The youth vote in GE17: information Vs interaction

Could sources of political party campaign ‘information’ vs social ‘interaction’ have overshadowed Brexit as a factor for young remain supporters in this general election? Dr Sioned Pearce considers this question in light of the GE17 results.

Media coverage showing ‘huge divergence’ between polls days before the election last week had the youth vote as its crux.

A potential Labour victory seemed to be hanging in the balance based on whether or not young people bit the ballot on the day.

In fact the GE17 results, while still mixed, show an average of 63% of 18-24 year olds voting on the day. It also showed a sharp shift to the left with an estimated 62% voting Labour compared with 43% in 2015. This is despite Corbyn supporting a hard Brexit, a perhaps contradictory message from young people who overwhelmingly supported remain in the EU referendum last year.

With many of the parties, most notably Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Green party, targeting the youth vote during the campaign with some more obviously youth-friendly policies in some manifestos, such as housing support for young people, lowering the voting age and scrapping tuition fees in all bar the Conservative manifesto. All parties used a variety of mediums to get these messages across, on and offline, and the role of social media featured highly with Corbyn proving more popular than May on Twitter where he is said to have 2,000 more ‘favourites’ than his opponent.

However, when it comes to engaging young people in politics, the role of social media is often overblown.

While young people use social media more frequently than their elders, for example research by the ONS shows 91% 16 to 24 years olds use social media compared with 51% of 55-64 year olds and 23% of over 65s, a WISERD study showed 57% of under 30s used television as their primary source of campaign information in the run up to the EU referendum. This group of young people was more likely to rank Facebook or Twitter as a secondary source of information but used fairly traditional means of finding information in the first instance, which leads us to the important distinction between gathering ‘information’ (be it real or fake) and ‘interacting’ with people based on this information to form opinions.

So, how did young people make up their minds in the run-up to the election? And how much was through information and/or interaction?

Using qualitative data collected with 22 young people in Wales and England during March and April 2016, here we look at different routes to forming views among under 18s, who made the distinction themselves, but covered a wide range of overlapping, winding routes to view-formation.

When discussing information or ‘getting informed’ the young people in the study noted news websites, newspapers, television and social media including BBC news, CNN, the Independent and the Daily Mail, while social media as a way of getting information was limited to Twitter.

They also referred to manifestos in discussing an ‘ideal’ information-led route to forming views and making decisions which is ‘unbiased’ and based on what the parties are promising not necessarily what they stand for.

As far as formulating my views before the next election I will sit down with the manifestos of all the major parties and decide which ones fit my own personal beliefs

And

There is no exact party that I one hundred percent agree with and I think I’ve made the decision that instead of focusing on one party, because most people put too much on their party and they can change their views and still go with their party, I’d rather look at their manifestos, look at what they’re actually saying, look at who the leader is and just put my views on that instead of confirming to a label

This could signal a move away from making decisions based on party ideology, perhaps indicative of a generation of digital natives with round the clock access to seemingly infinite volumes of information.

Social media was also seen as a form of interaction, and a way to solidify views and ‘test’ the information gathered. Twitter was mentioned in these discussions as well as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. Friends and family who discussed politics were also seen by most as a way of developing or adding meaning to the information.

I get my views from what I read what I get on the internet…but then it also can be developed from talking to people as well so you have this seed planted from the information that blooms from  talking to people about it, that’s where my views come from

The young people in this study report rationalising their digestion of media sources in a linear fashion starting with ‘information’, categorised as anything that is not ‘interaction’, something perhaps static but questionable, and then moving on to ‘disseminating’ this information through interaction online and face-to-face as a means to develop and solidify their views.

This could be seen as an extremely rational response to accessing, digesting and testing a high volume of available political information by compartmentalising ‘facts’ and ‘figures’ sometimes pursued but sometimes pushed-upon them.

A perception of autonomy also came out of this part of the data, with categorising and ‘filing’ information emerging almost as a form of self-sufficiency and certainly revealing a degree of critical thinking in terms of interpreting various forms of information.

So the young people in our study used information, but defined very broadly, followed by interaction, also defined broadly, with overlaps between the two to explore and form their views and opinions. Something which Corbyn’s Labour party seem to be appealing to and something which has overridden Brexit as a factor for young remain supporters in this general election.

Most significant in terms of engaging young people with politics was the emphasis on a need for ‘information’ over ideologically driven decision-making, something which the political parties could consider as a new generation enter the electorate.

This post represents the views of the author and neither those of the Welsh Brexit blog, nor Cardiff University.

Dr Sioned Pearce is a Research Associate in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University.

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