Campaigning in elections is an important part of the SU's democracy. After a year of elections being held exclusively online, we're excited for in-person campaigning to be possible again, and to see new, innovative online campaign tactics that have emerged during the pandemic!
Running in an election can be daunting, but it can also be a great way to learn new skills and have fun. We’ve put together these tips on the best ways you can reach students and what you can try to get them to vote for you.
Make sure you also take a look at the How to Stand information before you nominate yourself. Information about the rules for campaigning during the elections and the welfare support the SU provides to elections candidates will be covered in more detail in the compulsory Candidates' Briefing.
How to win
Cover the basics
All the work you put into promoting yourself as a candidate only matters if you get the basics right. Do people know what the elections are? Do they know how to vote, and when voting is open? Make sure that you’re always communicating those key facts when you’re campaigning so that you can turn every bit of support into votes.
Make use of your networks
Your first source of voters is the people you know – and that’s probably more than you think. Try mapping out all the different ways that you know people in Cambridge, whether that’s your college, your lab, a society, a sports team, or anything else. Then think about who you know from those places, and make sure you ask them all to vote for you. Pay extra attention to the people who you can recruit to help you campaign. It pays to be systematic, so make sure you don’t miss anyone.
Ask for help
There’s only one thing to do in a campaign that beats asking people to vote for you: asking people to ask other people to vote for you! The best way to increase the reach of your campaign is to ask your strongest supporters to campaign for you too, whether that’s housemates, close friends or people that really back your platform. If they also make sure they’re using their networks to recruit, you can reach a lot of people. If you can get support from someone that knows a lot of people or might carry some influence, even better.
You should also ask for people to help with other parts of your campaign. Do you have a friend that’s good at designing social media graphics, or helping you take the perfect selfie for your manifesto? Make use of them!
If you’re nervous about asking for help, remember they’re not just doing you a favour – you’re running to make Cambridge better for lots of students, and the people helping you care about that too. You might even meet new people who want to support you with your campaign along the way!
Keep it accessible
When you’re making elections content, it’s important to make sure that everyone’s able to engage with it. Different kinds of content are better for different people so making sure you produce a variety of materials can be helpful. There are also a few simple things you can do to improve your campaign:
- Online, make sure every image has alt-text, and any content in images is also included in plain text in a description or link.
- Caption any videos you put out so that subtitles are available
- Choose your colours carefully, so that text always has a high enough contrast from its background and isn’t confusing for colour blind people
You can find more information about this, as well as how-tos and tools for checking accessibility on the Disabled Students’ Campaign’s website.
Making your material accessible is a responsibility we all have, but it’s also smart campaigning – why hide your campaign materials from potential voters?
Get people’s attention
Think about how you will stand out from the pack and get your share of the limelight! What will get your name out there? From banners and posters, an easily shareable video, or talking to people at lecture sites, there are lots of ways to attract potential voters. It pays to be creative and do something different to what everyone else is.
Lots of people think winning elections is about persuading people to vote for you instead of someone else, and that’s definitely a big part of it. But, you can often get further by thinking about people that might not be likely to vote at all if nobody asks them directly, and spending your time talking to them about why they should vote for you. You’ll minimise how much time you spend talking to someone who’s already made up their mind, and people often appreciate being reached out to.
The crucial thing to win is that the people who care about your priorities and support you all turn out and vote, not that you manage to change the minds of everyone who already has a strong opinion.
Use your budget
The SU will reimburse spending on your campaign up to a value of £100 for sabbatical officer candidates and up to a value of £40 for University Councillor and Portfolio Officer candidates. you’re Ynot allowed to spend any other money on your campaign, or use anything that would cost someone else money even if you can get it for free. (For example, if you have a friend who worked in a print shop, you couldn’t get them to give you free posters for your campaign)
It’s common for candidates to spend lots of this money on printed materials like flyers to hand out round Cambridge. But you might want to think about other things you can do this year. Maybe you’ll want to spend some money on props to make a really impressive video for your candidacy, or perhaps you’ll want to advertise online, or perhaps you want to make a campaign banner to hang somewhere that gets lots of traffic.
Whatever you do, make sure to keep receipts or screenshots of payment confirmation so we can reimburse you and verify spending, and ask the SU first if you’re at all unsure of the rules.
Why do you want to win the role you’re running for? What’s the one thing you’d want to achieve? What will be different about Cambridge at the end of your term? Those are helpful questions to think about when you’re trying to decide on the key messages of your campaign.
Lots of people who might vote for you probably won’t read your whole manifesto, or would be more likely to pay attention to a social media post if it’s short, sharp and to the point. Voters are more likely to remember you, and ultimately to cast their ballot for you, if you have a simple and clear message that stands out and that they see over and over again. Decide on your core messages, and make sure you stick to them.
Looking after yourself while campaigning
Whilst campaigning can be enjoyable and exciting, it can also be challening. Cambridge SU wants all candidates to have the best experience possible, and we're here as a source of support throughout the elections period.
As well as helping you win as many votes as possible, your campaign team should also be a source of support and encourage. Remember to distribute work out to those who are happy to help you, and that winning isn't just about doing the most campaigning, it's about making the most of the time and resources you have available, and having an effective and convincing manifesto.
The internet is full of great free tools that can be helpful in an election, and this is obviously not an exhaustive list. It can be easy to feel like designing or videos need complicated or expensive software, but you can do everything you need with free tools. Here are just a few apps and websites that people often find useful in running a campaign.
Canva is an online design and publishing tool. There is a paid plan, but you can do almost everything you’d want to in the free version. Canva makes it easy to make designed documents like manifestos, and has a big library of freely accessible templates for graphics for different social media platforms and uses. Canva also has simple image editing tools.
Most laptops and tablets either come with video editing software or have it freely available to download, with the most common being Windows Video Editor or iMovie. These tools will allow you to do everything you’d need to make a great campaigning video, whether that’s cut together clips, crop videos, add titles and text or add music.
Here are some examples of elections videos from previous years or other SUs for ideas:
And some bonus content for inspiration from Stella Swain (CUSU-GU Welfare & Rights Officer 2019-20).
There’s no tool responsible for more successful SU campaigns than the humble Google Spreadsheet! It really pays in election campaigns to be systematic, making sure you’ve used every contact, spoken to everyone, and covered every base. It’s also helpful to be able to share your campaign plans with friends who are helping you and divide up the work.