YUSU Yak: how to win an election

Is it true that as a candidate, your college will support you? Is the ‘incumbent advantage’ overstated? And is there any point campaigning in Wentworth?

Yusu Yak managed to pull out some stats from previous elections to see how far these assumptions went.

In the phenomenal election of 2008, almost 3,000 students voted for Mad Cap’n Tom, the notorious Pirate Candidate.

He had held no college chair seat in the duration of his studies at York, but when it came down to it his rivals’ YUSU experience meant nothing.

Payne and Kunwar’s polling results widely range across campus, whereas Scott maintains a 30-40 per cent share of the vote, with large gains in Wentworth, James, and Halifax. An enthusiastic, light hearted campaign seems to have brought with it consensual approval across the board – though not necessarily in support of his policies.

Throughout the academic year 2007-8, YUSU officers made an unprecedented number of unfavourable headlines, which included the academic and welfare officer Grace Fletcher Hackwood losing her position after a no confidence vote, and the James College Chair Chet Katu being caught on video with a stripper on campus. Students were voting for change.

Results from 2009 saw a much broader range of candidates. While Langrish served on YUSU as the Policy and Campaigns officer, Ngwena, Bradley and Bushby didn’t have YUSU experience to run on.

Bradley hosted a URY radio show, Bushby was a member of the rowing team, while the renaissance man Ngwena was most noted for chairing the Fusion society. How did this translate in terms of results? Langrish looked to be a front running, with surprising consistency throughout campus, holding between 43-50 per cent first preference votes particularly in Wentworth, Langwith, Alcuin and Derwent.

Interestingly, while the eventual victor Ngwena took Halifax, Goodricke and James, his surge is really placed in the latter college, rather than the college he is affiliated with. Meanwhile, his main competitor Langrish, who was also vice chair of Alcuin College, took more than 50 per cent of the first preference votes from his alma mater.

Clearly, college base support is much easier to harness after a JCRC position, but what really counts is networking across campus. Without a college or YUSU platform, you’ll have no core vote, but a good campaign can garner you much more support.

In a close race between Langrish and Ngwena (only 83 first preference votes between them) the election also shows how candidates need to take the AV system into account. Close races will mean that second preferences are the key to victory – a lesson that today’s candidates should bear witness to.

No better is this shown than in 2010. Ngwena was running for a second term. His main competitor was the eccentric Oliver Hutchings, the Alcuin College chair, while also facing stiff competition from Halifax chair Powell, Union Chair Levene, YUSU outsider Hansen and student entrepreneur Freckleton.

Predictably, Hutchings won the lion’s share of the Alcuin vote, but relied too much on his core, performing poorly in receiving first preference votes outside of his stomping ground. Similarly, Powell snapped up the Halifax vote, but lacked support elsewhere.

However, Ngwena used his social media skills, alongside his reputation as president to perform consistently well across campus, particularly in James. Though not enough to secure victory through first preference voting, he garnered the 431 votes needed to beat Hutchings.

College bloc voting means that for a lot of campus, first preference votes are already predetermined. But if you can do the groundwork to secure those second preferences, the AV system can still carry you home.

Our data suggest that Langwith and Vanbrugh are usually foregone conclusions, tending to vote fairly unanimously for one candidate. Halifax offers a huge prize to anyone who can tame it, but is also one of the most divided colleges: there are big wins for candidates this year who get over the road and blitz those kitchens.

It was 2011 where one of the toughest elections took place. Goodricke chair Tim Ellis, faced off against Halifax chair Blundell, Union chair Rowley, and James College JCRC member Rolph. The candidates did receive significant support from their respective colleges. Interestingly, as chairs, Blundell and Ellis received more of the vote share of their colleges than Rolph.

But in this election, the voting system was the real kingmaker. Both Ellis and Blundell performed well throughout campus, positing strong results in all their colleges. But while Blundell was largely expected to be the winner in most student media polls, Ellis emerged victor after four heavily contested rounds, winning the presidency by just fourteen votes.

So, what should this show candidates running for the presidency- or any position this year? While there does seem to be some evidence of a ‘college block vote’, this is really only the foundation of any campaign and it shouldn’t be taken for granted.

YUSU experience isn’t enough. Candidates need to reach out to students across campus, learn the real issues and work on building solutions for them.

And never, ever underestimate a ‘joke’ candidate. Despite promises of spaceships and segways, they have an unreal power to unite people, especially when their competitors are playing traditional campus politics.

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