Undergraduate Student Government elections will be underway in less than a week, but the mood around campus doesn’t reflect that. Yes, there are campaign signs along Trousdale Parkway, candidates make Facebook pages to gather support and campus news organizations write about the campaign trail. But for the average student, the air of USG elections just isn’t there. It’s hard to argue that USC is a politically passionate campus, when, in fact, it may be notorious for caring more about frat parties than political parties.
Several student government systems in other colleges across the country run their elections by grouping candidates together to form campus-wide political parties. There are those who propose that USC do the same. But such a system is not needed here. Our campaign system is not broken. So, as the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
President George Washington, in his famed farewell address, notoriously argued against the formation of political parties for the United States. Washington feared such factions would undermine the concept of popular sovereignty in the United States. Clearly, we did not listen.
Before countering the need for USG political parties, it is important to understand the reasons some schools have them. The first is to generate compromise. While compromise is generally something we strive for, it implies that we have a cluster of voices fighting to be heard. Unfortunately for USC (and fortunately for USG candidates), this is not the case. We have two presidential tickets competing in this year’s campaign, along with 15 senators running for 12 slots.
Given that the competition is relatively low, there’s no need to consolidate the already-few voices into a party system.
USG rules already allow for senate candidates to run on joint platforms if they so choose, and the president is allowed to select a vice president to share tickets with. Of course, it would be wrong to prohibit candidates from forming groups on their own, but formally declaring party names and seeking party endorsements from groups around campus would overcomplicate the election process.
The argument that grouping candidates together will generate more interest in USG ignores how our system isn’t broken — our voters are. USG needs to find a way to excite students about elections, to publicize what USG can do for the average student. That’s a task they are struggling with, but in due time they very well may find a solution.
I am confident, however, that the leadership knows forming parties would have the opposite effect. It would complicate an election process that needs to generate more participation.
Allowing candidates to make their own political parties would also encourage straight-ticket voting: voting for all candidates of a particular party without listening to the candidates themselves. Again, this is the opposite of what USG needs; it needs more student engagement, not less.
Schools that run on a party-based election system discourage outsiders and independents to run for office. In contrast, USG elections are open to all, with no allegiances barring newcomers from taking a shot at holding office. In fact, none of the current senate candidates have held USG office before. This would not be possible in a party-run electoral setting.
To be clear, this column does not condemn political parties in American politics. These mediating institutions are necessary to group like-minded people for more comprehensible platforms and to make candidates’ views easily available to voters. But such groups are simply not needed for the number of candidates and constituents at USC.
Shauli Bar-On is a freshman majoring in political science. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Wednesdays.