How do we encourage higher democratic participation amongst first-time voters who have a notoriously low turnout on Election day?
According to a report by the IPPR voters are becoming increasingly older and wealthier. The think tank said it is a rather serious issue because, “…governments are more likely to frame policies that appeal to groups who do vote, and neglect the interests of those who don’t, leading to greater political inequality.”
The IPPR added: “There is now clear evidence that younger voters who don’t vote are less likely than previous generations to develop the habit of voting as they move into middle age.”
How do we solve this issue?
In the IPPR report they recommend compelling first-time voters to turn out to vote, with fines issued if they don’t.
Surely there’s a better way? Perhaps we need to look closer at the habits and behaviours of this group and try and understand how we might improve political engagement and encourage life-long habits of democratic participation.
Our recent study of first-time voters highlighted that this key group is much more likely to discuss politics on social media than any other voter age group.
45% of first-time voter, social media users say they regularly use Facebook to discuss and read about politics, and 30% use Twitter to engage with the democratic process.
And whilst the next generation of voters is out in force politically on social media, they are, as you may have guessed, much less likely to engage with the election in more traditional ways such as writing to an elected official (13% of new voters versus 30% of the wider voting public), attending a public meeting (9% versus 23%) or join a political party (3% versus 10%)
So, as House of Commons speaker John Bercow has proposed, perhaps by 2020 people should be offered an opportunity to vote online? Given the higher engagement levels online, surely this would provide a channel to the polling booth that suited these younger voters to a tee.
His commission also recommends the House should experiment with providing live social media coverage of debates, and make changes in political education in schools in an effort to encourage young people to register to vote.
Of course political parties know the power of social media as a communications tool and have invested considerable time and resource engaging with voters on social channels in the run up to the 2015 Election.
But more than just an outreach-and-engage tool both for voters and political parties, social media data analysed can offer parties valuable insight into the other interests of their supporters.
For example, using Crimson Hexagon to analyse the different interests or “affinities” of voters on social media reveals that Conservative voters are twice as interested in The X Factor and Chelsea as other social media users. UKIP voters are 30 times more interested in Top Gear and 14 times more interested in Sheffield, Labour voters 16 times more interested in feminism and Lib Dem voters 493 times more interested in Russell Brand than others on social media.
This valuable insight into voters’ interests can be used by parties to help them understand how to reach and engage voters, and to inform their media and campaign planning. For example, knowing that young voters might be interested in a particular pop star or drinks brand can be used by a party to inform everything from the language they use, the collateral produced, where and when they place advertising and their digital marketing campaigns, to the celebrities used for endorsement.
Political parties need to harness these kinds of learnings to inform their campaigns and engage first time voters in a way that is relevant and interesting for them.
Social media truly does have the power to change the way people engage with politics, and politics engages with people; let’s see if it can be used to change the voting habits of a generation.
Originally published in Brand Republic on April 15: http://election2015.brandrepublic.com/2015/04/15/compulsory-voting-for-first-time-voters-could-social-media-be-key-to-change/
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