The Electoral Commission has roped in Facebook to convince young people to vote in the upcoming General Election in a bid to curb an ageing and plummeting electorate.
Young people are becoming less of a political force in the UK due to the decline in registered voters, which fell by 920,000 in the 10 months to December. The Electoral Commission, wary of the British electorate’s gradual skew toward older voters, is looking to tap Facebook’s core young user base for potential voters in a nationwide push.
Buoyed by the Scottish Referendum’s topicality among younger voters, voting chiefs have devised a campaign to encourage 18 year olds to “use your age wisely” and seize the opportunity to take part in their first General Election. PR and online advertising form the bulk of the first phase, before spreading to TV and mobile later in the month.
Facebook will help drum up in interest to support the campaign, fuelling its overarching play to position itself as a key battleground during the election. It strengthens previous ties between the Electoral Commission and Facebook that saw the latter prompt all UK users to register to vote last month.
Tens of thousands of students on either the O2, EE or Vodafone networks will also be targeted texts urging them to vote through the Weve joint venture – the commission’s first mobile campaign. All ads urge viewers to register to vote at URL where they can complete an application form in a matter of minutes.
Michael Abbott, head of campaigns at the Electoral Commission, said not enough 18-year olds know they can only vote if they are registered. The commission’s analysis of the electoral registers highlighted that university towns and cities had bigger dips in the number of registrations compared to other places. .
The number 16 and 17 year olds slumped 33 per cent between December and March in 2014. The lack of awareness around voting was compounded by a YouGov study that that over half of 18 to 24 year olds surveyed (53 per cent) were not aware that they could now register to vote online.
“It’s vital that with the General Election falling in term time that we encourage students to register to vote at their term time address if that’s where they intend to vote,” added Abbott.
Elizabeth Linder, Facebook’s politics and government specialist for the EMEA region, said it hoped its union with the voting organisers would “raise awareness about voter registration”, help young people know how to cast their ballots, and “have their say in nine weeks’ time”. Linder who has dubbed the upcoming election the first “conversational election” believes that the social network’s high penetration in the UK makes conversation around politics especially relevant.
“Millions of young people from all walks of life use Facebook in the UK, and have turned to it in recent weeks to share their views on the issues that matter to them most leading up to the forthcoming election,” she added. “But crucially, participating in the debate online isn’t enough to ensure your opinions count on May 7th. If you’re not registered, you can’t vote: It’s that simple.”
Despite the low representation of young people on the electorate, politicians believe their vote could tip the finely balanced odds in their favour should they succeed in engaging them on the topics that matter most. Yet there is little evidence that this is having any significant bearing on the early phases of their campaign strategies. It appears that both Labour and the Conservatives are sticking to their tired-and-tested traditional battle plans with neither yet to fully mine the digital space to reach broader range of consumer.