By Jacob Solis
With the Associated Students of the University of Nevada elections just around the corner, campaigns for the 22 open senate seats have hit full stride. Sizeable wooden signs bearing the names of hopeful candidates seemingly dot every grassy knoll on campus as each contender tries to gain a vital edge over their opponents. However, five particular candidates find themselves with an edge pre-built into their campaigns: their incumbency.
On Capitol Hill, incumbent members of Congress find themselves with tremendous advantages over fresh-faced challengers: greater experience on the job, ample name-recognition and bigger campaign war chests. These assets make it incredibly difficult for new faces to unseat the old, but that is the situation in Washington. Does incumbency advantage even appear in races so small and short as the ASUN elections?
The answer, which is a soft no, is heavily tied to the realities of how ASUN elections work versus state or national elections. Sen. Nick Andrew, the incumbent senator for the Interdisciplinary Program and candidate for reelection, is skeptical of any major benefits to being an incumbent in an ASUN race.
“I wouldn’t say it’s as much as an advantage to an actual politician,” Andrew said. “I don’t have any access to any ASUN resources, I can’t put the ASUN logo on my campaign materials, and I can’t campaign out of the ASUN office. Being a candidate and being an [ASUN] official are completely separate.”
The lack of ASUN resources available to candidates is the direct result of campaign finance rules put forth by the Statutes of the Associated Students that work specifically to create a level playing field. In contrast, politicians on the national level have at least some access to state or federal resources as in the case of franking privilege, which allows official mail to be posted without the normal postage stamp.
However, even without ASUN resources, Andrew maintained that the experience an incumbent brings to the table is invaluable. He went on to posit that the senate could not function as well as it does without experienced junior and senior senators taking the helm of leadership positions, namely speaker of the senate and committee chairs.
Sen. Anthony Ramirez of the College of Engineering felt similarly, lauding the role of experience while dismissing any other advantages. In particular, Ramirez had reservations about the degree of name-recognition ASUN incumbents actually possess.
“It’s only the experience,” Ramirez said. “A majority of the people I campaigned to last year are busy with their [school] stuff and they’ve probably forgotten by now, so I have to re-campaign and make sure they know me. Apart from that, we [candidates] all campaign, we all do the same thing.”
Ramirez also noted that many students, especially in the College of Engineering, both do not care about ASUN and, in his opinion, misunderstand what ASUN does. Ramirez was elected in 2014 with less than 3 percent of the vote from his college, though University of Nevada, Reno metrics show fewer than 300 out of about 2,000 engineering students voted at all, amounting to a turnout of less than 15 percent.
Across the university as a whole, the numbers stay remarkably similar. Among an undergraduate electorate of 14,500 eligible voters, only 16 percent voted. For comparison, a mere 32 percent of Nevadans voted in the 2014 midterm elections, the lowest turnout in 72 years according to the University of Florida’s United States Elections Project.
With so few undergraduate students voting, any kind of incumbent advantage, from name-recognition to experience, is mitigated heavily. As asserted by Andrew and Ramirez, the only reliable upper hand an incumbent holds is their experience.
Nevertheless, even experience can be tempered by other factors, according to incumbent senator and candidate for the College of Education Thomas Green. Green, who is running as a ticket with newcomer Amanda Moore, was wary of using the word “advantage” to describe an incumbent’s experience.
“[Experience] is a large part of it, but I think the other part is commitment,” Green said. “You have to be able to commit to getting stuff done and even though we’re really involved [on campus], this is our priority. Our priority is the students on this campus, the students within the College of Education.”
Green went on to note that no amount of experience would help a candidate if they could not sway the popular vote in their favor. Green further contended that any candidate could use signs, buttons or the like to their favor, not just incumbents.
Ultimately, ASUN and university politics create a unique electoral landscape on campus. Where an incumbent might normally find unabated superiority, ASUN senators running for re-election are distinguished only by the words “ASUN senator” on their resumes.
The ASUN general election runs from Wednesday March 11 to Thursday March 12 on WebCampus.
Jacob Solis can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.