Being pretty doesn’t hurt.
Neither does being charismatic. Colourful posters, viral videos, strong debates – all that’s going to help, too.
But, for the most part, a candidate’s success in this year’s McMaster Students Union presidential election will have been determined long before campaigning starts on Sunday.
And that’s a damn shame. Because among all the election season hoopla, what’s often overlooked is the most important part of the ordeal: the platforms.
Campaign promises are mysteries to voters until websites go up at noon on Sunday. After that, students will have 12 days to sift through them for a little value and realism.
But whatever their opinion, it’s not enough for a student voter to get to know you, or even like you, in the campaign period. They need to share an identity with you from the start. Be it through a faculty, a society, a social group or some other segment of campus life, a win for you has to be a win for them, too, and if you haven’t built those kinds of relationships already with whatever time you’ve had at Mac, it’s too late.
That might seem reasonable enough. Why should a week and a half of class talks and button giveaways trump years of social capital?
The problem is that once your supporters think they’ve put their man or woman in office, they stop paying attention. While you’re transitioning in April and taking over in May, they’ll be writing exams and heading off to summer jobs.
The day-to-day work of an MSU president then becomes remarkably private. I don’t mean to say that it’s concealed or isolated; it just happens at boardroom desks instead of podiums.
The Vice-President (Finance) looks after the books. The Vice-President (Education) takes care of research and advocacy. The Vice-President (Administration) deals with human resources.
And with whatever time the President can find between meetings, he or she will work on projects. Be it a peer support line, better hours for libraries or eateries, a new email system, a farm stand or (dare I say it?) a fall break, it’s the promises made in January that will make for a meaningful term in office.
All the stuff that seemed important to voters becomes far less significant. Will the President be a charming leader? It could help, but MSU staff will take direction from them regardless. Will they listen to students? They should, but students are too busy with their personal lives to have much to say anyway.
If voters want to elect their friends, that’s fine. But if they want to elect a good president, platform matters most.
So please, candidates, get your platform right.
Don’t pitch stuff that will affect the University coffers. The MSU won’t be scaling back tuition fees any time soon.
Mind your tone. Voters don’t want to feel like they’re being enlisted for a fight; students, staff and University administrators want to feel good about your ideas. Siobhan Stewart’s “Something For You” campaign beat out Chris Erl’s stance against high food prices and Alex Ramirez’s “revolution” in 2012. The year before, Matt Dillon-Leitch’s promise to fund our ideas won over Matt Wright’s push for fiscal conservatism.
Do some research. Hint: picking a project that the University is already looking into makes it more feasible.
And, finally, be honest and down-to-earth about it. You don’t need to inspire people. They don’t want to be your admirers; they want to be your friends.
And couldn’t we all use a friend who can get us some time off around fall mid-terms?