Voter turnout for student elections and referenda

After the summer’s referendum on the EU which had the whole nation in discussion (even if the level of discourse was rather poor), the recent CUSU referendum has been much more low-profile and somewhat of a climbdown. The topic in question was the class lists, Cambridge’s traditional (and unique) practice of publishing lists of all students’ examination results, both physically outside the Senate House and in print and online, in the Reporter. The question put forward was: ‘Should CUSU campaign to keep the Class Lists with an easier opt- out process?’. Proponents argued that publishing results is useful for combating impostor syndrome, and that class lists are a Cambridge tradition that should not be allowed to die, while an unconditional opt-out procedure would make participation voluntary. Opponents argued that having one’s results published causes stress and that an opt-out system would still allow the best to boast about themselves, and that the most stressed students could find it hard to request an opt-out, even if the procedure was unconditional.

I found about about the referendum only four hours before voting closed, thanks to an email from the Trinity Maths Society’s president. The referendum was not advertised by CUSU, except being mentioned in passing in two newsletters. I therefore suspected that the turnout would be rather low, and that the legitimacy of the referendum would be questionable. I was quite surprised by the turnout: 4,758 votes cast, out of an electorate of 23,615, or 20%. (The proponents won by a margin of around 500 votes.)

For comparison, the referendum to disaffiliate from the NUS, back in May 2016, had a turnout of 6,178 out of 21,479, or 29%. Queens’ JCR’s referenda in Michaelmas 2011, one motion being ‘Queens’ College JCR should oppose the current government changes to higher education’, had a turnout of 34%.

It would be interesting to study voter turnouts at different colleges’ JCR and MCR elections. In which colleges are students most keen to take part in the way their college is run?

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