65% of campaigners in the recent Students’ Union (SU) elections who responded to a survey said that the two weeks allocated to electioneering each year was too long. The study, conducted by second-year class rep Madison Bowlby, found that 55% of campaigners changed their eating patterns during the campaign period, while 85% reported falling behind on college work or having to skip class as a result of campaign duties. 39% of respondents said there should be fewer husting sessions, and just over half considered cancelling campaign shifts or resigning from campaign teams for stress-related reasons.
The poll surveyed 45 campaigners between February 3rd, the second day of campaigns, and February 10th, two days before the election results were announced. 19 respondents were campaigners in the welfare race, 18 campaigned in the race for marketing and communications officer, and 11 were campaigners for the Ents candidates. One respondent campaigned for the candidate for education officer and five campaigned for presidential candidates, while another five were drawn from the race for editor of The University Times. 14 respondents took part in several campaigns.
Two respondents who took part in the welfare race provided testimony about the physical and mental impact of the long campaign period. One reported having “to take a mental health morning and skip a morning training session.” In order to complete college work, another said, “I’m having to stay up until one or two in the morning, as I’m not getting home until nine or ten at night.”
The length of the campaign period was of particular concern to others. One campaigner said it was “super hard” for campaign members to maintain levels of energy and enthusiasm over the course of two weeks. Another said: “Two weeks is one sixth of a semester: one sixth in which anyone involved in a campaign race is not eating properly, not sleeping right, and not attending classes or doing college work. I think it’s extremely disingenuous of the SU to claim to support education and welfare, and to put students through this gruelling ordeal every year. I also think it discourages otherwise good candidates that they have to endure this ridiculous hazing process.” Asked about changing food patterns in the run-up to elections, another campaigner responded: “I eat out more often, eat more fast food, and generally spend more on money, despite actually eating less due to stress and forgetting to eat often.”
One in nine respondents said the experience had turned them off running for a sabbatical position. “I perhaps would have toyed with the idea of running for president (really though, only vaguely), but after the first few days, I’m convinced that I would not be able to keep up the standard of campaign and enthusiasm necessary to do so in the future,” one campaigners said.
Respondents also gave a variety of reasons for why they felt the campaign period should be shorter. “Not only is it an incredible trial for those running but also the student body is tired of it by the time the second week starts,” one said. “The campaigning period should be shortened by three days so that the campaigns begin on the Wednesday evening and it culminates the Thursday after with the count.” Others agreed that students lose interest in the elections after a few days. “I’ve been campaigning in the arts block and Hamilton, and I sense that the students there have had enough,” one explained. “They are less receptive to you approaching them to engage them in the campaigns. I think that if they’re going to vote, they have made up their minds on their preferences by now. Another acknowledged that voters are “less interested” in the second week of campaigns: “It just becomes a system of drudgery where you’re there just to show a presence and it becomes increasingly difficult to engage people ”
Some campaigners, on the other hand, said that the campaign period should not be shortened. “I think it gives students plenty of time to actually figure out who is running,” one respondent said. “I think a lot of students only found out about the big names and people with the biggest campaign teams in the first few days, and by the end of campaigning have a better idea of all candidates rather than just the most popular, easy choices. ” Another concluded: “It feels like a long period mentally, but realistically it’s the right length in terms of general campaigns and getting your name out there.”
While half of respondents felt that the number of election hustings was necessary, others argued that some sessions made little impact on the wider student body. “The people who show up to hustings are candidates and campaign teams, and maybe a society committee if they’re running it,” one respondent said. “It’s cool to hear policies about specific things, but it’s too small an audience for the effort it requires.” Another said a slightly longer general hustings, in a similar format to the ‘Big Question’ session held by The University Times this year, “would be perfectly sufficient to discuss the issues of LGBTQ rights in college, and the use of the Irish language.”
The survey’s findings were presented at a meeting of the SU Council on February 17th, where it was agreed that a working group should be set up to discuss the number of campaigning weeks. The SU education and welfare officers, who were mandated to oversee the group’s establishment, had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.
Photo: Conor O’Donovan