Connor MacDonald hands at leaflets at the SIdgwick Site on ThursdayLouis Ashworth

CUSU’s annual elections launched yesterday, with three students set to compete for the role of president, and a spread of competitive votes set to be held across several the roles up for grabs.

The presidential candidates – Evie Aspinall, Connor MacDonald and Siyang Wei – all set off their bids with leafleting missions and social media campaigns.

MacDonald and Wei could both be seen on the Sidgwick lecture site in the middle of the day taking advantage of the two-day break in staff strikes to catch students as their travelled between libraries and lectures. Meanwhile, students at Pembroke were treated to a wall of blue as Aspinall (or her campaigners) systematically filled the college’s pigeon holes.

Students adopted familiar tactics in elections that have seen an ever-increasing emphasis on social sharing: almost all updated Facebook cover photos and profile pictures, with some even offering their keenest fans the option of a photo frame to show support. Some candidates have also made videos or launched campaign websites.

Aspinall, MacDonald and Wei went head-to-head for the first time on Thursday night, meeting for a discussion at an open Sidney Sussex JCR meeting, which was still taking place as Varsity went to print.


Mountain View

Tough fight ahead in battle for CUSU presidency

The major set-piece event, however, will be Sunday night, when all candidates will meet at a hustings event chaired by Elections Committee (EC) head Sam Longton. Outside of the presidents, this will give an opportunity for candidates in the other roles to meet face-to-face, with interesting competitions likely for the positions of Graduate Union president, welfare & rights, access and funding, and University Councillor.

Current conditions are likely to ramp up the need for a strong digital campaign even further: staff strikes will continue through next week until Friday, the very last day of campaigning, and disruptions to Lent Bumps – a hot spot for Eyre’s campaigning last – mean that students have to find new ways to reach students, many of whom are not venturing outside often.

Drawing conclusions on candidates’ chances based on these initial launches is unlikely to aid any attempted estimations about outcome: last year’s turnout for the presidential vote was 4,719 students, around 22.5% of students. In contrast, the number of students who will ‘like’ a campaign profile picture of list themselves at ‘attending’ an election Facebook profile event usually only stays in the low hundreds. For what they are worth, current interaction numbers put Wei in the lead, with Aspinall shortly behind and MacDonald trailing. Ultimately, however, those numbers only reflect the reach of a personal profile: candidates will need to find a way to win over students that they have never met.

It is here that CUSU’s voting system could become an important factor: the student union uses a system in which votes are given in a order of preferences, meaning if the election is tight it could be dictated by a candidate sweeping up votes. Depending on how voters are motivated, this could well play into the hand of Aspinall or Wei, both of whom could benefit from a perception that they are both representatives of the broad student left.

Equally, bubbling discontent from some parts of the student body against the current staff walkouts – some of which has been directed against CUSU – could lead to a backlash against Wei, who has aligned themself strongly with the striking academics. In comparison, Aspinall and MacDonald have raised criticisms of the student union’s stance on walkouts at the heart of their campaigns.

Within this dynamic, there are a number of factors that could radically alter how the election plays out, based on the candidates’ varied similarities: voters might opt for the candidates with the most experience, which would see MacDonald and Wei dominate. The biggest split in positions however, lies between these two: MacDonald’s position as Cambridge University Conservative Association (CUCA) chair, and Wei’s involvement with both Cambridge Universities Labour Club (CULC) and the activist left; may put them at odds with each other in the eyes of the electorate.

This split could cause Aspinall to benefit, despite her outsider status, if she is able to collect sufficient second preferences from the other candidates.

Elections 2018

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