The numbers have the answer

This year’s SU elections saw an increased amount of people voting but only a small percentage of the student population took part. Looking at turnout, satisfaction, and predictions, we analysed the numbers behind this year’s results.

Turnout

Over 1,500 people voted in this year’s elections meaning, roughly, only 16% of the total student population at the university took part. Due to regulations over who’s eligible to vote — part-time students can’t — this figure may be slightly higher.

Not all of these will have been in support of the candidates as in some categories as many as 144 votes were cast for the option to re-open nominations (RON). So, we do not know what percentage of people actually voted for the people running.


Turnout percentages in context.

This year’s turnout is an increase over the 2009 figure (13%) and puts Lincoln above the national average for turnout (13.8%) as reported by the NUS. However, it is still lower than many universities, notably Sheffield, who had a 25% response rate in 2009.

The last two years are lower than the 18.8% turnout in 2008.

Breakdown by position

The increased turnout is reflected in the number of votes for each category. The overall increase in votes was 23% and this can be seen in the full time positions, with 31% more votes being cast for the role of president, 27% for the vice-president for academic affairs, and 28% for the vice-president for welfare.

The most notable rise is for the now-combined sports and societies role. Last year the mean votes cast for the two positions was 852, while this year saw a 60% rise in votes for the vice-president for activities position, at 1367 — the most votes for a single position.

The paid roles were closely contested with vice-president for activities split 42%/58% between Emily Gough and Kayleigh Taylor. Vice-president for academic affairs was similarly split 59% / 41% in Dan Derricott’s favour.

Facebook groups

Social networking sites were more important than in previous years, with each candidate creating a Facebook group to support their campaign.

The Linc monitored the number of people who joined the groups as a way of checking popularity and engagement with the campaigns, and used them to predict who would win each role.

All of these predictions were correct, with the successful candidates having the most members of their groups. The most popular person was Andreas Zacharia, who finished the elections period with 552 people having joined his group, just beating Chris Charnley in the last week of the campaign (548).

Although Charnley claimed on his Facebook page that he “won with a landslide vote” he only received 58% of the votes cast for president. Whilst 783 people did vote for him this is much less than 10% of the total student population.

A poll on The Linc’s website during the live SU elections simulcast asked “Are you happy with the elections results this year?” Out of over 350 respondents, only 36% of people answered “yes”. Comments from readers on the night included one from “E.C”, which said: “Happy with everything except president.”


Online poll results.

The Facebook tracking also allowed for estimating percentages for each position. The differences in the group sizes were quite large and so for president it looked like Charnley would have 70% of the votes for his position.

The estimated results for vice-president for academic affairs was much closer with only a 2% difference in the predictions, 59% to 41%, compared to the final results.There has been little change in terms of competition between candidates throughout the two-week campaign period.

The majority of the people joining did so at the start making these elections look more like a contest of existing popularity.

6 Responses to The numbers have the answer

  1. David Clare says:

    Your poll is clearly biased. Your articles are alway anti-Charnley, so I expect your readership is too. If your poll was truly representative of students it would have shown exactly the same result as the SU election, given that the poll was on the same night.

    I also think you are putting to much of a negative spin on these figures. It is higher than the national average and comparing it to Sheffield, who I assume have been chosen for having the highest turnout, is wrong. The numbers have grown since last year, praise this.

    SU elections are bound to have a low turnout, as you put rightly in a previous article, they really don’t have much power. So why would students care too much?

    Anyway, at least it is nice to see the figures. I think the turnout is good, but if you wanted more, maybe a little PR would work.

  2. Wow, that’s quite an assumption. Will our entire readership be anti-Charnley? I’m not so sure about that.

    Besides, who says everyone who voted in our poll actually voted in the elections? Let’s not forget that 84% of students didn’t vote. Maybe some don’t care, maybe some didn’t vote because they’re disenfranchised with the system. The SU elections are not representative of the student body.

    Plus, this report is incredibly dry. It’s well written and gives you the facts. What more could you want? The reference to Sheffield is to show you what’s possible.

    The numbers may have grown since last year, but the report highlights that they are actually down on 2008 by 2.8%. We have praised the progress made on last year, too. See “It’s like 2009 all over again”.

    Frankly, I think we’ve had enough PR, thanks. We’ll stick to the salient facts.

  3. Rowan Draper says:

    Maybe some don’t care, maybe some didn’t vote because they’re disenfranchised with the system. The SU elections are not representative of the student body.

    I don’t think that it is responsible journalism to propose the who’s, why’s and how’s of an action or decision without a specific context. Had you cited evidence of general conventions outside of SU elections you may see that the apathy you see in your elections (or lack of turnout) is on par with nationally accepted conventions or results of previous elections where only 60% of the country voted in the general election but would still be representative of the country.

    Your article doesn’t factor the demographic of the student body and have they been ‘engaged’ by previous years of Union Exec committees. Without detailed breakdowns of how the election took place (i.e. 33% of non-residential, 22% of mature and 11% of postgraduates). You also haven’t taken into account the lack of election experience from freshers who will typically have had no connections with elections in any form at this stage.

    Plus, this report is incredibly dry. It’s well written and gives you the facts. What more could you want? The reference to Sheffield is to show you what’s possible.

    Exeter Students Guild received 4000 votes in their 08-09 election, which was 34% turnout of their total student population. If they have 2000 or 20,000 students how is it responsible to present their statistics without contextual qualifiers that will allow a reader to understand that Lincoln receiving 16% is commensurate with the 28% turnout at Sheffield two years ago? Without those facts it presents a pigeon-hole’d version of a story, which is again not responsible.

  4. So you’re saying a 16% turnout in an SU election reflects the same level of apathy a 60% turnout in a GE – that doesn’t make any sense. Besides, we could argue that a GE doesn’t represent the country because of the voting system, but that’s an entirely different debate. Your confusing two separate things here.

    Saying freshers have had no contact with elections before is a cop-out. It’s down to the SU to engage them. Given freshers here start in late September, that’s a whole five months to get them engaged.

    We don’t have access to detailed demographic information. Whilst I concede it may be interesting to see if more of one group are voting year on year, in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter. Collectively, only 16% of our student body voted. You’ve got to appeal to everyone, not just one group.

    I know Exeter had a 34% turnout, but Sheffield is close to us and they won an NUS award for best union in 08/09, I think it was. That’s why we used them. Perhaps the article would have benefited from the statistic that Sheffield had 24,000 students during that election. That stat would say that not only do they have over double the amount students compared with Lincoln, but they’ve also managed to engage 6,000 people to vote. It doesn’t say much about the state of student politics in Lincoln is we can’t even get close to a 25% turnout with only 10,000 students.

    You can rest assured that we checked for these “contextual qualifiers”, but by all accounts we found nothing to show it was anything but a standard SU election.

  5. Rowan Draper says:

    Hi Shane,

    > So you’re saying a 16% turnout in an SU election reflects the same level of apathy a 60% turnout in a GE – that doesn’t make any sense. Besides, we could argue that a GE doesn’t represent the country because of the voting system, but that’s an entirely different debate. Your confusing two separate things here.

    I’m saying that without presenting those facts it doesn’t reflect an accurate portrayal of the situation. The statistics as I say may reflect that, but I don’t have the numbers to hand to argue for or against, so I am saying that you should take into context what engagement you get for other elections before saying that its a sorry state for SU elections. Yes I agree that election turnouts should be higher across HEIs than they are.

    > Saying freshers have had no contact with elections before is a cop-out. It’s down to the SU to engage them. Given freshers here start in late September, that’s a whole five months to get them engaged.

    True, it is down to the Union to engage students but I believe that students should be engaged by more than just an Executive Committee because if students are not engaged with Council, Sports, Societies, Entertainments or other areas the Union provides then why will it be important for them to vote?

    > We don’t have access to detailed demographic information. Whilst I concede it may be interesting to see if more of one group are voting year on year, in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter. Collectively, only 16% of our student body voted. You’ve got to appeal to everyone, not just one group.

    I would argue that it does matter because how can you improve on your academic work without knowing where to improve it. It’s not enough to say that it could be better, it should be enough to say “I need to work on my referencing, my sources and my analtyical writing” because then you can target those areas for improvement. By knowing where or who you go wrong with you can ensure that you appeal more to them, and keep the groups you already have voting at the same time to improve turn-out.

    > I know Exeter had a 34% turnout, but Sheffield is close to us and they won an NUS award for best union in 08/09, I think it was. That’s why we used them. Perhaps the article would have benefited from the statistic that Sheffield had 24,000 students during that election. That stat would say that not only do they have over double the amount students compared with Lincoln, but they’ve also managed to engage 6,000 people to vote. It doesn’t say much about the state of student politics in Lincoln is we can’t even get close to a 25% turnout with only 10,000 students.

    I’d say unless they had similar numbers to you it’s an unfair comparison. A Union with 24,000 members will presumably have more money to spend on officers, staff and campaigns to engage students whereas a Union with 10,000 members may have less.

    > You can rest assured that we checked for these “contextual qualifiers”, but by all accounts we found nothing to show it was anything but a standard SU election.

    You may have checked for them but it doesn’t reflect that in the article as it seems biased towards one way of thinking, using data to support one argument rather than saying something like …

    “These are the stats but as students we expect better and this is how we should improve.”

  6. Hi Rowan,

    Whatever you feel about the responsibility of engagement of people with the Students’ Union, that is something that falls under their responsibility and is not the point being covered in this article. Although it would make for interesting analysis to see the breakdown among different areas of the university population this is data not available as Shane previously mentioned.

    However, you seem to indicate that it is the responsibility of The Linc to make suggestions of, as you say, “how we should improve”. The Linc reports on what happens at the university and it is not our role to promote the Students’ Union. In terms of discussing what flaws there were in the process, I suggest you may be more interested in some of the other pieces covering the elections, such as Jack Dobson’s staff blog.

    You say that the article “seems biased towards one way of thinking” however I do not see that. This piece is merely showing the data for various aspects of the election. In the case of turnout the article does say that this year is an improvement over both the last year and national average, and the comparison to Sheffield is actually shorter: you have chosen to dwell on that in your comments, whereas it is just mentioned in the piece.

    This article is not presenting a point of view, rather than stating the numbers of turnout, votes by position, comparisons to Facebook group sizes and the response of our readers in a poll. Although statistics can often be used to spin a situation, this is not what’s happened here. These are numbers, make whatever conclusions you wish from them.