As we get ready to make the journey north to Blackpool for the 2018 AEA Conference we’ve been reminding ourselves of the issues that were on the agenda at last year’s conference in Brighton and looking at how the landscape has shifted within electoral services.
One issue that generated a lot of discussion last year was the role that social media plays in the voting experience for young people – this proved to be quite a hot topic. The general consensus of young people’s experience in exercising their democratic rights was not a positive one – so why is that? and what can be done to change this trend?
A lack of interest in politics is definitely not the reason; after all, the Oxford Dictionaries 2017 word of the year is ‘youthquake’, defined as “a significant cultural, political or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people”. In many countries, 2017 was a year of political change where young people tipped the balance of power, but why did they feel the need to tweet their disgruntlement with the voting process?
The pre-digital world is fast fading into the past – today, a 21-year-old voter has never known a world without Google and in just eight years’ time new voters will have never known a world without an iPhone, so it’s not a surprise that when these young voters are presented with a piece of paper and a pencil tied to a wall with a piece of string to cast their vote, they find it all a little disaffecting.
It appears that many aspects of the current voting process seem alien to them, from the registration process to voting day itself, so it’s easy to see why they would tweet about their voting experience in a negative manner. It takes time to build trust and confidence with unfamiliar procedures.
It’s easy to be reactive and look to correct misguided tweets, but maybe the answer is to look at how we engage with our young society prior to elections. The official recognition of ‘youthquake’ is proof that young people are definitely not apathetic or disengaged, as they are sometimes portrayed by older generations, and the fact that the youth turnout at the 2017 General Election was the highest since 1992 backs up the buzzword, but many seem to be somewhat disillusioned with party politics and simply don’t feel the connection that has characterised the voting habits of the UK of recent times.
In this tech rich world, those in control of the voting process perhaps need to be more proactive in their approach to the next generation. Whether it’s an iPhone or a pencil we use, what we need to be encouraging is our right to vote in our democracy and that’s always going to be something worth protecting.
2017 was quite a year for politics, both at home and abroad, and many things happened which seemed unlikely this time last year, but it’s the prospect of the unexpected that keeps us all on our toes. Can the world take another year of political change and intrigue? Of course it can!