Lack of interest in SU elections, why and does it matter?

Ryan Carrick

Over the shoulder shot of someone looking at DCU Student Union's voting page

Election season in DCU came and went. The President and Vice Presidents for Welfare and Equality, Engagement & Development, Academic Affairs and Education & Placement, as well as representatives for the various schools, have been chosen for the coming year. Yet, interest from students in the elections remains low.

The election for positions in the DCU Student Union for the academic year 2020/2021 took place on March 4 and 5. According to the Student Union, there was a “huge amount of votes cast’” and in many cases, it was the highest turnout ever in a DCU SU election.

However, with over 17,000 students at DCU, only 4,191 voted in the SU presidential election, about 25 per cent of the electorate. In the race for other positions, turnout was even lower. Only 3,328 students voted for a new VP for Engagement and Development. DCU students simply are not engaging in SU politics.

Two referendums that were originally run last December but were declared void due to low voter turnout were held again during the election. In December, the SU failed to reach the quota of 10 per cent of Student Union members which was needed to deem the vote valid. The second time around, the quota was met, but this was likely because of students being online to vote in the election anyway.

Studies in the past, such as one conducted by BBC in 2014, have shown that the younger electorate have become increasingly disengaged with the democratic system. Typically, younger voters tend to have a significantly lower turnout than the older demographic. That being said, there was more engagement among young voters in the recent general election.

The votes of young people can make a huge difference to the political landscape and this was seen in the general election. Ireland’s youth are the main factor in the seeming end to the almost century-long duopoly of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. Young voters decided that “politics-as-usual” did not work for them and used the ballot box to show this. So, why is there such a lack of engagement with DCU political affairs?

According to an opinion poll conducted by The College View, almost half of DCU students did not know who they were going to vote for in the election days before voting began. The race for the DCUSU presidency had the least certainty, with 54 per cent of those who answered in the poll saying they were unsure who they were going to vote for.

There is clearly a significant lack of engagement and interest from the student body with political affairs in DCU. Students rarely familiarise themselves with the manifestos or campaign promises of the relevant candidates. Some deem SU elections to be nothing more than ‘popularity contests’, contests that have a predetermined result based on how well known a candidate is rather than the potential value of a candidate’s tenure. 

Perhaps, in the student’s mind, this predetermination declares their vote irrelevant. Why bother voting for the person who will make a difference if the most popular candidate is going to win either way?

By Ryan Carrick 

Image: Sonja Tutty