The UK’s general election this May is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable in recent memory. Research shows that turnout level of young people may be as high as 75%, up from a low of 44% in 2010, though many of these expected voters are still undecided. This means there is an opportunity for this demographic to make a serious impact on election results – if parties know how to reach them.

We all know by now that the youngest voters, the ’millennials’ (born in the 80s and 90s), are reached more easily through the Internet than other channels, but we’re still seeing very few political parties get their online strategies right. We saw that a simple solution like a mobile-optimised website massively increased engagement in what the EU offers Britain, so what else can the government and major political parties do to attract the younger voters?

1. Automate voter registration

The first stumbling block to submitting a ballot is registration. In an attempt to reduce fraud, a silent switch was made last summer from household registration to individual voter registration. Individuals must now register upon each change of address and supply new documentation each time. Unsurprisingly, the change has led to nearly one million people dropping off the British register. As young people tend to move more frequently, they were the worst hit, particularly as universities acting as ‘head of the household’ and registering students collectively was abolished.

In Australia, the government tracks voters and uses better-integrated systems to update databases when addresses are changed. This leads to less friction and has allowed places like New South Wales to maintain a 95% accurate register, that doesn’t penalise young people for moving more frequently during university or the early years of their careers.

2. Improve online policy communication

For first-time voters, the barriers to entry are quite high. Discovering what each party stands for is time consuming and confusing. What’s worse is that, to the untrained eye, the policies of the major political parties all look alike, with each working towards a “fairer society” with a “stronger economy” “for all people”.

Political websites would do better to use plain language and integrate content types proven to increase user understanding, such as lists, images, and videos. They should also make improvements to develop paths and hierarchies to the information visitors are seeking, testing with users of all ages and abilities to ensure usability.

3. Engage voters on social media

Nearly half of all young people find news stories through social media, and are significantly more likely to read articles shared by someone they know or follow. Furthermore, 25% of young people have said they would be more likely to vote if friends and family posted online that they had cast a ballot.

Using standard social networks such as Twitter and Facebook – and even newer ones such as Instagram or even Snapchat – would put parties and politicians in front of a large audience not easily reached through television, radio, or print. Unfortunately, many make the mistake of speaking at their followers, like in old fashioned advertising, rather than initiating a dialogue that is more effective and more typical of digital engagement. By employing a human aspect to their online presence, replying to tweets and comments, and encouraging meaningful discussion, politicians would find themselves both accessible and appealing to a new generation.

4. Implement digital voting

Allowing digital voting would mean a huge increase in turnout from today’s digital generation who struggle to find time to get to a physical ballot box, particularly when so much else in their world (working, socialising, shopping) is done online. Bringing the ballot to people’s fingertips is only a matter of time, with many predicting that we may see digital voting before the decade is out.

Whether this takes the form of touch-screens at the polling stations or secure web logins is yet to be determined, though the support of the head of the Electoral Commission and the recent move to allow online voter registration have shown promise.

With up to 200 seats subject to swing votes in May, youth disengagement in politics can no longer be ignored. It’s never too late and lots can be done. From governments reducing obstacles to voter registration and ballot casting, to parties clearly communicating meaningful stances on relevant issues, there are some simple steps that can be taken to repair the damaged youth-politics relationship. Automated registration, online voting, and effective websites and communication are all great starting points.

Technology is making a positive impact on many other parts of our lives; it’s time for it to improve our politics.

 

By Danny Bluestone, MD of Cyber-Duck.


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