On Monday, May 2nd 2011, Canadians will go to the polls for the fourth time in seven years.
In the last federal election, voter turnout was mere 59.1% of the electorate, the lowest voter turnout in Canadian history.
One of the reasons typically cited for such a low turnout is the increasing apathy of the “youth” vote.
This election, perhaps more so than any other election to date in Canada, has seen the rise of political jockeying in “social media”. The influence of social media — Facebook for the most part, but Twitter as well — is tough to measure in advance of the election. Even after the election, it’ll be tough to attribute anything directly to social media, but I’m willing to bet that any up-tick in the “youth” vote will be assigned to social media.
The small office that I work in is full of “young” people. All six full-time employees are under 40, including 2 guys under 30. On Friday five of us discussed the election and it was rather interesting. I’m a political junkie. I follow the news, the happenings in the House of Commons, and general am on top of things. Another of the “older” guys in the office is similar. Both of us are pretty aware of what happened prior to the election, and during.
The other three, the younger three, however are not so interested. Of those three, the youngest (mid-20s) is the most engaged. He didn’t know what was happening prior to the election, but when he noticed the ads TV, he felt it was his obligation to educate himself on the parties, the platforms, and the issues. I asked him about his friends, and he felt that about half of them were similarly engaged, and the other half was utterly apathetic. He mentioned seeing quite a bit of discussion on Facebook, even remarking that some of his friends had changed their profile pics to reflect their political leanings.
On the other extreme is a guy in his late 20s. Essentially the only way he knew about a federal election was because it’s something I talk about at work. He’s not really into social media, but mentioned that some of his friends have talked about the election on Facebook, but it really wasn’t a hot-button issue.
The third guy (early 30s) didn’t have much to add. He wasn’t really aware of the leaders or the parties’ platforms. He’s the sort of guy that will educate himself by Monday, at least enough to make an educated decision.
The thing that tied all three of these young guys together, though, was the CBC Vote Compass. All of them mentioned using it. All three of them mentioned that they found it interesting in exploring their own thoughts on various issues and seeing how they lined up against the platforms and positions of the various parties. Frankly, I found this pretty astounding. Something about this simple tool appealed to all of them, and I’m willing to bet that all three of them will consider their experiences with it when it comes to voting on Monday. And yes, all three of them will be voting, although all have them have voted in previous elections too.
So it comes down to engagement. How do you engage the “youth” vote? How do you reach them? Based on the small sample at my office they:
- Don’t read newspapers. Heck, I don’t read newspapers anymore.
- Don’t watch TV news.
- Don’t listen to radio news.
But they do:
- Spend time on Facebook.
- Watch The Daily Show. This one is particularly odd. One of them said that if Canada had something like The Daily Show, they’d be all over it. When I pointed to “The Mercer Report”, the response was “Oh yeah! I like that … but don’t watch it.”
- Watch things on YouTube.
It’s pretty obvious then, that if you want to reach this generation of voters, you MUST have a presence on the internet. Further than that, though, you must have some reason to get them to visit your site, or have them (or their friends) talk about you. If you solve the “where” to engage them, you still have to deal with the “how”.
And the how is perhaps even trickier. Of the three young guys, they all said to me that they were just not interested in politics. Their lives are good. They are all working at good-paying jobs. They’re healthy. They’re happy. As far as they’re concerned there’s no reason to pay attention to what’s happening in Ottawa — it’ll all work itself out anyway. As painful as that is to hear, and as hard it is not to start lecturing them on civic duty, being actively interested in the direction of the country, etc., it’s also hard to argue the point. There is no direct, personal issue that would cause them to pay attention.
There’s also the catch-22: They’re not interested in politics because as far as they’re concerned politicians never do what they say they will. The current government certainly hasn’t done anything to change that. But then they don’t pay attention to politics. So the only time they hear anything about politics is when something has gone sideways — some scandal or other. If the only thing you’re hearing is scandal after scandal, or at the very least a constant stream of negativity, where’s the motivation to pay any further attention?
At any rate, I think we’re starting to turn the corner a little bit. Social media may not be changing any minds, but it’s increasing the amount of conversation. The idea of “Vote Mobs” and filming student rallies for YouTube is great. If the election was held at a time when the universities were actually in class, I suspect that this effect would be even greater.
Regardless if you’re part of the “youth vote” or not, regardless of which party you support, regardless of your level of engagement: On Monday 2 May 2011, is YOUR chance to affect your future. Go vote.
For details on how, when, and where to vote, visit Elections Canada.