Turnout in Durham SU officer elections lowest in over 20 years

By and

Around 6.1% of students voted in this year’s Durham Students’ Union Officer elections, the lowest turnout in any full SU Officer elections in at least two decades. A total of 1,470 students cast a vote in the elections.

Data collected by Palatinate shows that the previous lowest turnout in the past 20 years was in 2021, when 13.9% of Durham students voted; this is still more than double the 2023 turnout.

Durham SU officer election turnout since 2003

This year’s SU elections featured a total of 11 candidates, with the winners being Dan Lonsdale for President, Deborah Acheampong for Welfare and Liberation Officer, William Brown for Undergraduate Academic Officer, Freddy Fossey-Warren for Postgraduate Academic Officer, and Skye Carroll for Opportunities Officer. The newly elected officers will take over their roles at the end of July 2023.

The elections for President and Opportunities Officer were both uncontested.

Only a single college got more than 10% turnout, with Trevelyan College getting just over 17% turnout, significantly higher than any other college. Additionally, only around 3.8% of postgraduate students voted in the election.

Only a single college got more than 10% turnout, with Trevelyan College getting just over 17% turnout, significantly higher than any other college

During the 2000s, turnout was usually above 20%, with a peak coming in 2011 when 29% of students voted.

In 2015, Palatinate’s editors responded to that year’s low SU election turnout by asking in their editorial “Why do people simply not care about the Students’ Union?” and claiming that then-SU President Millie Tanner didn’t have a “real mandate”. The election turnout that year was 18.6%, over triple the turnout in 2023.

Additionally, the SU election turnout was significantly lower than the average turnout for this year’s college JCR elections. The average turnout in JCR elections this year was 14.85%, over double the SU election turnout at 6.1%.

The average turnout in JCR elections this year was 14.85%, over double the SU election turnout at 6.1%

The college with the highest JCR election turnout this year was St. Chad’s with 42%, and the lowest was Ustinov with 4.1% turnout. Only 4 colleges – Ustinov, South, St. John’s and Hatfield – had a JCR election turnout which was lower than the University-wide SU officer elections.

When asked about this year’s low turnout, a Durham SU spokesperson said: “The proportion of students voting in our elections is, generally, at the sector average, with this year representing a dip we’re striving to understand. 

“However, the conversation about voter turn-out is bigger than a single-year dip. We know and care that young people across the world are more disillusioned with democratic systems than ever before – including ours. This is confirmed by independent research which backs up our experience (particularly of voter turn-out) across Durham SU, the students’ union sector and other Durham student organisations. 

“The conversation about voter turn-out is bigger than a single-year dip. We know and care that young people across the world are more disillusioned with democratic systems than ever before – including ours”

Durham SU

“We’re clear in our commitment to helping students have conversations about what that means for student power and impact at Durham, and in experimenting with new ways of doing things. That’s not a short, or one-time piece of work.

“We’re also looking closely at this years’ abnormal dip, and we understand some of the factors that contributed, but don’t know all of them yet. We do know there were some changes to University log-in processes and timing challenges that made it harder for some voters, and we know it was more difficult to retain candidates who nominated themselves this year, with several withdrawing due to job opportunities and time commitments. 

“In the future, we’ll do dedicated work to help more candidates stay in the running, as we know this increases voting. We’ll also reflect on how to make the voting process itself as easy as possible. We need student feedback from both voters and non-voters to help us with this Students can do this quickly and easily on the pop-up on our election’s pages here: www.durhamsu.com/articles/durham-su-elections-officers-and-delegates-announced).”

Image: kaysgeog via Flickr

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