Are student government elections just popularity contests?
Are student government elections really just popularity contests? The most common impression is that student government is a conglomeration of really popular, preppy kids who vote all their friends into office. On Election Day last year, the eponymous posters hung up by various kids running in the election differed only in the artistic portrayal of the candidate they represented. This caused some students to vote in the election with a sense of bias, believing neither the posters nor the speeches accurately represented the speaker. Since this opinion is ubiquitous, I asked 30 of my fellow student one question, “Do you think student government elections are just popularity contests?” The response came as hypothesized; 93% of the students surveyed said they were, and 7% said they were not. When I asked them for a quote to summarize their feelings on student government existence, I received some of the following responses:
“The elections are a joke, but when student government comes together, they do amazing things.” (Grade 12)
“I always just vote for the hot chick.” (Grade 12)
“People should focus on campaign promises and not how much they like the candidates.” (Grade 9)
“It’s something people join to get noticed.” (Grade 11)
“Other than when elected, they’re not that big of a deal.” (Grade 12)
Now that I had the popular opinion, I started to interview some of the student government members to get their take on things. I also questioned some of the former candidates who did not make it onto STU GOV; I asked them the six questions that follow.
- Do you think student government elections are just popularity contests?
The majority of STU GOV and losing candidates responded that popularity has less to do with it than does the candidate’s speech and campaign. But as Student President Morgan Gamble admits, “Just a popularity contest no, but I do think popularity has an impact on the election results.”
“I guess being popular and having everybody likes you helps, but if you’re dedicated and make an unreal speech, then popularity is nothing!” Grade 11 Extracurricular.
- Would social status influence someone to enter an election?
Here’s a chicken and egg scenario; would gregariousness prior to elections be responsible for influencing someone to enter an election? Or would someone’s social grade and ambition make popularity a byproduct of their confidence? That said, it is usually confident people who spearhead their own election.
Everyone, both STU GOV and losing candidates alike, agreed that this answer is a definite yes. Some of them also pointed out that the sort of people who enter these sorts of things are more likely to have the personality type and social backing that will assure them a position on STU GOV.
“It attracts people who are more outgoing and into events and those types of people are encouraged to enter it. People who aren’t like that are NOT encouraged to enter,” theorized a grade 11 candidate who ran for Social Media Chairperson last November.
- Are all the STU GOV members all the exact same sort of “preppy” kids that everyone thinks they are?
All the interviewees agreed that this year’s government is different from many other schools, in the way that we have more variety on STU GOV.
“I think in the years past yes, but this year is a bit different, we have people from more varied friend groups, which is really cool to see, because we’re more of a diverse government, so I think it’s getting better and people are realizing that it’s not necessarily the most popular person, it’s the person who can do the best for the school.” Morgan Gamble (School President)
“This year, there’s actually a lot of different types of kids on student government.” Steve Cormier (STU GOV Advisor)
- Would you consider yourself popular?
None of the interviewees admitted to profound popularity, but usually said that they were “well known” or as Arthur Miller would put it, “well-liked.”
“I don’t really like that word, (popularity) because I’m friends with everybody and I like to be kind to everybody,” said Student Activities Coordinator Sophie Girouard. It appears that popularity is relative.
- Were you recommended for Student Government?
If there is a correlation between popularity and STU GOV, then the popular kids would probably be recommended to run. This theory proved correct as the majority of people I asked said they were given the suggestion by either their parents or their peers.
“Yeah, some of my friends told me I should run because they thought I’d be funny and I would make funny campaign posters and stuff and thought I’d get elected. So I thought I’d try it in grade 12,” said Grade 12 Extra-Curricular Liaisons, Connor MacDonald.
- Why do you think people voted for you?
Many students (not STU GOV members or candidates) said they voted for someone in particular because they considered them to be attractive or funny. This is contrary to our hypothesis, which we had naturally assumed that someone would vote for another because they were friends.
When I relayed some of this information to the Student Government interviewees and even suggested that they in particular might possess certain traits that might be appealing to a crowd and thus influence the outcome of their vote (i.e., when I told one of them; “You’re charismatic.”). All of the people interviewed truly believed that they were voted in because of the positive intentions they had for the school. This suggests that the candidates are in it for the benefit of all of us and not just to reap the rewards.
“I had a lot to offer idea wise,” said grade 11 Student Activities Coordinator Sophie Girouard, “helping with the dance and everything. I thought that I had a lot of ideas as opposed to being funny.”
Talking to the Student Government members themselves was a very rewarding experience; with my right-hand lady Tasha taping, I was given an opportunity to get to know some of the nice students who were on council. They were surprisingly honest in their answers and despite what I had anticipated, did not give the sort of rehearsed and inflated answers one would expect from an elected official. One thing I had noticed while putting all the data together was that we had unintentionally talked to all the blonde people on council and from candidacy and somehow ignored the rest. Assuming we had some sort of quota to fill, I decided to interview more students, which treated us to an even more varied and interesting perspective of things.