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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The trials of elections: exhausted candidates speak

Published: April 4, 2008
Section: Features

Andrew Brooks ‘09 spent over 30 hours working last week, not including two all-nighters, and he was still falling behind on school work. Not because he had so much work, but because schoolwork wasn’t what was taking his time. Brooks was preparing and campaigning before Student Union elections this past Sunday in an effort to win the bid for Vice President.

For Brooks, preparing an effective campaign isn’t just difficult because of the immense amount of time and effort that’s necessary, but because in the end, it might not even make a difference. So why do it? “Because if you win, you won. You got the position, and you don’t have to compete for it again [during your term],” explained Brooks.

Crafting an effective campaign, one that conveys its intended message, is an art.

Brooks focused on his previous experience in the Senate as his main selling point. “I wanted to demonstrate my ability to lead…I know leadership that has worked and that hasn’t. I know which strategies worked and which ones haven’t.”

Yet Brooks lost the election. Admittedly, he said, his campaign may have been ineffective because of his intended message. “I think making my [Senate] experience my prime selling point might have backfired. If you are a part of the status quo, you have to be able to show that you are [also] an agent of change. It’s somewhat hypocritical and that’s why I lost.”

Justin Sulsky ’09, candidate for Student Union Secretary, felt authenticity was the message to preach. The only path to success, he explained, was to “be authentic. You can tell which people [are authentic] and which ones aren’t. So even if your ‘authentic’ isn’t the best, it’s definitely better.” Justin also wanted to make it clear that he is personable. He contacted people he did not know very well to ask for their support and even put a video on YouTube similar to the one he used during his campaign for Ziv Quad Senator entitled “Matzah Ball,” in which he sits on his bed and talks about what he wants in a manner similar to former President Roosevelt’s fireside chats.

A satirical impression of Student Union elections was the goal for Frank Golub ’10, candidate for Student Union President. Fed up with the “egotism” and “hypocrisy” that embody Student Union elections, Golub molded his campaign on mockeries of others. Taking off of presidential candidate Jason Gray’s slogan “It’s about you,” he put up signs around campus proclaiming “It’s about me.” Satirizing the alleged communication between the Student Union and the student body that Golub says is lacking, he stated in an audio interview with the Hoot, “I want to make it so that nobody knows what’s going on in the Student Union…I want to give everybody sunglasses with dark tints…so that nobody knows on Earth what anybody’s thinking…so that there’s less contact between the students and their government.”

Golub’s theme was the absurdity of the Student Union’s self-centeredness and dishonesty in election campaigns, portrayed straightforward and simple. “I think people will remember my campaign,” he stated. “Nobody needs in-depth knowledge of the [Student] Union to understand the message behind my campaign. I think it had a lot of broad appeal.”

An easy way to judge the effectiveness of a campaign’s message is based on whether the campaigner won or lost. Obviously, though, an effective campaign can fail to land the campaigner the intended position, as evidenced by the close U.S. Presidential race of 2000, in which both candidates effectively campaigned, but needless to say, only one became President. Brooks, Sulsky and Golub all believe that they ran effective campaigns yet none won their respective elections. So what makes an effective campaign message ineffective?

Candidates agreed that choosing candidates for the wrong reasons is the main factor. They also agreed that one such reason is popularity.

“Popularity definitely plays a role in this,” Brooks stated. “People do choose popularity over ability…if you’re not seen as popular, people are less inclined to vote for you. Some people are innately attracted to certain people.”

Where candidates differed was on whether it was students or campaigners who are to be blamed for uneducated votes.

For Brooks, the blame falls on the students. According to him, many people don’t care enough about the Student Union and choose candidates based on the name or face that they see first, rather than comparing all of the candidates based on their merits.

“I think I lost because I didn’t get my website up fast enough, I didn’t campaign soon enough,” Brooks said. “If you’re the fifth person to knock on someone’s door, by that time they’re ready to tune you out, they’ve already heard it four times before. A lot of students and club leaders vote for the first person they hear. In this election, there was a mad rush to be the first to contact clubs. The person who contacted all of the clubs first this election got over 30 endorsements!”

As for the students, (the majority, according to Brooks) who didn’t vote or voted based on criteria other than merits “they don’t give a crap,” Brooks said. “Under half of Brandeis students voted, a lower percentage than in the U.S. [Presidential election]. You’d think that Brandeis, as an activist campus, would be better than that. For people not to vote was a conscious choice- people who did not want to be a part of it.”

For Golub, the blame falls on the campaigners.

“The whole thing is silly,” Golub opined. “In order to run, you have to go across campus telling everyone how wonderful you are, that you are the best.” Noting that merits are not the criteria on which candidates ask for votes, “In my speech to the Hoot, I said that it’s about me, it’s about padding my resume, it’s about getting you to like me. That really is what these campaigns are about. The guy who puts in the most time is the guy who’s going to win. It’s about the candidate, not the candidate’s ideas. Right now, a selfless candidate cannot win. [It would be much more effective] if the elections were based not so much on fliers, but on [a] debate. If people judge a candidate based on that, the selfless candidate could win.”

Whether or not a campaign is informative to voters, candidates agree that it is the only way to win an election. “You need a campaign to get people who wouldn’t have voted to vote,” Brooks stated. Noting that, for better or for worse, a candidate needs a campaign to win, Golub noted “In the current system, you can’t win if you don’t put up the signs. To win, you need to be “a little vague, have a fancy title, and get the support of the Student Union.”

Hopefully, the Brandeis student body voted for the best candidates this past Sunday and Tuesday. After all, whether or not a candidate believes it’s about you, or about him, the people who will feel the consequences of our votes will be…us.