A day campaigning with the SU candidates

What is it like on the other side?


It’s that time of the year when the streets of the Cathays and Heath campuses are filled with students wearing funny costumes and “harassing” passing students in the hopes of getting votes. Each candidate focuses on various changes and improvements they’d like to make if elected. This year these improvements range from encouraging more efficient communication between staff and students to scraping letting agency fees.

Now you may be thinking – why should I vote? I’ve had fellow final year students argue that since they’re not going to be part of Cardiff University from September, they don’t see the point. Moreover, others have said that some of the proposals are too far fetched. They might seem unrealistic today, but this time last year, who would have thought that ASSL would be open 24/7?

Having spent the last four years of my university life on this side of the elections, I decided to cross the line and see what it’s like. Is it all fun and games with using the disguise of free goodies to enforce their propaganda? At least that’s what some of us seem to think.

So I decided to follow some campaigners around. I spend a day (or just over 7 hours) with a group of campaigners and followed them throughout the campus to experience what it’s actually like to campaign.

Thoughts at the beginning of the day:

  • Campaigners just walk around talking to students and shove their agenda at them to get votes
  • It’s all about the winning and not necessarily about a friendly competitive spirit
  • Campaigning is just walking – what’s the worst that could happen?

Our current VP Education, Sophie Timbers is one of the contenders for SU President. She helped me gain a better insight into the elections’ process:

“All of the candidates will have spent hours preparing banners, photos, videos, signs, manifestos and campaign teams in the run up to the week. They will have searched high and low for timetables, hopefully researched the university and the students’ union in order to make informed decisions on their manifestos, and probably will have stressed their housemates out by talking non-stop elections… And then the fun begins. With a countdown with the other candidates in the foyer of the SU at 8:55am Monday morning… when the clock strikes 9am… we’re off.

Most will do a lecture shout out on the hour every hour. Students can get disgruntled by lavishly dressed candidates, or ambitious but more often than not, realistic manifestos being shouted out at the beginning/end of their lecture but at least they know who’s about, has spent the time listening to them, and might be persuaded to vote.

Election campaigns can be anything from just online, lecture shoutouts, or just simply chatting to students when they’re on lunch, or dotted around campus, or of course a combination of all three. Most candidates will have spoken to 101 societies and as many sports clubs and associations as possible in order to get your vote.” 

At the beginning, I had a few misconceptions about the elections. I didn’t realise the restrictions enforced on candidates. For example, there are rules. One rule that stood out the most was that each campaigner has a budget: £20 for printing and £30 for all other supplies. This ensures that all campaigners are treated equally and that they cannot just buy their way into the Union. This inspires them to get creative with what they have. With such a tight budget, they have to use all the tools within their arsenals to make their campaign memorable for all the voters.

6:00 AM: This week, the candidates are up before sunrise to meet the early-birders and visit morning lectures. I’ve also spoken to one candidate who was up until 5 AM to edit his campaign videos only for the alarm to wake him up in a couple of hours to begin campaigning… So I decided to immerse myself into the experience and wake up early and do some lecture readings.

9:00 AM: As part of elections week, all running candidates are given breakfast each morning. This allows them to discuss their experiences with each other. Most importantly, they get fed before campaigning, which I think is really important considering throughout the day they just live on sugar and caffeine. (I did for the day, but wouldn’t really recommend for an entire week…)

Having joined the bandwagon at 9 (unfortunately, not as well fed as the candidates), we rushed for a lecture shout-out and targeted some budding Mathematicians.

The candidates I followed were dedicated to their campaigns and scheduled hourly lecture shout-outs. Their time in-between was spent on focusing and promoting their manifestos on Social Media. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter seem to be their key tools for reaching all student voters – especially ones on reading week.

Using the power of modern technology to get votes

Over the course of my day, I learned that these elections aren’t taken lightly. Candidates are quite politically savvy and tend to be strategic when campaigning. In fact, even students who vote, ask challenging questions to their potential VPs. Candidates spent most of their time focusing on answering these queries in order to promote their manifestos and get a positive and memorable image across.

10:00 AM: Shout-out to final year Psychology students.

All candidates I met throughout the day – and even throughout the week – emphasised on how important it was to encourage the final year students to vote. Their one vote may not impact their lives, but looking at some of the manifestos, it could strongly affect students who will be back in September. It could mean a difference between increasing support for placement students or not.

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11:00 AM: Shout-out to Business students.

"What I've found with running for VP Sports is that students are more interested in your manifesto and they're much more willing to listen and engage with you. Also as the competition is so tough it means that people are taking a bit more time to decide who they're voting for so I have to make sure that my campaign is as strong as it can be" - Toby Lock

“What I’ve found with running for VP Sports is that students are more interested in your manifesto and they’re much more willing to listen and engage with you. Also as the competition is so tough it means that people are taking a bit more time to decide who they’re voting for so I have to make sure that my campaign is as strong as it can be” – Toby Lock

NOON – 2:00 PM: Targeting tomorrow’s Engineers.

At around 11:30, the candidates trekked up to the Queens Building. Since I had to attend a compulsory seminar, I managed to join them an hour later (after crawling to the building). I was able to slip away to keep up with my course, whereas, these candidates have missed out on their week’s lectures. One candidate also missed his deadline, in the midst of all the campaigning madness. That is dedication considering less than 25 per cent of the university voted last year. I was shocked. Just above 6000 students voted out of over 30,000 students studying at our university. So, we moan about how our fees are spent on the wrong things and when given a chance, don’t even bother to vote for any change.

These can be found here.

Have a look at the updating statistics here.

I spoke to some students about the elections. Alice, a final year, said: “I’m against voting because too much emphasis is put on the gimicky videos and costumes – and it becomes based on who people remember not who they actually support.” This seems to be a shared opinion amongst quite a few students. Another final year, Natalie said: “I also think that they try to bribe votes with sweets and then people don’t vote for the policies; also the policies are unrealistic.” The potential voters argue that these candidates just annoy them when they’re trying to get to their lectures. On the other hand, some students (who still don’t vote) like the free stuff.

One major thing this experience taught me was there’s more to these candidates than their flashy costumes and catchy tunes. Cammie, an international student said: “It is a very insteresting and fun way to get the students’ attention, but it is a bit unlucky that most students are not here as they are in their study week right now.”

The candidates spent hours on end, prior to the start of elections week to research their positions. They look at statistics about the university, information about the plans in action and most importantly, what the students have to say. Clair Brosnan, running for VP Welfare, said:I have loved running around campus this week because getting students to engage during their time in Cardiff is so important. I really am passionate about Welfare across the board so I’ve put my all into everything.”  The candidates, went on a “speed dates” with members of the university and union to talk about their potential manifestos. The effort put in differs from candidate to candidate, some campaigners I met were diligently spreading the word whereas, others seemed a bit cavalier about the entire process.

Back to my day…

During these two hours, the candidates did lecture shout-outs to different courses within the Queens Building. They also interacted with students in the cafeterias and answered questions they posed.

"Its really intense. For me the main thing is not boring or bothering students. I always make sure to ask if students want to talk, and if not I'm still happy to hand out sweets." - Alex Kuklenko running for VP Postgrad

“It’s really intense. For me the main thing is not boring or bothering students. I always make sure to ask if students want to talk, and if not, I’m still happy to hand out sweets.” – Alex Kuklenko running for VP Postgrad

As it was Day four of elections, the candidates were quite tired and were finding it hard to stay motivated. As they were campaigning together, they would help keep each other’s spirits high. At the beginning of the day, I thought that campaigning would be more of a race where candidates pulled each other down, however, the reality is quite different. Even candidates running for the same positions had a healthy friendly competition, which was inspiring to see. All candidates mentioned how they wouldn’t have thought they would make friends during this arduous process, especially those who would support them so strongly as they have supported each other.

Friendly competition between two contenders

Friendly competition between two contenders

3:00 PM: Inspired some Sociology students to vote

Over the course of this tiring day, the candidates struggled to stay positive and motivated to campaign. One candidate said that he had walked over 20,000 steps each day over elections week according to his pedometer. Their diet consisted of a lot of caffeine and sugar. Whenever, they sat on any table to keep up with the Social Media demands, they either had a can of Red Bull or some sweets. One even decided to start doing some star jumps in the middle of the cafeteria. In fact, my diet throughout the day mirrored theirs as well. Eating chocolate is all well and good, but it really makes you yearn for some proper food (yes, even veggies) I did this only for one day (which I admit, can be construed as a stereotypical student’s diet), however, I couldn’t wait to get home and cook myself a proper meal (even if it predominantly consisted of potatoes).

Just a fraction of my day’s caffeine and sugar intake

4:00 PM: Getting the lawyers to join in this democratic race.

Despite having followed only one group around, I managed to talk to quite a few other candidates as well. I was curious about students running against no competition. For example, James Daly running for Ethical & Environmental Officer said, “although in the first half of the week, I relied predominantly on posters and social media to get my message across, in the second half I have chosen to spend my time campaigning and canvassing the student population both to encourage them to vote for me (providing a mandate and legitimacy to what I want to do), as well as encouraging them to vote for others in general highlighting the mechanisms by which they can choose candidates.” Did you know, that when one candidate pulls out during the week, their votes get put under R.O.N. (re-open nominations). This can be very unfortunate for any candidates running for less coveted positions.

So finally, I got home just after 5 pm. The group I was following, went home to recuperate – but only for a short period of time, as they had more stops to make after sunset.

Having followed these students, I got great insight into what life would be like to nominate myself as a candidate. One advise to any future nominees – be prepared, be focused and be well fed! It’s a LONG week where you have to work tirelessly 24/7, after having spent days prior to elections week getting your campaign ready. Also, choose a costume where you are well covered. It was a cold windy day in sunny Cardiff and I struggled with my pleather jacket and scarf…

My perception about the candidates was a bit skewed at the start, but now having walked (definitely more than a) mile in their shoes, I am happy to report, that they’re a great bunch of competitive students who are striving hard to make our university experience count – both academically and socially.

My thoughts at the end of the day:

  • I will not describe campaigning as fun. It is a positive experience insofar, as a candidate you get to meet new people and chat to them about their thoughts and opinions about your university. However, it’s not a feat to be taken lightly. It’s a marathon and not a sprint. I would much rather repeat my 15-day trek in rainy Nepal, than go through such a demanding week.
  • I followed four candidates throughout the day and met many more. There were two or even more people running for the same posts, chatting happily, discussing their campaigns and even advising each other on how to answer challenging questions from students! There is a negative perception that students might become sore rivals due to elections, but trust me, I have had first hand experience in witnessing that this couldn’t be further from the truth. It is admirable to see fellow Cardiff Uni students embrace this challenge with such an optimistic and amicable spirit.
  • Well, campaigning is walking around campus (and up & down many flights of stairs) But by the time I got home, I had drank three black coffees, one bottle of coke, lived off chocolates (and one banana). I also had an achey back, stiff shoulders and a slightly bloody toe.

I spent my first year at university, being ignorant about these elections. Then, I spent my second and third year, only voting for my friends (yes, I know that’s wrong – but well, most of you do it as well). However, this year I learned the importance of having an informed opinion and making my voice count. I would not recommend voting for a candidate purely because they might be your friend, but actually spending some time to read the manifestos and making an informed decision. These candidates have spent a enormous amount of time individually as well as with their dedicated campaign teams (consisting of students just like you and me), to make their voice heard and promote their manifestos. The least we could – as voters – do is show them the respect and vote.