UT editor race: Maguire faces uphill battle in final days of election

The deputy editor is currently trailing, as unanswered questions hang over her campaign

Trinity News’ election poll suggests that the University Times (UT) editor race this year could be on track for an upset. Incumbent deputy editor Mairead Maguire polled at 37.3%, while re-open nominations (RON) came in at 62.7%.

If the result is borne out, it would be notable in two ways. It would be the first win for RON in any Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) election in at least 10 years, and it would be the first time a deputy editor of UT was not elected as editor since the position was separated from the communications and marketing role and made into a sabbatical officership.

The race had the second-lowest proportion of undecided voters of any in the poll, at 25.2%. Such a high level of certainty is especially unusual for an uncontested race. Usually, such elections have higher proportions of undecided voters in election polls, and the other two this year reflect this; 43.0% of those polled were undecided in the education race, and 42.1% in the communications and marketing election.

Maguire’s popularity is relatively consistent across Trinity’s faculties, with no statistically significant differences. She is somewhat more popular among female students, at 42.3% compared to 33.6% of male students. There is a general political trend; she is least popular among students expressing left wing political preferences, polling at 25.9% among them; has middling popularity among centre-left voting students, at 36.6%; and she is most popular among those with centre-right preferences, at 41.7%. The centre-left grouping makes up by far the largest bloc among poll respondents.

All these polling numbers come with some caveats. Even perfectly representative polling is just a snapshot of how an electorate feels at a given moment in time; there are still several days left in the campaign, and swings from the poll results towards either Maguire or RON could still occur. Also, though every effort has been made to make Trinity News’ poll as representative as possible, it isn’t a perfect sample of voters. For example, particularly in this race, participants in the Trinity News poll are comparatively more likely to have read articles in which allegations were made against Maguire of leaking confidential information about sources. The overall electorate may be less aware of or less interested in these issues.

Those issues have hung over the campaign, however. Maguire has run on a solid platform, pledging to work to build a sense of community within UT, make the paper more accessible to students from various minority backgrounds, and get more part-time staff writers involved. But perhaps by making one of the focal points of her campaign “accountability”, the deputy editor has only drawn more attention to the allegations of wrongdoing against her.

Maguire’s consistent response has been moved to describe these allegations as  “false and defamatory”. But faced with accounts from several students she interviewed, detailing how information they say they only told her was repeated back to them via third parties (sometimes verbatim as they provided it to her), this response has fallen somewhat flat. She has not gone into any more detail about why people—whose stories of harassment she was so grateful to tell back in September—might want to conspire against and defame her, and the poll numbers seem to indicate that many voters find these curt dismissals insufficient. Nor did she address the wider issue, that a great number of the people she interviewed for that article reported being unhappy with how it was framed and how the sensitive issue was handled.

Other issues with accountability also cropped up during hustings. Asked by LGBT+ Rights Officer Jenny Maguire why she had not responded to messages concerning alleged transphobia within the newspaper, the deputy editor said she “doesn’t necessarily feel obligated” to reply to messages on her personal social media, but that “things would be different” if she were elected editor. Again, this response came off as lacking; the LGBTRO had actually noted that the deputy editor later used exactly the same Instagram chat to ask about issues pertaining to the former’s role, so the claim that personal social media is an inappropriate platform didn’t seem consistent. Plus, the candidate’s answer focused exclusively on dismissing the notion that she personally might have done something wrong; she did not even acknowledge the potential transphobia that the LGBTRO had been trying to discuss originally, let alone seem eager to address it.

This response was also odd in the context of Maguire’s pledge to cease printing UT with the Irish Times, out of a stated desire to make the paper more welcoming to trans students. This is a good promise, and Trinity News’ editorial line on this issue is well-known, but voters might reasonably ask why Maguire was so dismissive to the LGBTRO if trans inclusion is something she wishes to champion. It’s also worth asking why this has to be an election promise; UT has been committed to ceasing printing with the Irish Times since before Maguire became deputy editor In November. If it’s something she believes she can achieve, she is currently second-in-command, and the paper is institutionally in favour of it, why not just do it now?

The campaign is not over, and Maguire may yet be able to win. Such a turnaround would not be unprecedented either. Trinity News’ polling in 2020 favoured then-Radius Editor Susie Crawford for UT editor by 10 points, but Cormac Watson ultimately led Crawford by four points in first preference votes. Last year, Greg Arrowsmith polled more than 30 points below Antonia Brady for ents officer, but a herculean effort in the last days of the campaign saw Arrowsmith eke out a close win which surprised even him.

Given Maguire’s general level of experience and straight-down-the-middle campaign, it’s hard to interpret the poll results as being caused by anything except the allegations made against her.  In order to turn the election around, it seems likely she will need to address these allegations before voting begins. However, it will be hard to revisit and deal with these issues, when both Maguire and UT editorial staff have been so critical of the allegations from the offset. How can they be credibly addressed after labelling them “wholly false and defamatory”? The final days of the campaign will be all-important for the UT editor race.

Jack Kennedy

Jack Kennedy is the Editor-in-chief of the 68th edition of Trinity News. He is a Computer & Electronic Engineering graduate, and a former Assistant Editor, Online Editor, and Deputy Online Editor.