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Voting behaviour, the young and social media

Mike McCartney

6th December 2021

An interesting feature in today's paper about the significance of different platforms and how the youth vote works

Readers should know that the psephological act of explaining what determines the outcome of elections divides factors into long term (class and party attachment) and short term (media, quality of campaigning). Somewhere in the middle is the performance of the past government and the prospects of the other lot doing a better job - what we might think of as medium term factors.

So, in the short term, the media matters. How much it maters is open to debate. But that is not the subject of this entry. Instead, I just want to point you to the article, and how it explains the shift from the influence of what we might call "old" new media to "newer" new media. Look, I don't hang around the cool hubs of Old Street and Battersea Park in my working day, so don't shoot me if I have got these terms wrong. Anyway, Burrell states:

"From Barack Obama’s deft use of social media to capture the White House in 2008 through to Donald Trump’s win in 2016 and Jeremy Corbyn’s “youthquake” campaign of 2017, Facebook has been the crucial battleground in 21st Century ballots each side of the Atlantic.

Yet Mark Zuckerberg’s platform will have diminishing significance for political strategists in future if young voters continue to spend their time elsewhere.

“Facebook is declining as a platform that young people feel an affinity with,” says Matthew McGregor, a digital media expert who worked with Obama’s team on that historic victory. “It’s the place where you post the nice staid photo from your graduation day so your parents and grandparents see it but it’s not where you have a laugh and interact with your friends. Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok are where young people spend most of their time.”

Only a handful of Westminster MPs have mastered these newer platforms. McGregor cites Dehenna Davison, the 28-year-old Conservative MP for Bishop Auckland, and Sarah Owen, 38, Labour MP for Luton North, as authentic communicators on such media.

This is where youth-focused publishers such as JOE, which specialises in posting direct to social media, can have an impact on young voters.

JOE showed it understood the intersection of youth media and politics with its animated mash-up of Pulp’s “Common People”, swapping Jacob Rees-Mogg for Jarvis Cocker and reconfiguring the lyrics: “I want to leave the Common Market, want to keep out foreign people like you.” The 2019 clip has had more than 10m views. Rees-Mogg, who despite his Victorian demeanour is no slouch on social media, commended the “clever spoof” but lamented a grammatical error in the subtitles.

JOE created the most-viewed social media video of the last election, a vox pop featuring British facial reactions to American healthcare prices, highlighting the value of the NHS. It has been watched 85m times. “There’s no secret sauce,” says Oli Dugmore, JOE’s head of news and politics. “It’s well-produced…and it speaks to the audience in language they understand.”


The rest of the article is not bad, it's just that it focuses then on the kinds of things those working in the media might be interested in. But the first part is a good basis for a classroom discussion on where Politics students get their politics news.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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