Credit: AJ Duncan

What motivates participation in student union elections?

By Kimberley Mannion

The Glasgow Guardian investigates students’ motivations for voting in upcoming union elections. 

The Glasgow Guardian has conducted a survey into interest in and awareness of elections for the University of Glasgow’s four student unions: the Student Representative Council (SRC), Glasgow University Union (GUU), Glasgow University Sports Association (GUSA) and Queen Margaret Union (QMU). 

The next election period for the unions, including the chance to vote for paid sabbatical positions, will take place in early March. In the 2021 Spring SRC election, a total of 2,307 votes were cast in the run for SRC President. With 34,811 students enrolled at the University in that academic year across both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, this represents a turnout of approximately 6.6%. Across the four contests for sabbatical positions at the SRC in 2021, a total of 6344 ballots were cast. By comparison, in the same year the University of St Andrews Students’ Association saw a turnout of 27.97% of its student body. 

Amongst those who participated in The Glasgow Guardian’s study, the most common election to have voted in was the SRC, followed by GUSA, GUU and lastly the QMU. Of those who voted, every respondent answered that they knew someone who was standing. This was the most common motivation given for having decided to vote. Belief in democratic institutions within the University also featured, as well as one respondent who said: “There was somebody running I thought had good ideas and a desire to follow them through. Once, I voted specifically against someone due to his alleged abusive behaviour.”

Less than half of respondents who voted had ever attended a hustings or similar campaign event put on by the unions during election cycles to inform students about candidates and their campaigns. 

When asked to summarise their awareness of what students elected to serve on unions do, besides those who described themselves as completely unaware, the rest of responses referred to being informed where the respondent was themself part of a specific union or in some way connected through a society. Information emails sent out were cited as the primary source of election awareness. 

“The elections seem to only matter to those involved, they should spread out the campaign spirit and inform people how it could better their student life,” one student who has never voted told The Glasgow Guardian. 


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