THE BLOG

Attracting Young Voters - Addressing The Gap

01/04/2015 17:19 | Updated 30 May 2015

Parliament has dissolved and MPs have officially reverted to being members of the public, meaning only one thing, the General Election Campaign has officially kicked off.

With 2015's race to Number 10 being billed as one of the closest in decades, if not history, it is a wonder why so little emphasis has been placed on engaging the younger voter. Admittedly there have been a number of initiatives rolled out this year, yet the problem remains, political parties seem disinterested in communicating directly with young people. The elderly, young families and high earners are all frequently mentioned, but who is championing opportunity for graduates, apprentices and NEETS?

Whether politicians see 18-25 year olds as a lost cause, may I suggest that politicians:
a) Lack the foresight to care about the younger audience vote, after all surely it makes sense to engage a voter now and maintain their support, oppose to fighting for it over ensuing elections
b) Are communicating through the wrong forms of media, young people consume media in many ways. Are politicians doing enough to cover the bases?
c) Young people don't give care about the outcome, or the future of the country in which they live. You only have to look at the rapid growing participation in schemes such as National Citizens Service (NCS) to see young people, are potentially more aware and concerned than ever before

In 2010 the turnout for 18-25 year old voters was the lowest of all age groups coming in at 44%, comparatively the national turnout for all of the electorate was 66%, a substantial gap, which any party worth their salt surely would want to fill. After all according to The Guardian there are 35 seats in England and Wales where at least 20% of the voting age population are aged between 18-24.

There are a number of reasons listed across the press discussing why young people turn out in such low numbers when it comes to voting. None however highlight what appears to be on the minds of so many young voters. "Why can't I vote online?" After all, you can date, shop, book a holiday and bank online and the arguments against digitisation of the voting system seem to carry little weight. Obviously votes being intercepted and plagiarised is of concern, yet surely there are mechanisms that can be put in place to avoid this, be it a confirmation letter, or an email. Whilst voting comes with anonymity, voters seem happy to be flexible, should it mean the mechanic of being able to vote joins the 21st Century.

Moving away from the analogue elephant in the room that is our dated voting mechanic, the conversation turns to; do young people feel engaged by politicians? The answer is a resounding no. You only have to look at the Conservatives who spurned the opportunity for David Cameron to field questions from young people on the BBC's "Free Speech", to see why there is so much discontent from young voters towards politicians.

Labour's Simon Danczuk's recently publicised porn consumption habits interestingly act as a signpost as to where politicians should be focusing their efforts when wanting to engage a young audience, that does not mean MP's should be slipping into some stockings and suspenders, but instead paying particular attention to their social channels.

The reality is if any of the parties actually took the time to understand the youth audience, they wouldn't have to go near the BBC, or a television debate to resonate with a younger audience. 18-24 year old users dominate YouTube, with 46% of users in the UK from this age group alone. Whilst there has been a notable shift in the major parties using social channels to assist their election campaign, they appear to be happy to populate their channels with stuffy and stiff content that shouts one-sided agenda like no other, or they continue their cross party "tit-for-tat", when all young voters seem to desire is honesty.

There is an understanding across many young people that not every problem will be able to be solved in one go, therefore all they ask for in return is politicians who are pragmatic and honest, who answer a question that is given to them and are not intent on spinning said question to suit their agenda. Such an approach would be ideally suited to the social channels that the UK's political parties have taken to in their swarms, and rightly so. However their engagement seems to be lacking any real thought, essentially they need to think about their story, to create content young people want to spend time with and learn from. Their channels should be about education, not simply talking at their audience.

One of the most refreshing aspects of social media is it's ability to empower the user to ask a question, to voice a concern, but ultimately this two-way conversation seems to have been ignored by politicians, suggesting they aren't interested in conversing simply dictating. There is a very real opportunity for young people to be truly engaged in politics thanks to social channels, and because of the freedom they offer, these channels could still play a decisive part in who walks into number 10 victorious come May.