If you want youth to pay attention, don’t turn to traditional media outlets — radio, newspapers and even television just don’t cut it anymore — they’re tuned into Facebook and Twitter. Social media is
a quick and easy way to connect with “friends” and organize specific actions, such as overcoming youth apathy and turning them into voters.
There are certain truths to be understood, among which is the fact that young adults are more likely to get their news about the world around them from news aggregating websites rather than TV newscasts. If they want the latest hockey scores, don’t expect them to wait around the television set until 6:20 p.m. for a sports broadcast — they’re more likely to go to the Web for instant gratification of their curiosity.
If they want information, they want it now and they know where to get it. After all, they possess the world’s computer and technological savvy. Ask yourself this question: How many times have you asked your children to help fix a computer glitch?
The statistics for voting are dismal among young adults. In the last federal election, only 37 per cent of Canadian youth between 18 and 24 bothered to show up at the polls. On the other hand, over 65 per cent of eligible voters
between 55 and 64 years old — the baby boomer generation — cast ballots.
A Statistics Canada report called Willing to Participate: Political Engagement of Young Adults found that only 59 per cent of individuals in their 20s had voted in at least one election. Nationally, 77 per cent of the voting-age population cast a vote in at least one election.
Statistics Canada said it approached researchers to mull the reasons for the lack of turnout at election time. The opinions ranged from motivation to marginalization from mainstream politics to a lack of relevance.
Belong to a political party? Forget it. Today’s 18 to 30 years olds simply aren’t interested. Only five per cent of the 18 to 30 age group are card-carrying party members. Those affiliated with parties are hyper-partisan and atypical of the typical Canadian youth.
Much of this is the fault of the mainstream parties, who cater their message to baby boomers wondering what future they face when they leave the workforce. This group on the verge of retirement is interested in the political process because they have certain expectations, such as health care and home care being available when they need it.
Have you noticed that the parties have now become fixated on these issues?
On the other hand, youth don’t feel the vulnerability of their parents and grandparents. Young adults have little concept for the need of universal health care in the event of catastrophic illness.
Taxes also don’t seem to bother them. Among those not attending college or university, they may curse that their net take-home pay has been eroded by personal income taxes, but they’re more likely to shrug it off than comment about the need to oust some party from political power.
And attack ads are more likely to turn off today’s educated youth rather than get them to cast a vote against those “nasty and dangerous” so-and-sos running for the other party.
“Canada’s political leaders have been constantly ignoring young voters for years,” wrote Ilona Dougherty of Apathy is Boring in a recent column for canada.com, “and young people are returning the favour.
“Every candidate says that they want young Canadians’ support,” she added, “But for the most part, political campaigns are more interested in persuading the people who are already voters than in encouraging young people to cast their first ballot.”
In the first weeks of the present election campaign, Apathy is Boring has reached over 195,000 young Canadians through its “I WILL VOTE” social media campaign. Dougherty said over 55,000 of them have pledged on Facebook to vote on May 2 — which means their friends will also see that they are voting.
It was U.S. President Barack Obama who showed how effective social media can be in rallying youth to a cause. In the 2008 presidential election, he used a techno-strategy that included campus youth rallies, celebrity endorsements, sought on-line donations and ring tones that resulted in more donations and a well-financed war chest. His youth-savvy campaign resulted in a 2.2 million jump in their vote from the previous election.
Youth are jumping on the federal election bandwagon. Vote mobs began on the University of Quelph campus and have spread to campuses across the country. These mobs have real-life rallies and an online component, but whether it translates into more youth heading to the polls is another matter. And when Facebook friends become involved, peer pressure may assure a greater youth turnout at voting time.
Some Facebook friends are sharing a link to the Rick Mercer Report in order to view a rant from the popular Canadian
comedian urging young people to vote.
What is encouraging is that more young people are being seen at campaign events, including the televised
debates, texting and tweeting friends about what is happening in real time.
When I was young, I couldn’t wait to vote at 18. But, thinking back, it was the time when 18 year olds were given the vote for the first time. It was 1970s youths’ opportunity to finally get some respect from adults. Voting was also a novelty and, as everyone knows, novelties (fads) tend to have a short life span.
What statistics do show is that if a young person votes the first time they are eligible, a pattern is established — they are more likely to become lifetime voters.
The real danger is that the habits of
today’s young adults will carry on as they age. Think about it. As they age, they’ll be forced to pay the massive taxes needed to support social programs for aging baby boomers. I’m willing to predict that early-youth biases would soon fall by the wayside, and the cry would arise, “Kick the bums out!” who dared to raise their taxes. Age has a tendency to darken the rose-coloured glasses of youth.
All the parties have a social media component in their campaigns, but they look more to young voters turning to them rather than actively seeking out these non-traditional voters. It’s a pity, as youth represent an untapped voting block that could potentially effect an election’s outcome — just ask Obama. There are 5.5-million Canadians under the age of 30 who are eligible to vote, and over 2.1 million are between 18 and 24 years of age. With such numbers, one has to wonder why the parties aren’t using an all-out effort to court their votes.