After the initial flurry of democratic enthusiasm dies down, the polling stations across DCU go quiet. From about 2 pm onwards, students manning the stations become a bit more desperate to get anyone and everyone they can to vote. One brave individual calls over to a group passing by, trying to lure them in. They walk on, but not before one of them stops for a second, saying: “Sure what would the point be anyway?” and carries on.
Why do so few students vote? The problem with the lack of interest in student politics was highlighted in the referendum on re-affiliating with the USI last week – which just about managed to get the 10% needed for it to be considered valid at all. In a survey carried out by The College View, almost half of students said that they didn’t vote because they either didn’t have enough information or because they didn’t even know that a referendum was taking place.
Students’ Union President, Paul Doherty has said that it’s up to students to be informed. “You can drag them in by the ankles, but that’s not the way you want to do it. You want to make it interesting for them,” he said. “We did 100% of what we could. It’s kind of students’ responsibility to get informed, we can only do so much.”
But over 69% of students thought that the SU didn’t do enough to publicise the referendum, and three-quarters of those surveyed said that if they had the opportunity to vote again tomorrow, they would.
In response, Doherty points to the 11,000 emails sent out by the SU, and says that any information needed was there. “All they have to do is click. It’s open, there’s the information. And if they do that, then they know about it, they can go vote.”
A low turnout isn’t exactly unprecedented. A referendum on re-joining the USI was held in DCU in 2010, again just about managing to scrape together enough votes to be constitutional. As a way to get more people voting, Doherty says that our quorum is set at 10%. “I think it should be a bit higher, and that might push people to come up with ways to expand the voting.”
This indifference to student politics doesn’t seem to be limited to voting though, with 84% of students saying that they don’t want to be more involved with student politics at all. As second year Multimedia student Bríain O’Donoghue puts it: “From my experience with student politics, very little of actual importance is ever achieved through it, as higher bodies seem to rarely listen.”
Another criticism of student politics and the SU is that, if you do want to, it can be difficult to get involved, and that how well you do can be down to who you know rather than what you know. As second year economics student Sean O’Rourke says: “It’s more of a popularity game than anything.”
But Doherty still encourages people to get involved in student politics. “Some people just go through college, don’t look left or right or right and just plough on which is completely understandable. It’s just tough because they’re missing out on so much”.