THE BLOG

From Rapping in the European Parliament to a Pornographic Cartoon: How to Get Young People to Vote

22/05/2014 09:29 BST | Updated 21/07/2014 10:59 BST

Young people do not vote in the same numbers as their older counterparts. This is a fact and has been playing out over many years. In 2009, 71% of 18-24 year olds did not vote at the European elections. And young people in the UK are the least likely to vote across Europe (only 18% did in the last EU elections). Recent polls suggest that a large share of young people still do not know if they will vote in these European elections. Meanwhile, the far right and the various anti-EU nationalist parties across Europe - notably Ukip in the UK - have worrying scores in the polls and a lot of airtime on radio and TV. It is therefore crucial that young people, who are proven to be more supportive of Europe and more likely to recognise its value than any other generation, also have the opportunity to have their say on key issues in Europe.

It seems that governments and EU institutions are finally waking up to this fact and, along with youth organisations, have been trying to mobilise the youth vote with a range of initiatives; from rapping in the European Parliament to a pornographic cartoon. Some of these campaigns have hit the headlines, but will they get young people to the ballot box?

The cartoon, Voteman, released by the Danish Government, depicts, in sometimes violent and sexual images, a muscular hero assaulting young non-voters all the way to the ballot box! After complaints, it was withdrawn one day after release. But, it could be argued, despite or most probably because of its crude content, this video had the desired impact: voting became a talking point.

Other campaigns have subverted expectations. EU40, a group of MEPs under the age of 40, and MTV Voices hosted along a "rap battle" in the European Parliament. Not often do you hear the words "fiscal union" in a rap! But does this kind of event, entertaining though it might be, reach beyond the so-called "Brussels bubble"?

The League of Young Voters was set up by the European Youth Forum to get young people's issues on the table ahead of the European elections, as well as to get young people engaged in politics and the elections campaign. It has run several campaigns which have sought to debunk the myth that voting and getting engaged in political life is boring. One major success has been its remake of Pharrell Williams' Happy Video. Re-released as "Happy Voting", it was shot around Brussels and features MEPs dancing in the European Parliament.

We also thought that it would be interesting to see how young people would react facing the threat that the vote be taken away from them. We launched a fake campaign "Responsible Democracy", which lobbied to raise the voting age to 25. Gratifyingly, this received an outcry from young people and politicians alike. It's striking how only when you threaten to take something away from people do they start valuing it.

We hope to see, over these next few days, some of these campaigns have an impact on the number of young people across Europe going to cast their vote. However, catchy campaigns are not enough to make the difference. Educating young people in political life, how to vote and what political parties offer them on the issues that they care about, is also vital.

We know from our research that one of the main reasons that young people do not vote is that there is not enough information available about the elections and their content. The League of Young Voters has developed two online tools to tackle this: "Who Says What" gives a detailed breakdown of what every political party at EU and national level says about issues that impact young people such as unemployment and education. "Make your choice", (http://www.makeyourchoice.eu/#/) gives young voters and potential voters a guided tour around the maze-like political process and how to go about voting.

We hope that tools like these, along with the funny and sometimes shocking campaigns that we have seen across Europe, will really make a difference this time. It may almost be a cliché, but it is still true: if young people do not vote, their voice will not be heard and they will not be represented.