Student Government Elections: Popularity Contests?

The Carrboro High School student government elections have passed, and students have elected the candidates for the 2019-2020 school year. Now that the elections are finished, it’s important to consider the factors at play that get candidates elected: do their platforms have the biggest influence, are they good at campaigning, or does their level of popularity make them more likely to get elected?

Ryan Severance, the student government association (SGA) advisor, thinks that popularity has a strong influence on the elections, although he hopes the school will focus more on candidates platforms, rather than their social standings.

“One thing that we’ve been trying to encourage SGA to do and the future candidates to do was reach out to some of those student groups that don’t normally get talked to,” Severance said.

The SGA has been making more of an effort to reach out to those student groups, specifically students of color and ESL students. These efforts, Severance hopes, will make popularity less of an influence. However, he acknowledges that there isn’t a way for popularity to not be a factor in student government elections.

“I would love to say that people are voting more on what the [candidate] can do and not just because of popularity, because I think sometimes when we vote strictly off of popularity we don’t always get the best results,” Severance said.

Isabel Simmons, CHS junior, who will be SGA’s president next year, thinks that popularity influencing the election is two-pronged.

“On one hand, you want the person that’s representing you to be someone that you know and someone that you trust because otherwise you don’t feel comfortable going up to them and voicing your problems or your concerns. On the other hand, and this comes back to this other idea of popularity [where we are electing] a certain type of person, absolutely that’s a problem,” she said.

She pointed out that there are two different kinds of popularity: being well known or being a certain type of person.

Simmons suggested that many SGA students might be elected because of their identity, such as being a white student from Southern Village, acknowledging that she falls into that category. In the coming school year, she wants to work with the freshman class to make sure that more people from diverse backgrounds are represented. She also hopes to show that student government is for everyone, that there isn’t a mold you have to fit into.

Taylor Gwynne, CHS junior, feels like popularity is a big factor in SGA elections, with people feeling obligated to vote for their friends, specifically for the vice-president position. She thinks that, historically, SGA has been very exclusive and popularity-based, something she thinks needs to change.

“I think it would be interesting to run an election without faces, giving everyone a chance to post their platform and people vote solely off of a written platform and bio about the person. The problem is that this isn’t how real elections are run and students need to learn how to evaluate a candidate and cast their vote like they would when they turn 18,” Gwynne said.

Now that the elections have passed, it may not seem relevant to talk about student government anymore. However, it’s important to recognize how popularity can and does influence CHS and to be aware of it, whether you approve of it or not.