Author: webrootsdemocracy

We need the final “one-click” to ensure young people can help run the country

By Chloe Smith MP.

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The majority of today’s 18-24 year olds are not voting.  Only 44% turned out in 2010 and, since then, at worst, 88% expressed that they don’t plan to vote.  There is evidence to suggest this situation is more extreme than it has been for previous generations of young citizens, and that Britain’s problem is worse than elsewhere in Europe and the US.

2015’s first time voters have “a considerable aversion to formal, professional politics”[1] – but they are interested in political affairs and are doing different activities including some outstanding community projects.  They want confidence in what politics is for.  Meanwhile, politicians need to gain young voters’ trust, communicate effectively and deliver results in policy.

So what are the right things to do, in policy?  Focus on the economy, education and the major intergenerational issues.  And take a radical look from the consumer’s perspective in order to understand and communicate.

2015’s first-timers have already been asked what the single most important issue is to them[2].  Nearly a third of the 1,000-strong sample in 2011 said to prioritise the various parts of education (including 18% naming higher education tuition fees).  The same number is concerned about employment and finance.  A very broad set of other issues were named at very small percentages of support.

Like other generations, the young have different views based on needs, political instincts, geography and financial situation. I’m a member of Generation Y and also a liberal Conservative – I don’t believe in labelling people any which way.  But if you look at the research there are some common perspectives, like trust, fair help, information and honesty.  I believe passionately that the Conservative Party can be the home for Generation Y because we hold the principles of the small state, responsible economics, freedom, enterprise and social liberalism.  Those principles matter for this generation as they have always mattered – and we can have them through our vote, our action and our leadership.

I also believe that an important reform is in the very way that we vote.  It is an extremely unusual thing for Generation Y not to be able to do something online.  We shop, we bank, we date, we chat, we organise with ease.  However, we register and vote entirely on paper.  Not only is this alien to young people, and indeed to anyone who appreciates the capability of the internet, but it is also ineffective for those who wish to market their product.  As politicians we communicate online with people all the time but we lack the final “one-click” to clinch the deal when the time comes.  Of course there are security and cost considerations, but those pertain to paper voting too.  This is too obvious an area for reform to ignore if politicians are to think and act anything like the new generation which will grow to dominate.

Generation Y’s community campaigning is practical, relevant, goal-oriented and flexible.  Politics can and does work like that too – but it’s no cake-walk to persuade my generation to give traditional politics attention.  Generation Y demands less hierarchy, less open-ended commitment, less party line than any traditional party has been used to.  Politics has to adapt.  We have to help new-style campaigners get results in their communities; have to help online activists articulate a vision for how things should be, and make that vision happen.  We have to help young people run the country.

Chloe Smith is a Conservative Party politician and the Member of Parliament for Norwich North.

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[1] Matt Henn and Nick Foard, ‘Young People, Political Participation and Trust in Britain’, Parliamentary Affairs (2012) 65, 47-67

[2] Matt Henn and Nick Foard, ‘Young People, Political Participation and Trust in Britain’, Parliamentary Affairs (2012) 65, 47-67.  It’s worth noting a statistical point here.  In typical large scale polls where you might expect a thousand or two of adults in a sample, there are rarely enough people in any given age bracket of that sample to be statistically significant.  Relatively few studies take the time to go in depth into an age bracket’s interests, so this work by Henn and Foard is rare and helpful.  The annual survey of youth brands tells us a bit more about the cohort too – Voxburner, collates data on the brands that young people want to work for or buy from.

Far-right party, Britain First, now has the largest social media presence

In the run up to the 2015 General Election, WebRoots Democracy will be analysing the social media followings of the main political parties and publishing monthly ‘Election by Social Media’ results.

This analysis is on the basis of Facebook and Twitter followers and generates a percentage share of followers, where in this case followers equals votes.

Below are the results for June 29th, 2014:

Election by Social Media june

Britain First is a far-right, nationalist party formed by ex-members of the British National Party in 2011.  It has no elected representatives in Local Councils, the European Parliament, or the UK Parliament, but the popularity of its Facebook page has surged since the 2014 D-Day.

In this analysis, Britain First are ahead of the Conservatives by 8.9 percentage points on social media as a result of a stronger Facebook following (497,554 likes).

Labour have the best Twitter presence, however, with 142,629 followers; over 28,000 followers ahead of the Conservative Party.

UKIP are also performing strongly on Facebook (226,091 likes) making up for a poor Twitter following (62,663).

The Liberal Democrats take 5th place, thanks to a stronger Facebook presence.  On Twitter, they are almost neck-and-neck with the Green Party.

Similar to UKIP, Britain First have a weak Twitter presence with just 3,655 followers.

See last month’s analysis here.

It’s time to embrace the digital age and introduce online voting

How low does voter turnout have to be before it is declared a crisis in our democracy? Ten percent? Five? I would argue that we have been at crisis levels for a while now, at least since the turn of the century.

There are various factors contributing to low turnout which have often been debated and deliberated over, however I wish to discuss one of the more obvious ones: our method of voting.

Since the arrival of the noughties, we have all entered into what the history books may one day label as ‘the digital age’. The rise of Google since it’s formation in 1998 has brought a world of almost limitless information to our fingertips, making items that were once necessities such as telephone directories and dictionaries obsolete.

Three years later, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger launched Wikipedia, an easily accessible and often instantaneously updated version of those huge, chunky encylopedias.

Fast-forward another three years and Mark Zuckerberg and his college room-mates give birth to Facebook, revolutionising the way we socialise and organise.

Finally, just eight years ago, in 2006, twenty-nine year old Jack Dorsey sent the first ever tweet (to presumably no followers): “just setting up my twttr”.

Meanwhile, in amongst all of this, our democratic process in the UK has remained static. Whilst technology has leapt forward, realising new levels of potential and benefit to our lives, we have stuck with our same old method of voting – by ink and paper.

And whilst we have kept calm and carried on voting as they did in the late 1800s, turnout in the digital age has been on the decline.

Compared with 1945 to 1997, average voter turnout in noughties UK General Elections has dropped from over three-quarters voting to just less than two-thirds. The lowest turnout of all age groups has been for young people aged eighteen to twenty-five. In the last three General Elections, less than half of young people voted, with only 44 per cent voting in 2010. Contrast that with the 76 per cent of those aged over sixty-five that voted.

In case you haven’t guessed yet, I am making the case for online voting.

Picture, if you will, a child born today in 2014. In eighteen years time (or sixteen, if the Votes at 16 campaign is successful), that child will be eligible to vote for the first ever time. And what will the world be like in the year 2032? As I mentioned earlier, in just eight years we went from no Google, no Wikipedia, no Facebook and no Twitter, to millions of us relying on them every single day.

I do not possess the intellect to know how much further technology will advance in eighteen years (Google Contact Lenses?). However, I imagine, if it doesn’t already to us, voting by pen and paper will feel extremely old-fashioned and out-dated.

Thus, with regards to online voting, it is not a question of ‘if’ but of ‘how’ and ‘when’. Voting online would have universal benefits to those of all ages and abilities.

For parents with full-time jobs and children to feed, online voting would be more accessible. For those on low pay, working two jobs; online voting would be more accessible. For those who have a disability and struggle to leave the house; online voting would be more accessible. And for young people who Snapchat their actions, WhatsApp their thoughts, and Facebook their selfies; online voting would be more accessible.

On top of that, it can be done.

We have already proven that we can securely submit sensitive data online. In 2011,3.6million of us completed the Census online for the first ever time. Millions of us are regularly banking online, and thanks to the likes of Amazon and eBay, we are transforming from a nation of shopkeepers to a nation of retailers.

Albeit in a different system, online voting has already been successfully implemented in Estonia, with almost a quarter voting online in their 2011 parliamentary elections.

In the UK, a much more ‘e-ready’ country, we can help lead the way for interactive, online voting. Although it would take a separate article to fully expand upon, measures can be put in place to combat fraud such as live monitoring of votes, unlimited voting where the last vote counts, and the same robust security systems that are used for internet banking.

The popularity of clicktivism, e-petitions, and political blogs such as this are evidence that people are willing to politically engage online. The present and the future is digital. The time for developing online voting is now. All that is missing right now is the will to make it happen.

So, I urge you to join the campaign for online voting and help fix the crisis in our democracy.

This was originally published on Left Foot Forward here.

Election by Social Media

In the run up to the 2015 General Election, WebRoots Democracy will be analysing the social media followings of the main political parties and publishing monthly ‘Election by Social Media’ results.

This analysis is on the basis of Facebook and Twitter followers and generates a percentage share of followers, where in this case followers equals votes.

Below are the results for May 31st, 2014:

Election by Social Media - May 31

In this analysis, the Conservatives are just edging Labour by 0.2% on social media as a result of a stronger Facebook following (203,175 likes).

Labour have the best Twitter presence, however, with 139,546 followers; over 27,000 followers ahead of the Conservative Party.

UKIP are also performing strongly on Facebook (194,058 likes) making up for a poor Twitter following (61,716).

The Liberal Democrats take 4th place, thanks to a stronger Facebook presence.  On Twitter, they are almost neck-and-neck with the Green Party.

The campaign for online voting starts here…

It is time for the UK to start researching and developing a system of online voting for local and general elections.  If we are to be serious about tackling low voter turnouts, we need to modernise the method of selecting our political representatives.  Amongst the other often cited causes of low turnout such as distrust in politicians and ‘apathy’, we need to recognise that our system of voting has remained static whilst everything else we do in life has advanced rapidly.

No longer do we have to buy a stamp and an envelope to send a message.  No longer do we have to store documents in clunky filing cabinets.  No longer do we have to look through a window to go window-shopping.  And no longer do we have to go to the bank to make a transfer or check our balance.  Thanks to the internet, these tasks are simpler, easier, and more efficient.

However, whilst a lot of our everyday tasks have been digitalised and made easier, our method of voting in politicians every 4 or 5 years has remained the same as it has been since 1872; by ink and paper.

Currently, over half of the UK population have Facebook accounts, 15 million of us are on Twitter, and millions of us shop online, bank online, and digest news online.  It is now time, that we look into voting online.  I have written before about the need for online voting, but today I would like to introduce the UK’s first campaign for online voting: WebRoots Democracy.

 

Much like grassroots activism, WebRoots Democracy aims to galvanise everyday, online users to engage with their political system and help drag it into the twenty-first century.  In addition to campaigning for online voting, we will also be seeking elections to be interactive and integrated with social media in order to reach out to more people and direct people to an informative ‘voting website’.

Whilst online voting will benefit everyone of all ages to vote, we recognise that there are various causes of low voter turnout, particularly amongst young people.  As such, the organisation will also be researching and highlighting these causes and help ensure that the voice of young people is heard amongst the decision-makers in Westminster.

The recent local and European elections were interesting with regards to online activity.  There was extensive campaigning by all political parties on social media, including sponsored adverts to ‘like’ David Cameron’s Facebook page, numerous requests for retweets from the Labour Party, and extensive coverage of the rise of UKIP with the party trending regularly on election day.  As well as this, in the last year we’ve seen some very creative online campaigning such as David Cameron’s ‘Look Back’ video, Nick Clegg apologising, and numerous memes of Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich.  However, despite the online campaigns and everybody talking about UKIP, these actions haven’t translated into a significant increase in voter turnout.  The turnout for the local elections is estimated to be just 36%.

On election day, I was pleased to see that Facebook had created a special button to allow users to let their friends know that they are planning to vote in the European elections.  It is exactly this sort of direction that we should be heading towards.  In order to modernise our democracy we need to reach out to the online community.  In addition to a button telling Facebook friends that you are planning to vote, we could have one that directs to the voting website.  Without this modernisation, we are essentially asking people who are browsing Facebook or reading tweets to go outside to a polling station either before their rush hour commute or after their long day at work.  To me, it seems unlikely.

But it doesn’t have to continue being this way.  The technology exists to securely transmit sensitive data online.  Millions access their bank accounts online, purchase goods online, and in 2011 we were able to complete the census form online for the first ever time.  What is required now is to push it up the political agenda and actually make it a reality.  If you have read this far and would like to get involved and help build a more representative democracy, do check out our website or send me an email.

The campaign for online voting starts here.

This was originally published on the Huffington Post here.