Student Elections and Question Time: Breakdown and Discussion

A prestigious role for a Curriculum Vitae and for the Sabbatical Officers, a full-time job with an accompanying wage, the Student Union elections are not only important for the candidates looking to further themselves but to the students who will be affected by their decisions over the next academic year. So how do some of the biggest student roles at the University of Portsmouth generate a meagre 9.4% voter turnout, which in theory the Question Time should address and attempt to drive engagement with its accessibility via social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. I believe that this presents a clear issue within the Union in terms of legitimate elections with only 2,462 voters turning out from the potential 24,000, sounding the alarm that the elected are truly minority selected. In no way does this negate the suitability of candidates or the manifesto’s they stand behind, but one could present a number of questions such as, is the total number of voters a true representation of the student body and how do the elections not devolve into a popularity contest? I honestly feel the Question Time helps to address the popularity contest issue of candidates by asking meaningful and interesting questions, rather than throwing sweets at you outside the library in a desperate bid to grab one uninterested voter which I feel is inaffective. So, if Question Time is good for legitimising the process, then why are the voting numbers so low? Well, there is likely to be a myriad of reasons behind this, although I would also ask how many people even knew about Question Time events? Anecdotally, after excluding candidates and obligated parties, I would say there were perhaps twenty or thirty people in attendance. However, I do appreciate the significant number of viewers that tuned into the event’s Facebook Live stream, the successes of which must be commended. Despite this, the low physical turnout leads me to believe Question Time suffers from the same fundamental issue of the student elections themselves, being that there is not yet enough awareness which reduces or removes engagement to all but the few hardcore students who understand the impact of who is elected. So, to further investigate the impact of Question Time on voting and awareness, I devised a questionnaire containing four questions which should of been a larger poll but I digress.

The Google document consisted of the following questions:

  • Has Question Time helped you decide who you’re going to vote for?
  • Are you satisfied with the quality of answers given by the candidates this evening?
  • Has Question Time changed how you are going to cast your vote?
  • Do you feel that the information from Question Time will effectively reach, and be communicated with students beyond those in attendance?

The questionnaire was carried out during the Sabbatical Officer Question Time and totalled fifteen responses, from which I have picked the key points that I perceive to be of the greatest interest.

  1. The Question Time event had a positive impact on voters choice of candidates
  2. Unanimously the attendees were satisfied with answer quality
  3. Question time certainly influenced swaying votes with 40% saying ‘yes’ and 33.3% saying ‘maybe’
  4. No definitive opinion on whether students outside of attendance would attain the evening’s information with people answering ‘yes’ and ‘unsure’, taking a 40% split and ‘no’ receiving the remaining 20% of answers.

I feel these questions further justify my current theory concerning election engagement, being that Question Time is clearly a beneficial and positive event in generating real discussion around relative positions but lacks the awareness to really highlight role importance and why people should listen. How to tackle this I’m not sure, that was the candidates job to tell me although I will say comments were mostly generalised with minimal explanation on how anything would be done with a few exceptions. So before I begin closing statements, I would also like to quickly drop a side note on an issue that frustrated me a great deal and that is regarding welfare. As I alluded to earlier I wanted to create a poll as I felt it would be engaging, give an indication of voting patterns, suggest who is resonating with students, and what manifesto points they are really representing, which I felt would make good reading and perhaps instigate debate. However, along with no candidates actually debating on Question Time, our original questions were rejected as a potential issue to candidate welfare and watered down to what you see above. Now you could call me petty, but in my opinion any job where you are elected which results in a payment or prestige should be open to scrutiny and be accountable to the body who elects you. Once again I do not feel this is the candidates fault in question as when applying for a role like this you probably need to accept tough questions and scrutiny that come with the job, but to not be able to ask the voting students’ opinions on individual candidates based on the risk of inciting complaints from candidates  is backward and counter-productive to the election process. It would be the equivalent of Donald Trump running for president but the US government telling the New York Times not to ask people what they think of him because he is a precious snowflake, which I would argue that if it was constructive and actually contributed to a discussion, should be allowed and would be beneficial rather than negative. That may be a slightly extreme example granted, but I do think this situation is relative and I am seeing candidates who are applying for an actual job not an after school club so I just don’t understand this rejection of constructive opinions and potential meaningful debate.

To summarise:

  • Question Time is good but not many people knew of its existence.
  • People who actually turned up enjoyed and were influenced by the event from a voting perspective, which is fantastic.
  • Voter turnout would be lucky to hit 10% by results night, meaning whoever gets elected for VP Education and Democracy especially will be very busy attempting to combat this issue.
  • I got frustrated because I think that candidates are unfortunately being mollycoddled rather than proving why they should get my vote, through effective passionate debates over what I would deem to be obsessive welfare.

I hope you enjoyed this analysis and can appreciate the viewpoint expressed, please drop a comment if you have anything to add. It has been a pleasure!

About Bradley Taylor
Hey i'm the Online Editor for Pugwash and it is my job to make sure articles get posted to the site, and when i am not doing that i like to write reviews. Have a suggestion, or want to give some feedback feel free to drop me an email at online@pugwashmagazine.com

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