Politics Must Remember Youth Audiences Are Watching

Don’t think, don’t ask, pay tax and vote for us artwork. Courtesy of Unsplash

Whilst the youth vote is so often talked about as being influential to political outcomes, it’s always bewildering to see ill-conceived attempts, last minute celebrity endorsements and the disconnect between politicians and youth audiences. It’s almost as if young people aren’t really a consideration.

On the Hear It Podcast I spoke with Jessica Blair from Civic Nation, a non-profit established in the post-Obama administration world to address key issues youth audiences were facing. Voting being one of them.

Having already developed compelling activity with When We All Vote in 2018, the organisation still recognised that more was needed to connect the 83% of young people who believe they have the power to create change (according to a survey by the Centre for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE)) with ownership of the 2020 vote. Vote Loud was born.

“We realised that When We All Vote and the celebrities used were amazing megaphones for the cause, but we weren’t really sure that they appealed to young people” explained Jessica.

“Based on research we had done, other voting groups and firms had done, we debunked the theory that young people are apathetic, that they don’t care. We found the opposite to be true. Young people are very engaged and they do care about voting issues.”

“There wasn’t a marketing effort that pushed action. That was the opportunity that we saw. They are a major voting block… and no one was speaking to them directly.”

Partnering with Anomaly L.A to develop the strategy and pull in the right partners, Vote Loud was created. With relevant actors, musicians and influencers, plus a common theme about using your voice and your voting right the campaign helped to inspire action as well as inform first time voters how to ensure they were registered so they could do so.

Engaging young people in a dialogue about politics has a toe-curling past, let’s not forget the Sky News youth-vote initiative in 2015, called ‘Stand Up Be Counted’ (also the name of a widely criticised play by Jim Davidson). Or, the EU referendum with its ‘Stronger In’ campaign with a #Votin campaign video, featuring lots of graffitiing, skydiving and words like “Ravin’”, “Chattin’” and “Votin’” flashing on the screen.

It’s true that in the UK, the 18-to-24-year-olds don’t turn out in big enough numbers. Between 1992 and 2005 youth turnout at UK general elections declined by 28% and has stayed around the 40% mark since and is even lower (around 20%) for local and European elections).

But Brexit connected more than a party did – with a turnout almost double the 26% that was initially reported (the data was incorrect). Perhaps indicating that parties aren’t engaging youth issues but the issues themselves are.

Rather than taking to TikTok, commissioning research about why young people won’t vote for you (and not doing much about it) or getting Stomzy to pledge allegiance youth audiences care more about genuine content than cool, something Civic Nation seemed to appeal to with success in the presidential campaign in 2020.

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