Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union’s (TCDSU) engagement problem is by now an almost eye rollingly cliched part of its annual elections. Year on year candidates come and candidates go, promising to “fix” an issue that nobody seems quite sure how to diagnose – let alone solve.
But in this year’s elections, voter turnout fell so dramatically that talk of engagement suddenly has a renewed relevance. Just 2,521 students voted in the presidential race – arguably the campaign’s most important – down around 800 from the previous two years. A similar trend presented itself across all six races.
Considering that a very small proportion of Trinity students vote, this is a significant – and alarming – drop. Turnout is always going to fluctuate, but a decline of this size suggests that the union’s engagement problem has gone from bad to worse.
And this is a serious issue: a turnout this low doesn’t just undermine the mandates of the six students who were elected last week – it also raises the very serious question of why students didn’t feel enfranchised in an election that decides student positions of genuine significance.
The drop in turnout could be related to the fact that this election’s campaigns seemed weaker than in previous years. The lacklustre energy at hustings – really only attended by campaign teams and student journalists – was certainly testament to a sense that something seems to have been lost.
Various aspects of this year’s election were also less well publicised than in other years: Halls Hustings, for instance, appeared to take place without any advertisement beforehand – a bizarre scenario that was reflected in a comically poor turnout among first years living in Halls.
Some will argue that TCDSU elections, which even at their strongest don’t see more than a quarter of students voting, are generally unrepresentative anyway. But this surely makes it all the more worrying that 25 per cent fewer students voted than the normal low.
Voter turnout is crucial in any election, so we should be asking questions about how and why so few students made it to the polls to have their say in deciding who’ll represent them next year.