Editorial: On the Decline in Turnout

Another season of LSESU Lent Term Elections is behind us. Congratulations to all the winners, and commiserations to all the losers. It takes great courage to put yourself out there, and I promise you that this is a valuable experience—nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Having said that, there were certain trends in this year’s elections that did not bode well for the future. Firstly, the lack of turnout as compared to previous years. The General Secretary represents LSE students, and is traditionally the most contested position. Yet, only 1722 students voted for the post of General Secretary, down from 2367 last year, and significantly lower than the 3288 who voted in 2015. This is a 27% decrease in just one year, and nearly a 40% decrease in turnout in voting for the Gen Sec position over the course of my three years.

Comparing the number of unique voters for all positions across years is difficult, because this year votes cast for Officer elections and votes cast for Committee elections were counted separately. Nevertheless, if we assume that those who voted for Committee elections did not vote for Officer elections and vice versa—which I am aware is a generous assumption to make, but bear with me—even if we assume that, there were 2997 unique voters in the Lent Term elections, down from 3508 last year. Stay with me while I make another generous assumption, which is that overall student numbers have not increased since last year. This best-case scenario sees turnout drop by four percentage points.

A more realistic scenario would be that 500 voters in the Committee Elections were unique (that is, they did not vote for Full Time or Part Time officers), and that there are slightly more eligible voters in 2018 than there were in 2017 due to an increase in student numbers (400 more, to be exact). This sees turnout drop by a whopping eight percentage points compared to last year, down to 20.5% from 28.5% in 2017.

The Beaver has gone to pains to expose the structural flaws within the Students’ Union, printing “LSESU In Free Fall” in Michaelmas Term and “LSESU Still In Free Fall” in the Lent Term; both articles were referenced by a good number of candidates standing for election. The decline in turnout is so important because it signifies that increasingly, LSE students do not feel that the Students’ Union represents them. They see the Union as a body to be wrestled with; they square up their shoulders and draw on all their reserves of determination before visiting the ARC; they resign themselves to being kicked out of Union spaces at odd hours because external companies have booked the space. Dr Shafik’s attempts to make the LSE more accountable has seen some students, ironically, feel more warmly towards their departments and the LSE than towards the LSESU, the very body that is supposed to represent LSE students. The resentment has come to a head.

There were only eight candidates standing for Sabbatical positions this year. Small wonder that, as the positions are viewed as punching bags. I have great admiration for Mahatir, Esohe, Megan and Daniel, and have no doubt that they have worked hard and tried to implement reforms that they believed were beneficial to students, but change is too slow coming. The SU as an institution is seen as bureaucratic, complacent, unwilling to listen to students, and incapable of reform. The Beaver is not allowed to print the names of any LSESU staff, whether in a positive or negative vein, which is a pity, as I fear that some of them have escaped responsibility and accountability for their actions (or lack thereof) for too long. There are changes, belatedly, being made; I know that a Staff Review is underway in the ARC. But with student engagement being as low as it is, I fear that the ship has been sailed; it is too little, too late.


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