With one of the most important elections of our time approaching, politicians and candidates are currently canvassing the nation for our votes, but how many 18-34 year old UK citizens will make it to the ballot box and will they have all they need to make an informed decision?
The last general election saw 27.1 million people vote in Britain, just 60% of the country’s population. Of that total, 21% were aged 18-34 translating into fewer than six million young voters making their voices heard. In the final of The X Factor 2009, a whopping 10 million voted for their favourite singer, so why is there such a void in voters and is the message from the parties getting through?
There are various methods of communications that politicians use to get their message across to the public. More traditional forms are through printed newspapers, postal newsletters, television and radio appearances, and the recent surge of online and new media usage means the candidates and politicians can access millions of other users. Public appearances and positive news stories are used to raise profiles and interest but do any of these methods actually work?
Lack of social media engagement
Twitter, Facebook and to a lesser extent MySpace, are social networking sites used almost daily by most of our youth. Blogging and Tweeting are free ways of communicating with the world, however research shows that each of the ‘Big Three’s’ sites have only a couple of thousand members of the 400 million users of Facebook and 26 million projected 2010 users on Twitter. Amazingly, my local tramp has a fan site with more followers. Used in the right way it can influence the public and mobilise the masses, just ask Jan Moir and Rage against the Machine, but it is obvious the policies are not prevailing through these media.
Last year saw revelations regarding MPs’ expenses that caused a decline in trust for elected members of parliament to an all-time low. Duck houses and moat cleaning caused us to rethink who these politicians were and what they stood for; damage limitation became the order of the day.
Print media saw a rise in profits as people rushed out to buy the latest instalment of the expenses scandal, but newspaper coverage in this context was not the greatest forum for politicians to put their message across. In fact, public confidence in our politicians plummeted.
Next Rupert Murdoch switched sides and the right wing papers became the majority, so even if the young were picking up the papers, they would be consuming a right-leaning bias.
Television appearances followed and most recently we saw Gordon Brown (or Gobo as I have heard him affectionately named) feature with Piers Morgan on his interview show. Surely a fantastic way to get through to the desired audience? Not quite, in an attempt to humanise himself he still managed to give little away. Barack Obama, charisma minister, he’s not.
So if not Piers Morgan, then the simple answer must be Simon Cowell. Pulling in viewing figures of almost 20 million in the final of The X Factor and being one of the richest and most influential men in Britain, he has openly admitted on Newsnight that a similar format could be used for politics. It was tried before on ITV’s “Vote for me” where right-wing anti-immigration politician Rodney Hylton-Potts won. Given his extremist views, ITV tried to distance itself from the results, but with Mr Cowell on board you can feel that he might just pull it off.
Would we listen to Cheryl Cole?
Celebrity culture is at the forefront of our society today, stories of international disasters are buried by the latest Jordan scandal or Wag fall-out. So perhaps the answer could lie in celebrity endorsement or involvement in politics to help get the message across? If Cheryl Cole told us that the Conservatives would be making cuts in the NHS, or Stephen Fry outlined how the voting system worked, or Dermot O’Leary stated Labour’s main policies and why it is important for the young to be involved, would we listen?
Young people should feel privileged to have the right to vote, to feel that their opinion matters, and their vote counts. It was only around 100 years ago the suffragettes fought for women’s right to vote, and it is an insult to those who died for the cause when women don’t take advantage of this human right.
Most young people will say, “What’s the point in voting?”. Politicians need to ensure that their young constituents feel there is a point to voting by relating the big issues to subject matter they care about: university fees, tax and our future economy and what they will do to make our prospects brighter.
The candidates should be reaching out to the young in their own habitats and giving them the confidence to give some trust and respect back to the parties. I read the information that is sent through the post from the parties, and there need to be changes. Postal communication should be more inviting to read and specific to young people’s needs.
Let’s vote by text
Let’s propose that we now have our information; the policies and the promises, we have restored a small amount of faith in our chosen candidate, but what is going to make us travel to our nearest scout hut or village hall on a typical rainy evening and cast our vote?
Everybody knows the young folk are lazy! They eat ready meals, text people in the next room, shop online and have groceries delivered, so why is one of the most important responsibilities we should carry out, made so difficult?
Is e-voting or texting so implausible in today’s online technological world? Simple sign-up strategies and easy ways to vote could drastically improve voting interests and opinions. If nothing changes we could see another exceptionally low turnout at the ballot boxes this year.