Facebook has joined forces with UK’s Electoral Commission to promote National Voter Registration Day, which happened on the 5th of February. Consequently, every user that declared themselves adult and British on Facebook was prompted to register to vote at the general election. The social media platform recently sent reminders to all eligible voters to suggest signing up in time for UK’s parliamentary election on the 7th of May 2015.
This message appeared in users’ newsfeed and it provided a link to the government website. A button on the site allowed users to tell their friends they have registered and hopefully encourage them to sign up too. This strategy could be highly effective taking into account that, in the UK, there are more active Facebook users in a month (35 million) than there were voters at the previous election In 2010 (29.6 million).
Research has shown that, in the past, hundreds of thousands of young people lost the right to cast their ballot by failing to add their names to the electoral register, and the elections watchdog believes that targeting through Facebook will encourage them to vote.
With politics investing heavily on social media to attract voters and citizens using the platform to have their say on who should and shouldn’t govern, it makes sense for the Electoral Commission to seek Facebook’s support to encourage eligible voters to use their right to participate in politics and civic life by electing representatives to parliament.
Turnout in 2010 was low, equating to only 65% of eligible voters. Labour has claimed there are 950,845 fewer electors now than there were in last year’s registers. The data comes from 373 local authorities across England and Wales. Interestingly, there is a correlation between areas of high student population and low electoral registration, indicating that younger adults are less likely to vote. Politicians know this well and concentrate their campaigns on securing the votes of the older, more participatory generations by debating on issues that are a higher priority for them, such as the NHS. As for addressing youth problems, in the recent past, politicians promised not to increase tuitions fees and, more recently, to cut down the tuitions fees that previously were promised not to increase. However, the less the young people vote, the more politicians will overlook their issues in favour of the older generations without risk of being punished at the ballot box.
We will have to wait until the 7th of May to find out how effective these social media approaches really are in encouraging young people to vote. But not everyone is convinced of the power of social media, especially when Facebook is rapidly losing popularity and relevance among young people and morphing into a tool for keeping in touch with older family members.