My predictions for ANU's student elections (with help from a controversial survey)

August 28, 2014
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If you’ve ever been a student, then you’ve been harassed by a student politician.

Here at the Australian National University, student elections have come around once again. For the entire week, you’d be well advised to avoid Union Court, where – only a stone’s throw from Capital Hill – there's currently colourful t-shirts, buzzwords and endless schmoozing.

This year, it’s even more of a shit fight, with eight tickets contesting the presidency, including three major tickets named (quite snazzily) Connect, Fetch and Fling.

Out of curiosity – aka a lot of time on my hands after deferring from university for a semester – I set out to poll this rabble. My choice was an informal, online poll through surveymonkey.com that simply asked respondents to name who they voted for in all six major positions in the ANU Student’s Association.

The survey was limited to one per computer, and spread through my own Facebook and Twitter. By the end of the third day, it had accrued 350 responses.

The haphazard method obviously has a questionable reliability and the results have to be taken with a lot more than just a pinch of salt. What the experiment did provide was an insight into student politicians and the lengths to which polling results are purposefully manipulated.

It looks like the major tickets spread the survey far outside the university, presumably to pump support for their candidates. Tracking the IP addresses showed a huge number of interstate responses, including one from Victorian parliament. This was reportedly caused by my survey being posted on the Facebook page of a federal political party youth group.

This was only as expected, and throws the accuracy of the survey out the window. At this stage, it’s a better indication of a ticket’s organisation and mobilisation, rather than how students were set to vote on the ground.

But it didn’t stop there. It was discovered that multiple responses could be entered from the same computer while on incognito mode or an equivalent. One ticket used this to their advantage to take a lead in the polls and give their candidates a morale boost. Another was happy to lag slightly behind to ensure their representatives campaigned as hard as possible.

For obvious reasons, the poll was closed a day early. Could anything at all be salvaged from it?

With a bit of tweaking, all responses done by incognito mode were removed, as were all responses where the same ticket was chosen for every position. That leaves us with 76 responses, which can all safely be assumed to be devoid of any manipulation.

It’s not the greatest sample size, but it represents around 5 per cent of students who generally vote in the university’s student elections each year. Importantly, it gives the best possible indication of who might win the six major positions on the ANUSA executive.

Unsurprisingly, none of them go to a ticket outside the three big players, but a mix between tickets is very much on the cards. This hasn’t happened at the ANU since before 2010.

Here are my predictions:

President: Ben Gill of Connect
Vice President: Clodagh O’Doherty of Fling
General Secretary: Ella Masri of Fling
Social Officer: Jack Gaudie of Fetch
Treasurer: Sophia Woo of Connect
Education Officer: Jock Webb of Fling

Even the data is extremely tight, which reflects the impression of any campaigners I’ve asked about the election. Without a doubt, most of these key positions are going to come down to preferences and every ticket will wish they had had Glenn ‘Preference Whisperer’ Druery on their side.

So in short, student politicians will seemingly resort to anything. Meanwhile, polling, even at university level, is still best done in person. The student newspaper Woroni correctly predicted the 2013 ANUSA President by polling face to face, albeit the race was much more one-sided than they originally thought.

The counting begins tomorrow.

Ben Latham

Ben Latham is studying a Bachelor of Science/Arts at Australian National University. 

Image: Ross Caldwell

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