University Times editor race: Too close to call with Charlie Hastings leading by razor thin margins

While candidates in the UT race have both appealed to voters with experience and addressed lingering issues in the paper’s recent tumultuous history, a low polling turnout has left the election as anyone’s game

The race for University Times (UT) editor has been incredibly close throughout the duration of polling. According to the Trinity News poll, Charlie Hastings has 156 first preference votes, a comfortable 48%. However, Brídín Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce has 138 first preference votes, 43%. Meanwhile, reopen nominations (RON) has 28 first preference votes, totalling 8.7%. With only 18 votes separating the candidates, it is difficult to say who will win the election until the final count of February 29.

Due to the tight margins, it is likely that this race will go into a second round of voting. Looking into second choice preferences, 45.8% of respondents chose Hastings, 46.3% chose Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce and 7.3% chose RON. Removing all people whose first choice preference is RON, Hastings also pulls forward in a slightly more comfortable lead.

In the early days of polling, Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce was leading by a similarly small margin, but final opinions have shown favour growing for Hastings. He took the lead towards the end of day two of polling and has maintained it since then.

Aside from the nature of the margins between the candidates being so thin, what also makes this race hard to call is best summed up in what Hastings himself said in Media Hustings: “[students] don’t know about us…they’d rather read Trinity News than the University Times.” The overall poll closed with 724 responses, but only 322 respondents declared their intentions in the UT editor race. 

However, turnout in the Trinity News poll in the case of the UT editor may not reflect final turnout at sabbatical elections. Trinity News combined online and in-person polling through Google Forms, while the TCDSU sabbatical elections will be conducted solely by paper ballot, the first election to do so since the Covid-19 pandemic. The recent referendum on the Gaeilge Initiative, done by paper ballot, saw a substantially high turnout, suggesting the sabbatical elections may also see an increase in votes. This opens the possibility that while the UT editor race might not be the highest priority for students, a high turnout could swing the results in favour of either candidate.

There was originally a glitch with the Trinity News poll: originally when students selected “do not intend to vote” students were still prompted to rank their preferred candidates in the UT race. This issue was resolved and answers for students who selected that they did not intend to vote were removed from the count for the purposes of analysis.

These final statistics are a difficult predictor of the final results because any significant numbers one way or another are from categories where there is the smallest sample size. 

According to the poll, men and students in STEM courses tended to prefer either Hastings or RON for their first choice candidates, although this demographic tends to support male candidates and RON across races. In the case of UT editor, 55% of men prefer Hastings and 10.6% prefer RON, with Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce getting 33.6% of male votes. 50% of STEM students prefer Hastings and 15% prefer RON, while only 34.6% prefer Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce. 

It is also possible that support for Hastings from STEM students is because he has been focusing more on STEM inclusion. Both candidates are hoping to improve science and technology reporting within the newspaper, but Hastings has been pushing harder for it, whereas Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce has been looking more towards inclusions of ethnic minorities. It is worth noting, however, only 50 respondents were from STEM backgrounds, and are a demographic historically less likely to vote in union elections.

Health sciences students tend to prefer Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce, taking 53.3% of the votes from that faculty, RON getting none and Hastings getting 47.2%. It is important to note that there were only 21 respondents from this faculty. 

Students from the faculty of arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS) made up the majority of poll respondents with 250 votes. 48.4% of respondents gave their first preferences to Hastings, while 42.8% supported Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce, and 8.4% went to RON. 

AHSS students making up the largest percentage of voters is common among races. Previous years indicate that AHSS are the most active voting group in elections, making their preferences key to the success for any candidate. Most candidates also come from AHSS backgrounds, including both UT editor hopefuls, suggesting people in these faculties are more likely to be personally aware of these candidates prior to elections.

Delving further into gender and support for candidates, while Hastings receives support from male voters, non-binary and non-identifying voters tend to prefer Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce, with a third of each from both demographics supporting her. 

The female vote is split almost evenly down the middle, favouring Hastings by only 1%. Women also make up the largest group of voters, casting 202 votes. It is impossible to say that either of these factors will be any indicator because of the small sample size of non-binary and non identifying categories and the tiny margin in the female vote. 

Politically, most students identify themselves as centre-left and those votes were split almost evenly down the middle, just barely showing preference towards Hastings. 30 students identify as centre-right and those went mostly in favour of Hastings. Of the 52 students who identify as left as opposed to centre-left, 48% would choose Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce, 15% would choose RON, and only 36% would choose Hastings. 

Students who have been in the student union strongly tend to prefer Hastings, with 49.5% of first preferences going to him compared to 36.6% for Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce. This group also sees the highest RON votes of any other demographic, with almost 14% of respondents wanting to reopen nominations for the role. However, only 93 respondents said they had union experience, compared to 243 who did not.

Students who have not participated in the union also prefer Hastings, but by a much smaller margin of only 3%. This might be due to the candidate’s performance in hustings. Students in the Union are more likely to attend and believe that Hastings has been performing well where students who have not been attending hustings and are not in the union like Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce’s claimed experience.

Hastings and Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce have both run campaigns centred around ideas of inclusivity to expand the paper’s reporting, both relying on past experience in journalism roles to appeal to the student body. Hastings has worked with University Times for his entire college career and promises reform in the paper after being one of the members of staff fired by Ailbhe Noonan. He promises to create an environment focused more on mental health and creating a welfare state. 

Meanwhile, Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce has worked for several different publications including UT, TN2 – of which she was co-editor, Evergreen, and Trinity News and touts over 30 pieces written and 100 pieces edited this year. 

While the more stable editorship of Clara Roche has allowed candidates to discuss more bread-and-butter policies, such as increasing the Irish language, the lingering memory of the last few tumultuous years within UT is reflected in both campaigns, in particular increasing recruitment and improving staff welfare.

Ní Fhearraigh Joyce has promised to increase staff across sections, emphasising her Gaeilgeoir background by promising to recruit more Irish-language writers and include an Irish article in every section. In contrast, while Hastings has also promised to increase Irish visibility and recruitment, he suggested focusing on numbers and recruitment has failed in the past: “We need to think about the welfare of our paper… then we can talk about recruitment.”

The opponents have also clashed somewhat in their response to whether the UT editor should be an impeachable role, an issue that resulted in a mass drop in staff last year. Hastings, who previously sought to impeach Noonan with the other fired staff members, has come out strongly in favour of making it an impeachable role, while emphasising student welfare is the primary issue that must be addressed to prevent future controversy. 

While Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce has also emphasised student welfare, proposing the introduction of regular town halls with the student body and hiring an ethics editor to hold both the paper and the editor to account, she has taken a weaker stance on impeachment. The former TN2 editor previously said in hustings she is “not against” making the editor impeachable, but noted creating this mechanism would require constitutional changes. Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce said impeachment “should only happen at crisis point”, arguing that the editorship was not a position.

Overall, both Hastings and Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce’s campaign has clearly garnered support with those interested in the race, but polls indicate this interest is not very high. Between so few votes being cast in the poll and the narrow margins, Trinity News will not be making any official call in the University Times race. 

Madison Pitman

Madison Pitman is a Deputy News Editor and is currently in her second year studying Law with a minor in Political Science.