Study: How do you Engage Apathetic Youth in Politics? Catch them on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter

18 to 24 year olds might’ve fragmented their votes across the spectrum in the May UK general election, but they all banded together and voted resoundingly for social media after the election. A new Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism study reveals that Facebook and Twitter were the big winners, next only to David Cameron.

The study conducted between May 3rd and 8th 2010 indicates trends, not hard-and-fast statistics, but it’s clear that social media was important to youth during the campaign leading up to the election. According to the survey, 97% of 18 to 24 year olds used Facebook during the election campaign, with one in four using it and other social media to share and discover election-related content, participate in polls and politically-oriented groups, and discuss the election itself.
The survey also comments on mainstream media’s use of social media, and comes to the conclusion that by embracing blogs, live video feed with chat boxes and Facebook groups, mainstream media has amplified the impacts of social media in politics and beyond. The study’s author, Nic Newman, also notes that “online information, context and real-time feedback enriched and invigorated the mainstream election coverage in newspapers, TV and radio”, indicating a feedback loop that encourages the use of both social and mainstream media during elections.
Half of the roughly 500,000 people who used online forms at the Electoral Commission’s voter registration website were 18 to 24 years old, many of whom registered only because of a Facebook-heavy initiative. And over one million people used social media-based tools like Vote Match to compare candidates and help them choose who to vote for on election day.
The study is loud and clear about how youth are engaging in politics. The majority of youth “receive most of their political information online and rarely read a printed newspaper or listened to radio for information.” This is why campaigns that release Youtube videos and engage with voters using Twitter as a two-way communication tool find success: it’s all about bringing the youth into a conversation they have lately been left out of.
There’s no doubt that UK politicians hear the digital voices of social media-hungry youth. The survey found that 600 political candidates used Twitter in one way or another during the campaign, not to mention all of the journalists and campaign workers. Of course, these politicians had different levels of engagement with Twitter, and having one’s campaign manager send out Tweets is not the same as a politician doing it herself. Nonetheless, the sheer number of politicians embracing Twitter on some level indicates that they are willing to adapt to the media usage of the younger generation.
We discussed back in May the impact that social media had on the UK elections, with politicians using Twitter, Facebook and Youtube in various ways to connect to online netizens. And while social media has existed on the fringes of political campaigning ever since Howard Dean’s Blog for America and blasts, it looks like this 2010 UK election has officially put social media on the radar of mainstream politics.