President race: Maguire headed for a landslide win in an unusual race

With two vastly different candidates, the presidents race saw the highest proportion of decided voters

The Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) presidential race has been a tale of two very different candidates, with union staple Jenny Maguire facing off against comedic outsider Ralph Balfe. Maguire’s campaign has taken a traditional form with a clear manifesto which focused on student workers, housing, and engagement. Balfe on the other hand has centred his campaign around banning tourists and replacing the campanile with the Burj Khalifa. 

According to a Trinity News poll of 724 students, Maguire is on track for a landslide victory with 81.71% of the decided vote, compared to Balfe’s 13.9%, while 4.38% wish to reopen the nominations (RON). 

The stark contrast between the candidates, appears to have helped voters to decide between them, with 72% of voters saying they know how they intend to vote, the highest proportion of any race by a margin of almost 16 percentage points. With a significant margin between the two candidates and a relatively low number of undecided voters, an upset is highly unlikely at this stage of the race. 

Maguire, who has previously served as LGBTQ rights officer and gender equality officer, leads strongly with students across all faculties and year groups, although slightly less amongst Junior Freshmen at 72.73%. This drop off is to be expected with such an experienced candidate as first years are less likely to know of her work within the union than students who have been in college for a longer time. 

Balfe polls significantly higher among male voters (27.51%) than among female voters (6.86%) and non-binary voters (0%). The RON vote was also roughly three times higher among male voters compared to female voters. These results suggest that there may be a gendered bias against Maguire from some male voters. 

Maguire is faring extremely strong among non-binary voters and those who chose not to state their gender, polling at 100% with both groups, although the small sample size indicates a large margin of error. Maguire’s experience as a co-organizer of Trans and Intersex Pride Dublin, campaign promises to push for harm reduction policies for transgender students and to make the college name and gender change process easier for non-binary students may have contributed to her popularity among this demographic. 

An unusual race

This year’s President’s race had a noticeably light-hearted tone in comparison to the other races. This mostly stemmed from stand up comedian Balfe’s supposed joke campaign. Manifesto pledges such as the creation of a “Book of Kells World” theme park and a house swap with Provost Linda Doyle, made Balfe’s level of seriousness clear to voters despite his insistence that he is “absolutely committed to everyone of [his] pledges”. It remains uncertain as to whether Balfe would actually serve his term as President in the unlikely scenario that he is elected or if he would remain “in character” for the duration of his term. 

Despite the professional tone of her campaign,  Maguire, who has a background in improv comedy, was eager to play along with many of Balfe’s jokes. Throughout the campaign the pair formed a friendly and entertaining rapport with each other, even swapping campaign t-shirts at Thursday night’s Piranha hustings. 

While entertaining, this informal tone did leave the race lacking in terms of hard hitting questions and scrutiny compared to the other contested elections. The comedic nature of Balfe’s candidacy, left Maguire’s performance at hustings without anything of substance to measure up against and the treatment of Balfe as a serious candidate, meant that Maguire had to answer just half the questions that an officially unopposed candidate would have to. 

The traditional reverse constitutional order of hustings also left the presidential questions feeling rushed and tacked on to events which were already particularly lengthy. This was most prevalent at the council hustings on Tuesday which ran nearly an hour over time. 

Overall these factors resulted in the contest for the union’s highest position feeling like one of the least important of all the races. 

That isn’t to suggest that Maguire faced zero scrutiny during the campaign. At Tuesday’s council hustings, Maguire defended herself well against a question asking why she did not have any policies on her manifesto aimed at supporting students with disabilities. Maguire pointed to a number of policies on her manifesto including the creation of a framework  for the Academic Registry, IT services and disability service to support students with a Learning Educational Needs Summary (LENS) report. She said that policies were under the “student supports” category in her manifesto instead of their own category because “accessibility is for all of us”. 

Balfe too came under scrutiny at Friday’s media’s hustings when he was asked if running as a “joke candidate” risked undermining the seriousness of the union. In response, Balfe denied that he was a “joke candidate” but said that should such an “obnoxious and attention seeking” person run as a joke, they would serve to “highlight the seriousness” of their opponent and promote engagement with the union. 

Overall, both candidates performed well at the husting events, coming across as confident and standing firmly by their manifesto points.

Student centric campaigns 

Despite their very different campaigns, both Maguire and Balfe centred their policies around students and placed an emphasis on increasing engagement with the union. 

Both campaigns have focused on student workers, with Maguire promising to fight for a “first of its kind” student workers policy, and Balfe’s commitment to employ all students as security guards to keep tourists out of Trinity. 

Maguire would like to see the union become “less top down” in its approach to engagement. This is evident in her housing policy where she wants to train grassroot housing activists in both private and campus accommodation.

This sentiment has been echoed throughout Balfe’s campaign, through his proposed “president for a day” policy which would allow every student to become TCDSU President for “about three minutes”.

In order to increase engagement Maguire wants to reform the TCDSU’s freshers week campaign which she says the union currently does “too much like a society and not like a service and support for all students”. 

Maguire would also like to see council reformed calling it a “bureaucratic mess” and “completely inaccessible”. Although when asked to elaborate on this point at Friday’s media hustings, Maguire did not get into any specific changes. 

While Maguire’s campaign focused on a lot of far-reaching themes such as the housing crisis and workers rights, it is clear that she made a concerted effort throughout her campaign not to forget the smaller day-to-day issues affecting students. In her manifesto she promises to supply a kitchen budget for St. James’ to ensure that tea and milk are kept regularly in stock for Students there. She also intends to set up an office at St. James’ and to work with the welfare office to organise an official lab coat swap for STEM students. Policies such as these likely contributed to Maguire’s cross faculty appeal and strong results amongst students less entrenched in union life. 

Balfe meanwhile promises to instigate all of Maguire’s policies on top of his own if elected. 

A Familiar Approach

One of the central themes of Maguire’s campaign has been her intention to continue on the work of the current sabbatical team whom she has praised at numerous times throughout her campaign. 

“The union has taken great radical steps this year but we can’t stop now”, Maguire said in her campaign video.

This commitment was further shown through her support for the changing of article 1.4 of the constitution, saying that the union’s current apolitical status “doesn’t represent the reality of what it’s like to run a union”. 

At a time where students are facing a persistent housing crisis, increased far-right activity in Dublin and concerns about the on-going genocide in Gaza, Maguire’s promise to be “the loudest, most annoying voice in the room” when fighting for student interests has clearly resonated with students.

Maguire has polled strongly with both students who have held a position in the union (89.47%) and those who have not (77.86%) demonstrating her popularity across different levels of engagement in the student body. 

While Maguire does lead across all political leanings, her lead is the most significant amongst left wing voters at 92%, followed by centre-left voters at 83.82% . She does see a sharp drop off with centre-right voters where she narrowly leads with 43.75% over Balfe’s 37.5%. While 18.75% of centre-right voters voted RON. 

RON and Balfe voters were also more likely to describe direct action from the union as “not effective” than Maguire voters. These results indicate that there is a small but not insignificant cohort of students who differ from the union’s radical left-wing approach, and could potentially be using Balfe and RON as a protest vote. 

Given Maguire’s overall strong results, it is clear that a radical and direct action based approach to the union still appeals to students. However it remains unknown how this strategy would fare against a serious candidate offering a different approach.

Charlotte Kent

Charlotte Kent is the Co-News Editor at Trinity News and a Senior Freshman PPES Student.