Youth Engagement In Politics

July 28, 2022

Eliza Borbély



Young people (18-30) are a significant part of our society, but still often find themselves marginalized from political decision-making. Political systems are representative when all generations have a voice or influence in decisions. But how to attract the young generation? How to build trust in them? How to present today’s and tomorrow’s politics in an engaging way? 

Today in Europe, young people are facing the impact of fake news, the rapid development of digital technologies, the rise of populism and the anxiety of climate change. Their type of political participation has been changing with these challenges. They are moving away from the polls, fed up with politics and find it irrelevant. They have a low level of trust in the system and institutions of representative democracy because they are consequently less represented in the political arena. Youth participation is vital for the future of democracy and there are long-term consequences of failing to address them. The new generation must be educated about building a strong democracy, but it cannot be learned overnight, they need opportunities to participate and make their voice heard. 

Young people play an active role in society, they just prefer alternative forms of political participation, such as demonstrating, protesting or engaging online. According to 2019 Eurobarometer data, 58% of young respondents were participants in volunteering activities or local community projects of civil organizations. 35% have participated in campaigns, strikes or street protests, and 38% use social media for discussing current issues. Online activism is attractive for young people. 

The climate justice movement led by young people around the globe represents a turning point. Greta Thunberg and the international movement #FridaysForFuture (FFF) lead the wave of climate protests, they mobilized more than 6 million students during the Global Week of Climate Action in 2019. In Europe, the majority of protesters were between 14 and 19 years old, mostly women, who relied heavily on social media and had little involvement in conventional politics. The movement adapted very well to the Covid-19 pandemic crises as well, they launched Digital Strike, which provided a voice to the people who physically could not strike. The movement began promoting on social media and asked people to share a photo of themselves with hashtags connected to the strike. Organizers could display these in many creative ways leading them to a successful marketing campaign.

Young people spend several hours consuming digital media every day. In order to communicate with them, political campaigners need to understand how they consume and what they engage with. For effective communication, they need to consider which platforms can be used to create interaction and which are the most popular ones. Young people need better access to political information, and it has to be age and education level appropriate. The format should be creative and include visuals, videos or podcasts. Also, the right tone and style determine engagement. Young people refuse condescending messages, ill-suited use of slang, jargon or acronyms. They want honesty. They desire transparency in the decision-making process. The most effective way is to focus on social or policy issues, and the communication should reflect the relationship they want to build with the youth. By identifying third parties to communicate like artists, influencers and entrepreneurs on relevant issues, there is a bigger chance to earn the trust of young people.

Marketing trends come and go, they are constantly changing, so it’s not just about creating attention-grabbing content, but connecting in a meaningful way and building a reputation. NextGen America partnered with Instagram, Tiktok and Youtube accounts with large followings to educate about election-related information. Generation Z showed quick organization and education through creative approaches on social media. TikTok has 1 billion users, it was the top-earning non-game app with more than $110 million spent by users. So no wonder why TikTok has grown into a forum for political discourse and mobilization over the last year.

In 2022, the social media network, in general, has become a battleground for elections. The French presidential campaign created informative videos on Youtube, live-streamed meetings on Twitch and dancing videos on Instagram to gain popularity among voters.  President Emmanuel Macron posted his first TikTok video in 2020 in a suit and tie, he congratulated high school students who had just received their final exam results.  In less than 24 hours, his opponent Jean-Luc Mélenchon joined the platform, in response, he tried to stand out by quoting lyrics from R&B singer Wejdene. Macron since his first attempt made an effort to reach young people with a completely different tone and gained 2.8 million followers.

TikTok has more than 6 million visitors per day in France, 75% of users are under 24, and a third of the users may be under voting age, but it still means that they are able to reach millions of people on the platform. Youth might be undecided and more open than older voters, so the social media presence of a politician or a party can significantly affect the outcome. 

We live in a world where brands, individuals and institutions compete for our attention through the power of social media. It feels like the youth is always one step ahead, leading the trends, taking their control back from the influencers to move the world in a direction they would like to face. Do you listen to them?

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