Politicians looking to reach young voters in the last days before the election might want to take the advice of a couple of successful University of Canterbury leaders. 

Bucking the downward western trend of increasingly poor voter turnout, University of Canterbury (UC) has some of the most engaged voters anywhere, at least when it comes to student body elections, held recently.

Outgoing UC Student Association (UCSA) President James Addington says other universities’ student body voter turnout ranged from around 20 per cent to single-figure percentages. For comparison, the voter turnout in last year’s local body elections in Canterbury was only 38 per cent, down further from 42 per cent in 2013.

Education Central asked outgoing president of the UCSA James Addington and new president Josh Proctor for their thoughts.

What’s your theory on why UC has such strong engagement?

JP: “The UCSA has a strong presence on campus, with our services utilized by a wide range of students. People see the benefits of student representatives being on the UCSA governing body and University Council.”

JA: “We also have a very strong club culture with over 140 active clubs on campus, which all feed through to the UCSA. We have a relatively condensed campus, which helps create a real sense of belonging for all students.”

What specifically has UCSA done to engage voters? What’s worked?

JP: “Candidates are allowed the freedom to campaign in a creative, engaging way. Students like the way campus is more vibrant, with banners, stakes and billboards around the place.”

JA: “Lecturers also often allow and encourage candidates to talk briefly before there class to engage students with their policies or a bit about themselves. Voting is all completed online, with the UCSA’s 140 staff being out and about on campus encouraging students to vote.”

What’s your advice to the political parties in terms of reaching voters?

JP: “Be relevant and be heard. Don’t bombard students with policy they don’t or can’t relate to. There are a number of pressing issues for students, address those and students will have more of a reason to vote.”

JA: “It is important to be personable, relatable and to have a visible presence on campus.”


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