February 09, 2008

How to win the Warwick Saab elections

In an attempt to seem vaguely relevent and justify this still being a Warwick Blog despite me graduating two years ago, I figured I’d talk about the Union Saabatical Officer elections. Ian has a nice summary here and here but I want to offer something else: a guide on winning.

I’d intended to write this before the candidate nomination stuff started in an attempt to get a group of people to follow it and proove it works, but not being a student anymore I forgot when they started entirely. So now it’s more of a post-morten “here’s what you should have done” sort of thing.

Two caveats: firstly this isn’t foolproof, you still need to be somewhat appealing to the voters, and not a big idiot. Unless you’re running for the sports officer post, in which case I’m told that’s a plus (that and flashing your tits to society execs in exchange for endorsements apparently, he says making an entirely out of date reference).
Secondly I don’t think this breaks any electoral rules but there’s a chance it does as I really can’t be arsed to read them all. However it’s presented as working within the framework of the current system, if it’s not permitted to do it that way it can also be done fairly easily and to only a slightly reduced effect outside of it. I’ll explain that later.

So what is the key? The party system.

Believe it or not, the candidates you vote for in the elections are all members of certain parties. You may have spotted this with the Lib Dem or Tory candidates (but no-one is going to vote for nationally-affiliated groups, see “don’t be a big idiot” above) but all the other candidates belong to a party to. Except generally these are parties of one, named after thier campaign slogans, so to all intents and purposes, it’s an individual race.

Now, back to last year. Remember when the two brothers? Wasn’t that cool? And they had an advantage. Few people would vote for one and not the other as they were seen as an homogenous entity with shared values and policies and err…genes. The fact is that most students don’t care for lelecting by reading manifestos and voting on the basis of total policy, they’ll just vote for whoever impresses them when speaking to them at the start of lectures or doing kitchen tours or even has a really good poster. And the vast majority will also not see more than 3 or 4 of these covering only 2 or 3 different posts. But once you’re in the voting system to vote for the one or two people you like, you may as well throw some votes out at the rest while you’re there, at least that’s what the Union keep telling you “Vote! Doesn’t matter who for just Vote!” and only arseholes like me vote for RON.

So what is my point? Well last year the brothers had an advantage, because if one of them impressed someone with a talk or whatever, if that person wasn’t particulary woo-ed by any candidate for the other position, they’d vote for the other brother by default.

The way to win this election therefore, would be to do this, but writ large. Find 3-4 other people that you get along with and that want the job, and forge alliances. People already do this. During those brief stumps before lectures you’ll remember many of the candidates at the end will say “and for person X for position Y to, they’re really good” but you never remember the name so it’s pointless. So what we do is formalise this. Cover four or five positions and run as a party. Have one slogan for everyone, and a couple of major policies that you can all get behind (a real freshers week and cheaper drinks are often good policies that no-one expects you to keep). That single slogan is your party, those policies are what your publicity, talks etc focus on. And crucially you focus on promoting the party, the slogan, the policies, rather than yourself. Make sure all your posters are thematically simmilar, they can have individual faces on, even have a few specific policies related to that position (and obviously, you’ll need some decent ones for the manifesto, to attract those that actually care enough to read them and vote on that basis) but keep the border the same, the font the same, the colour scheme the same and have that single slogan displayed prominently.

What you’ve just done is quintupled the amount of campaigning each member of the 5-person party gets. You’ll be the most noticable, you can cover everything and be everywhere, because you’re each supporting each other. And with such a magnitude of advantage in publicity, you can’t possibly lose (though if one of your members is outted as a kiddie-fiddler, you might have problems. If on the other hand they shag the leader of the cheerleading squad, you all benefit. Especially if they’re female).

As I said, there’s something of a caveat in that I don’t know if there’s a restriction on this. I don’t know if running as a party introduces limitations or reduces the amout of publicity you’re allowed or anything like that. If it does, the solution is pretty easy – run individually but homogenise your slogan/party name with a good word. For example “Freedom for societies”, “Freedom for sports”, “Freedom for commercial development”... well you get the idea. And keep the posters consistent in style and so on, and run a virtual party that isn’t really one so isn’t subject to those rules.

So there you go. That’s how to win a Warwick Saab election. Easy. All the candidates would be kicking themselves now, if they weren’t already drunk.

And best of luck to the RAW team covering the election results tonight, you guys have quite a legacy to live up to but I’m sure you’ll manage it.

Also are we letting The Boar cover elections yet?

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  1. Union hack

    As you suspect, there is indeed a restriction on this – a group with a joint and co-operative campaigning strategy, known as a “slate”, is compelled to declare this beforehand and has its expenses limit recalculated accordingly, receiving considerably less than the same number of candidates would standing independently. Unfortunately for your idea for getting round this, if a group of candidates are deemed to be employing a joint strategy (eg similar style of posters, similar slogan etc.) despite not having declared themselves to be a slate, Elections Group may at its discretion rule that they should be considered as one for purposes of calculating their expenses limit, and may even impose other sanctions (fines or even disqualification) if they feel the group’s actions have given them an unfair advantage.

    09 Feb 2008, 23:34

  2. Not perfect as such then, but how severe would the penalty be? Unless it was crippling I still think this would be the optimum method. Were the brothers that were elected last year declared as such?

    10 Feb 2008, 04:27

  3. Michael Jones

    The precise formula’s now been taken off the Union website, but if I recall correctly the total campaigning budget for a slate is equal to the budget for a single candidate times the square root of the number of candidates in the slate, so a slate of two would only receive about 1.4 times as much as an independent candidate, this year’s slate of three Conservative candidates would have had about 1.7 times etc. There had been suspicions raised before campaigning started last year that Tom and Ed might have been going to act as a slate (posters saying “Vote Callow!” etc, which could obviously be interpreted as referring to either), but they didn’t – completely different slogans and posters, and to the best of my knowledge neither helped with the other’s campaign at all. Of course they look similar, so someone who’d seen one of them on a kitchen/lecture tour might well not remember which of them it was, but it’s pretty hard to take any action against them solely on those grounds as it’s not exactly their fault! Incidentally, there was another pair of brothers last year (both standing for non-sabbatical positions) who did produce very similar-style posters; we did consider classing them as a slate, but in the end didn’t bother as they both lost anyway – strangely no-one’s that bothered about people breaking the rules if it doesn’t actually give them any advantage.

    (aforementioned Union hack, who’s decided he might as well give his real name this time)

    10 Feb 2008, 15:27

  4. Hmm so a group of 5 would get just under half the normal budget but have 5 times the people on the ground. I’m not sure of the mechanics of it but I’d think it was a good trade-off. It’s a shame as the rules basically encourage independant candidates, but with 7 positions people rarely care about anything other than President and either Sports or Socs, occasionally both. A more party-based system would allow people to understand things a lot better and take it all in. Obviously if there were no restrictions in place, my method is a fool-proof method of winning once, but then everyone will do the same thing the next year and frankly I think that gives a much more streamlined and comprehendable race.

    As for the other two brothers, I don’t think it’s that no-one cares if people break the rules if they don’t win, it’s just that no-one cares about the non-saabatical positions.

    Cheers for the info Michael.

    10 Feb 2008, 17:58

  5. Michael Jones

    You’re welcome.

    Your last comment is probably true as far as 99% of students are concerned, but there are always a few (the Union hacks mostly!) who care passionately about every position, and of course the other candidates – obviously if they’ve bothered to stand for the position they care about it, so if they think one of their opponents was breaking the rules, they’ll make a fuss about it; and since it only requires one person making a complaint for EG to be compelled to consider it, we do get a few. Last year there were some people (mostly members of WASS) who weren’t particularly happy about the vulgar slogan used by one of the candidates for Women’s Campaigns Officer, but that was dropped when she lost (on the toss of a coin after the two candidates got the same number of votes); there was also one sabb candidate who considered bringing a case against an opponent whose vitriolic criticism of him during the hustings could have been construed as slander, but felt that he’d made his point sufficiently by winning anyway.

    General opinion seems to be that standing independently gives you a better chance of winning – this year’s Conservative slate was the first for some time – but I’d guess this is probably more to do with the fact that people tend to associate slates with national political parties, which as you say is generally a fast track to defeat (although none of them’s managed to sign their own death warrant quite as effectively as Bill Rees did two years ago, standing for president whilst saying he fully supported top-up fees and in any Union under his presidency the campaign against them would cease immediately – now there’s a great way to get the student vote). Even if four or five people stood as a slate without stating a party affiliation, there’d be a natural suspicion that there was one somewhere that they wanted to keep quiet about for some reason. So I’d be interested to see how a non-party-affiliated slate would fare; my gut instinct says they’d probably lose out to independent candidates, but I could be wrong.

    Incidentally, Peter Ptashko said in his manifesto this year that he had “delivered a Freshers’ week for 2008”, although I’ve yet to hear official confirmation of this (even if it’s true it still wasn’t enough to win him the presidency). Not quite sure why the university should suddenly start listening to him when it hasn’t to the numerous other people who’ve previously campaigned for it.

    And no, the Boar still isn’t allowed to cover elections, doubtless because of the number of complaints that it would inevitably attract from candidates who felt unfairly treated by its coverage.

    10 Feb 2008, 20:48

  6. I thought that the Boar was able to cover the elections, but it has to follow the media codes of conduct, which are fairly strict. The problem is that nobody at the Boar takes much interest in Union politics and has much knowledge about the elections.

    We did the Presidential debate on RaW and were told that it was necessary to just be pretty much impartial and give an equal opportunity of time.


    16 Feb 2008, 14:21

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