Examining the electorate

In the climax of last week’s ASUC tabulations ceremony in Wheeler Auditorium, deafening cheers erupted from one side of the room as CalSERVE swept all four partisan executive seats for the first time since 2008.

The other side of the room, filled with Student Action supporters, celebrated its seven senators-elect but was noticeably quieter. Though the party ran candidates for all but one partisan executive position, none were elected.

In a political system in which about one-fourth of the electorate changes yearly, public opinion can be unpredictable, and party lines often shift from year to year. It’s not clear how each of the approximately 12,000 voters in this year’s election came to his or her final decision, though students often echo popularly held ideas: Enough Facebook likes guarantee a spot in the senate, Student Action relies on the Greek system for support, and CalSERVE’s platforms aren’t tangible enough for some students.

As ballots were cast earlier this month, The Daily Californian conducted its first voter survey to better understand the motives and patterns behind voting behavior. We asked respondents to answer questions about candidates and campus issues, using demographic information to examine which of the popular speculations are based in fact.

More than 600 students, representing a wide range of campus constituencies, took the survey, providing a look into the issues, parties and candidates that resonate with various segments of the student body.

We found ASUC parties’ perceived identities largely matched their actual constituencies — individuals who identified with Student Action were more likely to be white and part of the Greek community, for example, and people who identified with CalSERVE represented to a greater degree the populations of first-generation students or students who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning or asexual.

There were also findings that reflected changing party identities. Although Student Action has traditionally represented the engineering community, we found that engineers were less likely than the average respondent to identify with the party — and when the votes were tallied Thursday, the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked senate candidates were CalSERVE engineers.

We also looked into the executive candidates and their methods of campaigning. Milad Razavi, who ran for the presidency with Student Action, captured a smaller percentage of Student Action’s vote than his main competitor, Yordanos Dejen of CalSERVE, did from her own party. This could explain the gap of about 1,400 votes reflected in the election results.

In addition, the results show Student Action’s candidates won more support from friends and in-person campaigning, while CalSERVE benefited more across the board from online campaign materials.

Examining the current student government, we asked whether students thought the ASUC should shift its attention toward campus or external issues and found that an overwhelming majority of students preferred the former.

Finally, we looked into which campus issues — many drawn from candidates’ platforms — are prioritized by the student body. We found that tuition and fees and the academic experience were regarded as important by most, while divestment was almost universally ranked lowest by each group. Priorities also varied within communities — while females involved in Greek life ranked sexual assault as their foremost priority, males ranked it fifth.

The LGBTIQQA community was particularly concerned about sexual assault: More than half of respondents who identified as LGBTIQQA said they were not at all trusting of the campus’s ability to handle cases of sexual assault. In addition, we found that those identifying as white or Asian were less likely to say they "always" or "very often" feel uncomfortable on campus.

The full survey results and notes on our analysis are included. We hope to continue this survey next year to track changes in voting trends and preferences, and we thank those who participated in this year’s survey.

Sahil Chinoy & Chloee Weiner

April 21, 2015