Dear (future) representatives,

| Niels ter Meer

With the election dust starting to settle, a trend which has been forming for years becomes even more evident. Student columnist Niels ter Meer (23) has some statistics and some thoughts on representational politics, with a sliver of hope.


I’ll admit that my gut feeling that the lists were not representative, from a gender and nationality perspective, was wrong. It was, after all, a gut feeling; something discussed with friends and acquaintances with similar sentiments, not something build on hard statistics.

But while blaming structural problems on acts of god, a detached electorate, and annoying columnists with pesky opinions is a simple thing to do, there seems to be a considerable lack of historical awareness in this response letter. In the spirit of working together, I will tell you what I have found.

Post 2016, the turnout is highly correlated with the number of eligible voters — in a negative sense. The number of eligible voters has been increasing, while — at the same time — the number of votes cast has been dropping, year after year. These effects combined result in a very stead downward trend in the relative turnout. This year’s election looks very normal in that sense. The influence COVID has had — or yours truly might have had — pale in comparison to this far stronger trend.

Consider, for a minute, the changes the UT community has underwent post 2016. A couple of years before, the now old but then new study financing system was implemented. Moreover, around that time, the UT was in the process of switching its teaching from Dutch to English, while at the same time starting to attract more international students. Sinking turnout in the face of this points to the council failing to engage with significant numbers of voters in this new generation, while slowly hemorrhaging those they had managed to convince they were worth their vote.

It might thus very well still be a structural diversity problem. Not one of the ballot per se, but of whom you actually seem to represent. It matters what the electorate thinks and feels and thinks about you —  LUVANE drew it best last year. It matters whether they actually feel represented by you or who you put on the ballot; it appears neither is the case now. Your marginal mandate is tainted by what was the lowest turnout in the past twelve years; every word you utter will have that asterisk attached to it.

So now it is time for you to actually practice politics. Rome wasn’t built within a week, nor is politics done in just five days. It’s up to you to determine whether my conjectures and hypotheses are true, and if so, what engages the other 78% of the coin and what would make them feel represented. You’re not entitled to votes — you have to earn them.

(External) criticism is innate to representative politics; a requirement for it to thrive. Without it, they are prone to falling prey to monoculture and homogeneity, and thus wither — even in the face of a heterogeneous community. So if you want your model of representation to actually be a front runner, instead of merely asserting or believing it, you have to work for it to make it happen.

It should be without saying, but of course I want you to succeed in this — good representation of our heterogeneous community makes for a healthy university. So, as a final note: the trend predicts that the turnout next year will drop below twenty percent.

Prove it wrong.

Stay tuned

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.