Opinion | Tuesday, 10th December 2019

Young people can change the general election - here's how to get your friends to vote

Ben Bowman gives three tips to young people ahead of the general election

Young people can change the general election - here's how to get your friends to vote
Young people can change the general election - here's how to get your friends to vote

Origionally published on The Conversation

By Dr Ben Bowman, Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University 

A record breaking 3.85 million people applied to register to vote in this election campaign, including thousands of first-time voters. All in all, two-thirds of applications came from young people aged 35 and under.

Meanwhile, young people are ready to be creative and think differently about this election. For example, 53% of students recently told the education think-tank HEPI they were ready to vote tactically, using tools such as tactical.vote.

So what can young people do this week to change the election? With just days left before the UK votes, it’s now or never for young voters. Here are three things young people can do that could change the result of the general election.

1. Vote – and get others to vote too

It’s a cold, hard fact that young people are not reliable voters. In 2017, young voters upended the political campaign. On election day some pollsters had the Conservatives leading by 12%-13% nationally but the turnout of young people is credited, in large part, for Theresa May’s shock loss of her majority. Even so, only 40-50% of registered voters in their teens and twenties voted, compared to about 80% of those aged in their 70s. Whatever you make of the actual result in 2017, this shows how much influence young voters can have.

Young voters can learn from the climate strikes, which have blossomed so rapidly into a global movement this year. When building a movement, the personal is political. Climate strikers have been very good at sharing their commitment with schoolmates, classmates and friends, as well as strangers. And they do it by talking about their own personal feelings as well as the policy points.

Young voters can learn a lot from the climate strikes. Image: Drew / Ben Bowman

So you could apply their approach to this election. Take a piece of paper and a pen. Write a list of people you can contact – especially your friends, but also people you have been to class with, or your workmates.

Next, write next to each name how you’ll contact them. For many years, studies have shown face-to-face contact is the most effective way to get people out to vote. So if you can go talk to someone in person, it’s worth the effort. Failing that, a phone call is the next best thing.

Before you go speak to each voter you should think about what you’ll say. Honesty is the best policy. Why are you voting? Tell a story from your life about what motivates you to be a voter.

Tell them you’re a voter and, if you can, tell them others are doing it too. A lot of people feel like their vote doesn’t count, but knowing others are voters too gives them a sense that they’re part of something bigger. If you say: “I’m a voter, and so are Susan, John and Fatima, and you can be too”, that’s a lot more powerful than asking someone to vote alone.

If you’re backing a particular party, remember to say which one and why. It’s OK to be honest about where you’re coming from. You don’t have to be unbiased. Respect that your friends can make their own minds up for themselves, but let them know your decision too.

2. Make a plan to vote, and help other people to plan

Making a plan means knowing the facts.

3. Show some love

Maybe this sounds silly, but it has been a hard election for a lot of people. You can make a difference to your friends and classmates by supporting them. Listen to them, and listen to how they feel.

If they disagree with you, don’t ask “why” questions that put them on the spot. Better to ask: “Could you tell me more about that?”, or: “Could you describe how that feels?”.

A lot of young people I work with have never had someone to listen to them – and when it comes to voting, they’ve heard it all before: vote or you’re lazy, vote or you lose your voice. But so many young people feel like they don’t have a voice to begin with. So take some time to listen. If they’re undecided on whether to vote, or who to vote for, offer to explain how you reached your choice.

Finally, if you speak to a friend who is totally committed to not voting, please remind them they can spoil their ballot. Spoiled ballots are counted in this country – and some even get read by the candidates.

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