As you probably couldn’t help but be aware, last week was polling week for the LeadLUU elections. Each year the Union is plastered in posters, you are bombarded with Facebook invitations and emerge from campus each day with bags full of leaflets.
We have our new student exec, voted for by us, the students. Or some of us at least. In spite of all of the publicity, turnout this year was the lowest for a long time, with only 18.46% of students voting overall. This is down from 20.91% in 2019.
It could be a good sign that students are happy with the way the union is being run and don’t feel their vote is needed to steer it in a new direction. However, according to the most recent National Student Survey results only 66.15% of Leeds students felt that their students’ union effectively represents students’ academic interests. Whilst this result is higher than a number of other universities, it shows that at least double the students voting in elections felt that the union could do better.
The other most likely reason for low turnout is that students are less engaged with their union, a phenomenon at odds with national voting patterns that suggest that young people are more involved in democracy.
Although the number of students voting is dropping, the same groups of students seem to be the ones most interested in voting. Following the same trend as the last few years, students in later years are most likely to vote whilst students on their years abroad and first years trail behind. It makes sense that those not in Leeds for a year might be less in the loop with the union elections. It is also common to be more interested in voting if peers are running, and first years are less likely to have this. For example, this year 50% of candidates were in their third year. However, considering both groups will be affected by the results much more than the third and fourth years who are likely to graduate before the next executive start, it is worth thinking about how to get them more engaged.
Out of students living in halls there continues to be a massive discrepancy in voting. Out of undergraduate halls the frontrunners were Ellerslie International Halls with 47.3% of students voting. Whilst those in James Baillie, Blenheim Point, and Liberty Dock were the least keen to vote, with less than 14.5% voting in each.
In terms of society members, no one will be surprised to hear that members of Political and Media societies were most keen on exercising their democratic right – with around 44% voting. Whilst Outdoor Societies must have been away from their computers with only 22% voting. Overall, those involved with societies were more likely to vote than the average student, perhaps unsurprisingly as they are more in contact with the union in general.
This would suggest that the way to get people more engaged in the union elections is to get them more involved in the union. Or perhaps, as students in first year halls are the least likely to vote there should be more focus in campaigning at these halls rather than just on campus. Or, maybe we should be happy that those who are voting keep turning out consistently good student leaders?