By Chris Averill, CEO of we are experience
According to the opinion polls Labour was going to get the lion share of young voters in the 18 to 24 year old demographic, and this election was expected to attract the largest youth turnout since 1964, if all 70% of the 18 to 24 year olds who had registered to vote, actually cast their vote that is. So why were the results such a train wreck for Labour? And why was the exit poll so different to the opinion poll?
Well, firstly we know that opinion polls look at what people think they will do whereas exit polls look at how people actually voted. The bigger issue however is that we have a generation of young voters who feel no connection to politicians, they don’t understand their policies and they have no interest in the political process. The end result is they abstain from voting altogether.
As I write this I am sitting next to one of those young voters who chose not to get involved with the General Election. He simply couldn’t face wading through all the complicated and technical jargon that goes into the party manifestos, nor could he really differentiate one party’s views from another, or see how these resonated with his own. Equally, he didn’t want to make a snap decision based on tribal family ties or his more outspoken friends on social media, so he chose not to vote.
I admit, a political campaign goes far beyond just the vote itself, but if you can’t get your constituents into voting booths on polling day then everything that has gone before was a waste of time and funding. And as I’m on the subject of voting booths, surely they are an outdated and outmoded concept in today’s digital world. It’s the equivalent of asking folks to go into a shop and pay for their goods with a cheque!
There has been a lot of discussion around the pros and cons of digital voting, with concepts such as digital voting booths, online portals and computerised counting systems all being raised and rejected by traditionalists. But something has to change as, quite frankly, we have moved no further forward from 2010 when only 65% of those eligible to vote, voted, despite all the pre-election hype and live TV debates. In my opinion we need to go one step further. I categorically do not think Labour stands a chance of winning an election, not just in 2020 but ever until we can vote online or via a mobile app.
It’s a bold claim, but historically the younger generation has leaned towards the left, and this year’s social media reports back that up. In the same way corporations now understand that they need to interact with millennials differently the political parties also need to bring everything into the digital age. By the 2020 elections everyone under the age of 30 will have grown up with the internet and social media, so if Labour can’t work to interact with the disenfranchised millennial voters that support their voting base they will face a repeat of this year’s disaster.
Apart from the voting process, technology has dramatically changed the way we consume information which will also have an impact on the UK’s appetite for voting. Smartphones and wearable tech necessitate that we communicate in snippets – sound-bites of information in a tweet or text message – we certainly no longer have the attention span to engage with a 100-page manifesto.
I propose a radical solution to this problem. If we host all manifestos digitally on a secure central database, in clear succinct bullet points that the public can easily understand, we can enable the public to directly interact with the manifestos; voting on what they like or dislike, comparing their own views to those of their local candidates, and providing real time feedback for the political parties. The digital space will allow politicians to localise the election process and gain direct interactivity that is lacking from the current system.
While I freely admit that online security is not yet there, is it really any worse than what we have now? As long as I know my neighbour’s name and postcode I can easily vote in his place, and what prevention is there to secure postal voters from being coerced?
So while there are significant hurdles to overcome before we can bring in a full digital voting system, we need to start and accept change now before we further disenfranchise the voters.
I will leave you with Jacqui Smith’s opinion that it is time to look to the next generation for the new Labour leader. She says: “We do need to find a leader who can, yes, develop the policies, but what’s more important is that this person can connect with people; who, people think, ‘yes this person gets me’; they are going to make my life better in the future.”