Drive to engage youth vote ahead of #GE16

According to Spunout.ie one third of 18-22 year olds are still not registered to vote. Catherine Devine looks at the post-referendum dispensation.

A woman cycles past a marriage equality mural in the Liberties area of Dublin, Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

A woman cycles past a marriage equality mural in the Liberties area of Dublin, Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Facebook has joined the race to engage the youth in politics ahead of the upcoming General Election. A message appeared on news feeds in recent days asking people over 18 if they are registered to vote.

The election themed pop-up is just another example of the role social media can play in political campaigns.

The same-sex marriage referendum saw thousands of students engaged with politics on social media and having their say on the future of their country. In the final stages of the campaign, Yes Equality reached 1.6 million people a week on Facebook, according to its social media director, Craig Dwyer. Throughout the campaign over 150,000 people had uploaded the Yes Equality twibbon, turning their profile photos on social media to the colours of the campaign.

As the referendum successfully politicised a new generation, the question now is whether they will stay engaged for the upcoming 2016 General Election.

Some 27,633 young people were registered to vote last year by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), which had a unanimous mandate from its members to support marriage equality. More than 10,000 additional forms were handed out by students’ unions. However, according to Spunout.ie one third of 18-22 year olds are still not registered to vote.

The same-sex marriage referendum showed that the youth can be engaged in politics if they are given a topic that they feel passionate about, such as equality.

Many young people abstain from voting in general elections as the topics to the fore of campaigns don’t affect them directly. Many students don’t pay taxes, have mortgages or pay water charges. If political parties want to engage with the youth they need to tackle issues such as college fees, rent prices and the employment prospects for graduates.

Similar to the same-sex marriage, young people in particular have strong views on repealing the 8th Amendment, which aims to decriminalise abortion.

It’s a possibility that parties that have pledged themselves to the cause such as Labour and Sinn Féin will see a rise in youth voting.To increase student engagement, the USI have teamed up with Smartvote, a new and engaging elections app and website that asks 20 questions and matches the user with the candidate that meets their requirements. As a user, it will allow you  to compare all the candidates in your constituency based on your own views.  It has been dubbed the ‘Tinder of voting’ and is an easy way for both young and old people to engage with the General Election.

During the same-sex marriage referendum, students were seen as dubious and unreliable as people feared that they wouldn’t vote. Young people proved to society that if they can be engaged and see a change that directly affects them, they will support the cause. Whichever party can cater for the needs of the youth in the country will benefit tremendously in the General Election.

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