, an old rez hack named Disco lost a race despite his residence background and the endorsement of the Gauntlet editorial board. In the end, the 1,800 or so students living in residence aren’t enough to guarantee a victory for any candidate. Being from residence and/or having support in residence is an advantage, but it isn’t the whole story.

3. The ground war

The ground war is intimately linked with another factor: name recognition. The ground war involves the candidates’ exposure to the student population as propagated through posters, banners, flyers, lawn signs, shirts, face-to-face campaigning and-most importantly of all-word-of-mouth. If students recognize a candidate’s name on the ballot they’re way ahead of the game. If students know what the candidate stands for and have had friends recommending them, the candidate is in the strongest position of all.

Posters do not win elections, even the really witty ones, but they are important to get candidates’ faces out there. Candidates must keep in mind what voters feel when they look at the posters. Does the candidate look friendly or arrogant? Is the candidate a goof or are they attractive-looks play a much larger role in student elections than they should.

A real change at the U of C over the last six years has been the growing professionalism of campaign material. When I first came here in 2001, SU election posters were mostly binder sized black-and-white sheets printed off of people’s word processors. Now the standard is five by seven foot colour banners created by professional or semi-professional graphic artists. Adam Berti, an amateur graphic artist and current operations and finance commissioner, has worked on dozens of campaigns over the last four years and has an unblemished record of success for every candidate he has supported.

There’s also another way to launch a successful ground war: in 2003 VP external candidate Lauren Batiuk had her posters torn down around campus, only to re-appear on the walls of many first year males living in rez. That, ladies and gentlemen, is effective advertising.

2. The experience factor

Generally, candidates don’t need experience to run for a commissioner or faculty representative position, but it’s critical for a jump to the executive. No candidate has won a race for president without prior SU experience going back at least as far as 1997, and very few have won for VP positions.

Despite the experience factor, people without experience do run for the top jobs every year. Very few succeed. The last executive to win with no experience was Mike Bosch in 2004 for VP external. His victory makes up one out of 15 possible executive positions in three years. This is probably a good trend, as some experience in the organization is healthy preparation for making the jump to the top leadership roles.

1. Gauntlet endorsements

The Gauntlet endorsements are hugely influential in SU elections. Many failed candidates have railed against the alleged unjust treatment they faced at the hands of the Gauntlet editorial team, insisting it sunk their electoral dreams. The truth is many U of C students, particularly first-year students, have a lot of trust in the opinions of the Gauntlet-at least when it comes to who they should vote for.

The Gauntlet team goes through the process of actually interviewing each candidate, they have access to the full range of extended platforms-which until the recent addition of election websites and email to the campaign process were hard to distribute to the student population-and they understand which promises are realistic. Bias does come into play with any endorsements and sometimes very good candidates get the short end of the stick. For instance, common wisdom among the SU holds that platforms need to be left of centre and at least slightly anti-establishment to get a favourable Gauntlet review. Running a platform to treat the SU like a business is a common precursor to a figurative punch in the gut, and perhaps rightly so considering how many people have tried.

Keeping biases in mind, the Gauntlet acts as a sieve, alerting readers about the real fringe-perhaps even dangerous-candidates who sometimes jump into the election race. A candidate usually needs to secure at least one Gauntlet endorsement in order to be competitive in any race. These endorsements are very important, but it’s possible to lose with them and win without them.


Two important qualifiers should be understood when reviewing this list. First, there is an exception to every rule. For example, in 2004 Greg Clayton won the race for VP op-fi despite not receiving a single endorsement from the Gauntlet, not being from residence and having ugly posters. He achieved this feat through campaigning from 6:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. every day of the race, handing out flyers, chalking classroom boards, making class visits and talking to students one-on-one.

This example brings me to my second point: this list is by no means exhaustive.

From the range of tactics I’ve seen in my last six years on campus, and those I’ve studied from further back, this list could easily be expanded immensely.

Ultimately, there’s no perfect way to understand all the motivations and knowledge a voter will combine in their mind when casting their ballot. A strategic candidate should cover as many of their bases as possible, as any one factor will be useless if it doesn’t spread a positive reflection of the candidate by word of mouth.

It can’t be stressed enough: strategy and cleverness are not adequate replacements for substance and policy. Remember, voters will respond positively to a well-executed campaign, but they will also respond negatively to anything they consider too-slick, or an attempt at tricking them into casting votes.

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