Left Action and Switchroots dominate SRC election 2022

Read on for SRC and NUS results, along with detailed analysis and data visualisations.

SRC elections have wrapped up for another year, and the University of Sydney’s undergraduate students now have a new set of representatives for 2023. Read on to see whose campaigns were victorious, along with detailed analysis of the polling data.

Announcement of results

The editors of Honi Soit and SRC President were both elected unopposed. SHAKE for Honi will edit Honi in 2023, while Lia Perkins will take the reins of USyd’s undergraduate student union.

The following candidates were provisionally elected as delegates to the National Union of Students (NUS) National Conference (in order of election):

  1. Maddie Clark (Left Action for NUS) 
  2. Jasmine Donnelly (“Switch” for NUS) 
  3. Deaglan Godwin (“Grassroots” for NUS) 
  4. Simon Upitis (Left Action for NUS)
  5. Henri Collyer (Amplify for NUS) 
  6. Aileen Tan (Lift for NUS) 
  7. Keiron Marc Lee (Students FIRST)

The following candidates were provisionally elected to sit on the USyd SRC (in ballot order): 

  1. Zoe Coles (Grassroots for Feminism)
  2. Bowen Gao (Penta for Uni Life)
  3. Lauren Lancaster (Switch for SRC)
  4. Eliza Crossley (Switch for Equity)
  5. Lia Perkins (Grassroots for SRC)
  6. Deaglan Godwin (Left Action 4 Staff Strikes)
  7. Ella Haid (Left Action 4 Staff Strikes)
  8. Emily Mackay (Engineers for SRC)
  9. Satvik Sharma (Gymbros for SRC)
  10. Alexander Poirier (Artistry for SRC)
  11. Jack Scanlan (Amplify for STEM)
  12. Tiger Perkins (Grassroots for Climate Action)
  13. Angus Dermody (Student Left Alliance)
  14. James Sherriff (Student Left Alliance)
  15. Honey Christensen (Student Left Alliance)
  16. Harrison Brennan (Grassroots against Cuts)
  17. Lily Wei (Penta for Network)
  18. Jordan Anderson (Switch against Homophobia)
  19. Thomas Thorpe (Lift for Environment)
  20. Cooper Gannon (Lift for Environment)
  21. Simon Upitis (Left Action 4 Climate Justice)
  22. Yasmine Johnson (Left Action 4 Climate Justice)
  23. Maddie Clark (Left Action 4 Climate Justice)
  24. Julius Wittfoth (Left Action 4 Climate Justice)
  25. Akee Elliott (Left Action 4 Climate Justice) 
  26. Jasmine Al-Rawi (Left Action Against Racism)
  27. Owen Marsden-Readford (Left Action Against Racism)
  28. Peter Gu (Left Action Against Racism)
  29. Ishbel Dunsmore (Grassroots for Free Education)
  30. Jasmine Donnelly (Amplify for Campus)
  31. Belinda Thomas (Your Mom for SRC)
  32. Michael Grenier (Independents for Change)
  33. Daniel O’Shea (Stand Up for Student Welfare)
  34. Bryson Constable (Colleges for SRC)
  35. Qiana Harvey (Lift for Women)
  36. Victor Zhang (Engineers for Mental Health)
  37. Rand Khatib (Grassroots for Decolonisation)
  38. Matylda Hayne (Engineers for SRC)
  39. Clare Liu (Penta of Mingle)
  40. Annabelle Jones (Amplify for Student Welfare)
  41. Emma Garrett (Interpol for STEM)

NUS analysis

The smaller of the two ballots filled in by students this year was for USyd’s delegates to the National Union of Students’ National Conference (NatCon), which will be held later this year. Crucially, delegates receive votes at the conference for the organisation’s National Executive.

The vote had a fairly low quota of 213.875, only slightly more than half of last year’s, which was 404. 

Reflecting Left Action’s broadly strong performance in this year’s election, the Left Action ticket broke quota twice over, meaning Socialist Alternative’s Maddie Clark and Simon Upitis will both be heading off to NatCon as delegates. 

The Switch and Grassroots tickets also broke quota, however the delegates elected do not truly represent the faction. Jasmine Donnelly, elected on Switch for NUS, is a member of NLS (Labor left), while Deaglan Godwin, elected on Grassroots for NUS, is a key figure within USyd SAlt. 

Using pre-election deals with other factions in the broad left, Switchroots typically trades spots on its NUS tickets for support within SRC elections and on Council. This is because Grassroots and Switch, which operate as a bloc, have not traditionally been interested or involved in NUS organising. 

However, that apathy has changed in recent years. In 2020, Liam Donohoe received a delegate spot, and the factions received two (real) delegates, Swapnik Sanagavarapu and Drew Beacom, in 2021. USyd Grassroots has begun to caucus more actively with the national Grassroots and Independents (Grindies) faction. Indeed, the SRC, led by Grassroots President Lauren Lancaster and General Secretary Alana Ramshaw (among others on the SRC Executive), ran a successful bid to host the NUS Education Conference at USyd earlier this year. 

In Grassroots’ Honi interview, Tiger Perkins maintained a commitment to engage with the national body and continue involvement with the Grindies if elected as a delegate. However, with no genuine Switchroots presence in USyd’s NUS delegation, it remains to be seen whether the faction’s change of heart can be sustained. 

Also interesting is the total absence of Stand Up for NUS delegates, who represent Unity (Labor Right). While the USyd branch has disaffiliated from national Student Unity, meaning they’re no longer bound to vote according to the national faction line, this represents a major drop in support from 2021 — last year, Unity’s tickets IGNITE and UNITE both broke quota to elect Matthew Carter and Grace Hu, receiving a total of 1044 primary votes. 

With a meagre 68 first preference votes going Stand Up’s way, and 90 votes going to Unity’s joke ticket DEEZ for NUS, they achieved only around 15 per cent of the faction’s 2021 primary vote. This is no doubt partly explained by the absence of a Unity Presidential candidate to motivate voters, yet the scale of the decline suggests a potentially larger change in fortunes. 

Council analysis

This year’s election saw the Left securing a convincing victory over Council. Combined, Switch, Grassroots and Left Action (SAlt) received almost half of the election’s primary vote total, with a combined 829 votes, or 47.3 per cent.

Left Action received the single largest number of votes of any faction, however Switch and Grassroots exceed them when counted as a bloc. 

Including the primary votes of Student Left Alliance — a new coalition of Trotskyist grouping Solidarity, anarchists aligned with Black Flag Sydney, and unaligned far-left students — and Amplify (NLS, which is Labor Left), the Left bloc’s share of the primary vote rises to over 60 per cent. 

The provisional council makeup is shown below. 

As you can see, Left Action dominates, with 10 seats. Switchroots is the next largest bloc with nine. Penta, Lift, SLA, Engineers and Amplify each have three. The rest of the Council consists of one representative each from Gymbros, Your Mom, Independents, Interpol, Colleges, and Artistry.

This means that the Left is shaping up for a majority bloc on Council, as SAlt, Switchroots, NLS and Unity will likely work together. Engineers and Penta have typically made deals with the Left bloc, and will probably be keen to enter into a deal if it lets them secure Office Bearer positions as part of a supermajority bloc. 

Student Left Alliance has signalled their opposition to electoral deals publicly, so are unlikely to engage in negotiations for positions, but given their left-wing politics will probably tend to vote in alliance with the Left bloc. 

Lift, Colleges and Gymbros will act as a Liberal-aligned bloc. Independents and INTERPOL, despite being centre-right aligned, will likely vote independently, if 2021’s Council is anything to go by. 

Swings

Honi analysed the percentage point change in each faction’s share of the vote. The most significant change was the huge gain in vote share by Left Action, who managed to double their vote count from 2021 despite the total turnout of this election being only a third of last year’s. 

We’ve heard various hypotheses for this increase: it seems SAlt’s success in this election is likely a combination of a strong on-the-ground presence, engagement with international student voters, and momentum from education organising throughout the year.  

Unity and Conservatorium-based factions, Ignite (2021) and Artistry (2022), saw a substantial loss in vote share, likely because Matthew Carter’s run for President last year motivated voters — and potentially his defeat demotivated them. 

Penta also lost a big proportion of their vote, as did international student-specific tickets more broadly, with the total demise of the Phoenix brand this year. 

It’s worth noting that this year’s election took place largely in person, with only around 100 votes cast online, while last year’s was entirely online. There is likely a lot to be said about how differences in factions’ effectiveness on the ground (compared with social media campaigning) explains their relative success.

Voter participation

Notably, even factions that did not experience a particularly large swing either way, like Switchroots and the Engineers, did experience a big drop-off in total vote numbers. Grassroots’ primary vote total was only about 40 per cent of last year’s, while Engineers’ was a minuscule 23 per cent. 

This reflects a tiny election generally, with slightly over 1900 ballots issued over the three days – which translated to roughly 1730 formal votes for Council. 

As seen here, 2022’s vote count was by a substantial degree the smallest in the last five years (2019 is excluded from the graph as no SRC-specific turnout was published, however given its record Presidential turnout, it was also likely higher). 

This reduction is still more dramatic considering that the number of seats on Council has been expanded to reflect the growing undergraduate population. This year, the votes were spread over a whopping 41 seats (1000 per undergraduate student) — compared to 39 last year, 35 in 2020, and 33 in both 2019 and 2018.

The reasons for this reduction in turnout are likely multifaceted. While in person elections have produced massive voter turnouts before (like in the 2019 SRC and USU elections), the return of in person voting this year potentially created a barrier to casting votes for some students. Additionally, many factions have suffered from a loss in institutional knowledge, having focused on social media campaigning in recent years, weakening their ground game. 

No doubt, the lack of contestation of the Presidential and Honi Soit elections likely also suppressed turnout, as typically those higher profile races motivate voters more than the esoteric SRC and NUS votes.

Preference flows

This election saw some interesting dynamics in preference flows, as factions with relatively few tickets earned a large number of votes. Left Action ran only three tickets, despite earning around a quarter of the vote. Meanwhile, SLA’s sole ticket received around 100 first preference votes. 

Other tickets, like Amplify and Switchroots, spread out their vote share among many tickets, which largely did not break quota but received enough votes to stay in the count. 

Typically, these factions view breaking quota several times as an inefficient way to garner votes for a few reasons.

First, preference distribution occurs at full value when candidates are eliminated, but is adjusted by a transfer value when preferences are flowing from the surplus votes of a candidate who was elected. A candidate who exceeded quota twice, with a surplus of ten votes [i.e. received 98 votes, in this election], would only have one full vote worth of preferences distributed.

This means that factions that run a large number of tickets, like Switchroots, hope to vacuum up full value preferences from their weakest tickets to get middling tickets over the line.

Second, when all of a faction’s tickets break quota, their preferences may be wasted. Tickets which have already been elected cannot receive preferences. When, for example, Left Action against Racism and Left Action for Climate Justice preference each other, that preference is not counted as they are already both elected. 

However, in this year’s election, this strategy didn’t straightforwardly pay off. As shown in the graph below, Switch in particular was spread thin, with 61 votes going to the faction for every seat gained. By comparison, SLA secured its seats more efficiently, with only 35 votes per seat.

Part of this story may be bad luck: a number of the very last tickets to be cut belonged to Switchroots, and the last few spots to be elected can often be based on very close preference margins.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that preference discipline (the extent to which voters follow factional how-to-votes) is an important part of the strength-in-numbers strategy, as it relies on excluded tickets’ preferences flowing effectively. 

Although Left Action didn’t ultimately need their preferences to get elected, they achieved remarkably high preference discipline — a testament to their strong campaigning. Almost 90 per cent of voters for Left Action for Climate Justice gave their second preferences to Left Action against Racism, and vice versa. 

While Honi lacks data on preference discipline more broadly, it seems highly unlikely that other tickets managed a 90 per cent adherence to their how-to-votes. 

What’s next 

Now that the Council is provisionally elected, the next step will be for the SRC Executive and Office-Bearers to be elected at the annual shit-fight that is Representatives Elect (RepsElect). 

At RepsElect, the newly formed factional blocs will vote to appoint candidates to the coveted paid positions: Vice President, General Secretary, and Women’s Officers. They also appoint the General Executives of the SRC, who get a say in the organisation’s spending, along with who occupies the unpaid office-bearer positions, with the exception of those that are appointed autonomously within Collectives. 

Factions negotiate to form these blocs, trading votes for positions for support. Some of this negotiation has already occurred prior to the SRC Election, but the release of the full results means negotiations will continue and may shift.