Are Student Politics a Popularity Contest?

Take the ballot. Mark the box. Chances are you, like so many of us, are not entirely familiar with the platform you are supporting but still feel confident you’re making the right choice. You think he or she will do a good job in x position: you know them personally, they’re outgoing, talented, and a person you’re happy to be acquainted with. Of course, you trust your own character judgment, which compels you to make a decision like voting for your friend in the upcoming student election. 

Now here’s the thing: what if we all did that? Gave into our bias and voted for a friend, but not necessarily for the person who is the best equipped or qualified for the position they are running for. 

If we simply choose the person we trust and know the best, is the election still a fair contest of charisma and leadership skill? Or, at that point, is it simply a popularity contest? More importantly, how does this affect our school and the Students’ Union’s platforms?

From my point of view, most elections, especially those in a small community, are simply matters of popularity. It makes sense. If people love you, they will elect you their leader. This is something that I think most people who went through high school noticed – there was a strange correlation between one’s participation in Student Council and his or her social ties. If you were pop, you were prez. It was rattling for me back then. In reality, however, I’m not sure it was actually such a big deal. I look back on all four years of my high school career with equal amounts of disdain and indifference, but frankly they were all the exact same, or at least very similar. What I take from this, in reflection, is that even if the elections back than were based off popularity - and they were, mark my words - it really did not make any difference in everyday life. 

In my three semesters spent at StFX thus far, I look back on my time here in a somewhat more positive light. The community is certainly more mature, but I dare say we are still subject to the same biases. Frankly, when I asked a few students who they were voting for as Vice-President -since the President is essentially pre-determined - most gave somewhat different answers, but generally the reason was the same: they knew the candidate. 

So while we are all mostly voting for the person we are most comfortable with and trusting of - the candidate we share the closest interpersonal relationship with - how detrimental is that to our school and the Students’ Union? 

When I look back to my frosh year, I didn’t really pay much mind to the U or who was running it. I thought the programs they put on where great, but I was under a veil, a fish fresh out of the pond thrown into the ocean. Everything about StFX was so awesome, simply because it was something new to chew on. For that reason, I can’t really say that who was running the U last year had any effect on my thoughts of the school. 

This year, having been habituated to life around here a bit more, I’m now in a better position to critique, ever so slightly, how this place is managed. As in high school, I feel like when you get down to the nitty gritty, the platforms are all so similar that it doesn’t make a difference who you elect so long as they are the slightest bit competent – or at least that’s what I’ve seen so far. This year has been just as good for me, maybe even slightly better than last year, but I feel like the government of the U has not had much of an effect on this improvement.   

So perhaps yes, when voting in these small, closed community elections we are subject to some bias. Perhaps in the end, it really is just a matter of the candidates’ social network that really pulls in the votes. And to that I say so what? So far this year the U has gotten us a new convenience store in the SUB, which, as opposed to having two outlets that sell clothing, is a huge improvement. At the very least, I do not believe anything crucial to student life has been slashed. So if those who were elected last year were elected out of popularity I would be one to argue that it has not been detrimental to the school. 

Alongside that, the individual I’m putting my money on to win this year is definitely the most popular of the three choices. Without naming said individual, I can’t actually say he or she would do a bad job, because from what I’ve seen of their performance, they seem more than capable of taking on the position. 

This leads me to believe that perhaps being more socially affluent or popular isn’t a bad thing for someone holding such a position. They would certainly be highly sociable, and if people in a community such as ours seem to like them then there must be a reason for it. The only downfall would be that others who may be equally or even better suited for the role may not have the chance to acquire it, due to being caught in the shadow of those more connected. 

I feel like that’s just part of how human society works though, and since the problem is not going anywhere, nor does it seem to cause much harm, I will finish on this note. My proposed solution is simple: vote for whomever you feel truly deserves the position. Whether it be friend, acquaintance, or someone you don’t even know. Often times, our leaders are not chosen, they simply are.