Election Time: Want More Young People to Vote? Go Online

This is the third article in a series titled, “Election Time: Lessons from Young Leaders”

ALT TAG: Young woman looking at computer with the name “Wahl-O-Mat” on the monitor (© AP Images)
A young voter in Germany compares candidates’ views using the “Wahl-O-Mat.” (© AP Images)

Mariana de Castro Abreu, originally from Brazil, is a lawyer pursuing a master’s degree in human rights and humanitarian action at the Paris Institute of Political Studies. Passionate about different cultures, social justice and human rights, she has lived in North America, South America, Europe and Oceania. She is moving to Africa next semester

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.

Studies from all over the world have shown that when it comes to formal political processes like elections or referendums, younger people are much less likely to participate. Nevertheless, when it comes to the use of technology and social media, the reverse is true: Young people are much more likely to get information this way.

Putting these two observations together, an idea that has shown potential for increasing turnout among young voters is the online advice application. In Brazil, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary and many other countries, online advice applications inform citizens, via any Web-enabled device, about the values and programs of different candidates and political parties.

Here’s how it works: The app developers send a standardized questionnaire to each candidate and political party running for a certain office. After receiving answers from the parties, the app gives voters the opportunity to answer the same questions. Finally, the app calculates which political party is closest to the voter’s preferences and provides additional information about the party, the politician and its policies.

In the 2013 German federal elections, the voting advice application “Wahl-O-Mat” was used 13.3 million times. In total, 28 German parties participated by answering 38 different questions on hot-button issues raised during the campaign. Parties had to answer yes or no to a wide range of public-interest topics, such as: “Should we introduce a minimum wage?”; “Should homosexual couples be allowed to adopt?”; “Should the top income tax rate be increased?”; and others. More than one-third of Wahl-O-Mat users were young people, below the age of 30.

In order to have credibility and legitimacy, it is essential that the organization providing this information be independent and neutral — not connected to any political party. It is also a best practice for the developers to confirm in person that a certain number of serious candidates or parties will participate. As a general rule, most parties will take time to participate if they think their rivals are doing the same.

Nonetheless, it is important to keep in mind that this kind of online tool will not reach everyone. Activists in countries with uneven access to technology should find creative ways of sharing this information with people in their communities who are not yet online. For example, you could have a “voter education day” with a small number of smartphones, where trainers help people in the community use the app and discuss the results as a group.

When using a new digital tool, the political, social, economic and cultural context matters a lot. Institutions and processes working well in one place might fail to take root or produce unintended or even negative results in another. But this is a successful example which can contribute to the spark of ideas and inspiration for raising youth voter turnout, wherever you live.

Want to read more articles from the, “Election Time: Lessons from Young Leaders” series?  Please find them here:

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Election Time: Lessons from Young Leaders

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