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Helping a First Time Voter Make Sense of The Election

09/04/2015 23:05 BST | Updated 09/06/2015 10:59 BST

"I'm trying to decide who to vote for" confided my 18-year-old niece at the weekend. Delighted, I prepared to dispense words of advice fitting for an auntie who spends her workdays immersed in news and politics.

It should have been easy. But it wasn't. In fact, it was really difficult. Where do you start when it comes to explaining the whos and whys of voting to a first-timer? It's easy to over-simplify on who stands for what. Once you start getting into their points of disagreement you're quickly lost in a tangled web. And what about the thorny subject of track record?

Every day on BBC Radio 5 live, I try to get straight answers from politicians. Clear, unambiguous promises or denials that'll help you make up your mind, whether it's your first or fifth time at the ballot box.

As an election looms it's even tougher than usual to break through the soundbites. Radio 1Newsbeat's first election debate this week got right to the heart of the matter. Politicians, how can we trust you? One MP tried to artfully pirouette away from the question being asked. The audience heckled, the presenter's words said it all. "You're seriously going to sit here with people shouting 'answer the question' at you and you're not going to answer this issue?". The next question got a simple, one word answer.

If that's the backdrop we're working to, how does an idealistic teenager decide which way to vote for the first time? Are the parties' manifestos, those great glossy books full of hopes, dreams and dangling carrots, really designed to take an 18-year-old voter by the hand and lead them into the world of politics? Not really. History proves they don't always deliver what they promise.

Which brings us to personality. We're all creations of what we see on TV, what we read on social media, the often deeply-ingrained political leanings of our parents. And personality - with that capital P - really matters. Not just when you're a teenager casting that all-important maiden vote, but every single time we scribble a cross and post our card into the ballot box. We give our endorsement based on trust, likeability, the gut feeling that choosing someone to help shape every aspect of your life needs. That's why politicians never abandon those old-fashioned tricks like knocking on doors and mingling with the drinkers in pubs. They work.

At BBC Radio 5 live we wanted to find out more about why we make the choices we do, so we came up with #MyFirstElection. It's not just about first-time voters either, but how our priorities can alter after a big life change. Maybe it's the first time voting as a parent, as someone who's unemployed, or as a homeowner. This time around many of us are going back to basics to work out who's best placed to help us live the life we want to lead.

With four weeks to go until polling day, one thing does hearten me. People care. Just listen to some of the BBC's Generation 2015 voices, 200 young voters who you'll see and hear across everything we do on the election. The ones I've spoken to on my show have crackled with energy and enthusiasm. My niece and her generation genuinely want to use their vote wisely and make an informed choice. They're prepared to spend time and effort researching their choices, and they're proud to nail their political colours to the mast. They've got big demands and high expectations. They want politicians they can trust, who tell the truth and who'll deliver. If we can nurture our newcomers and reward them with the kind of politics they deserve, then democracy will always be the winner.