Both the Conservatives and Labour have made noteworthy hires in the last year and each is ramping up its digital campaigning. Each party feels it has much to gain from an online campaign. But if aimed at the youth vote, digital campaigns have a lot of ground to cover before they translate into votes cast.
In April, Labour appointed David Axelrod, Obama’s campaign mastermind, as their strategic advisor, while in August last year, the Conservatives hired ex-Obama strategist Jim Messina. Each was looking to take a leaf out of Obama’s 2008 digital campaign playbook. Although it will not be the first election to have this billing, all sides expect a ‘digital election’ in 2015.
First time voters will have been born as recently as 1998, which undoubtedly makes them ‘digital natives’. Ofcom’s Media Use and Attitudes Report 2014 showing nearly all 16-24s and 25-34s are now active online (98%) as compared with just over two-fifths (42%) of those aged 65+ ever going online.
These young people seem to split fairly evenly between the two biggest parties.
Meanwhile, Ipsos Mori data on How Britain Voted in 2010 shows distinct variances in party voting intention by age.
Two-fifths of over 65 year olds (44%) intended to vote Conservative in 2010, while less than a third of over 65s (31%) intended to vote Labour. 18-24 year olds, in contrast, were very slightly more likely to vote Labour (31%) than Conservative (30%).
The real gap is the number of young people who will not vote at all. According to the long-running British Election Study, three-quarters of people aged 65+ (75%) turned out to vote in 2010, as compared with just over half (52%) of those aged 18-24.
The forthcoming ‘digital election’, then, may see lots of digital campaigning but a less dramatic volume of digitally-won votes.
Initiatives are already under way to tackle this issue, including Bite The Ballot, supported by YouTube entrepreneur Jamal Edwards, which is seeking to get out the youth vote come election day. YouTube’s proposal to host a General Election debate in partnership with the Guardian and the Telegraph could also help boost political engagement amongst young people.
Yet while youth audiences may be most active online at present, the importance of online channels in political communications can be expected to increase across the board in General Elections to come, as digital proficiency becomes taken for granted amongst all demographics. With over 80% of adults now going online according to Ofcom research, digital channels already provide an important means of reaching audiences of all ages. Digital campaigning now forms a part of the election playbook that no political party can afford to ignore.