As I said in my previous post, the result last week of the Referendum on Scottish Independence has raised as many questions as it has answered. Among them is the issue of lowering the minimum age for voting from 18 to 16.
The accepted wisdom has always been that lowering the voting age would be a pointless exercise as most teenagers aren’t really all that interested in politics. We all just assumed that they were “not bovvered”. But now the Scottish experience would tend to suggest otherwise. The Referendum saw 16 and 17 year olds not only voting in big numbers but also participating enthusiastically in all aspects of the campaign.
For public sector communicators, and for political parties, a new generation of younger voters presents a real challenge in terms of how to communicate with them. All the data seems to suggest that 16 and 17 year olds are unlikely to read a daily newspaper, watch Sky News or listen to the Today programme. Instead they get their news and opinions via their phones (always remember that nobody under 35 ever calls them mobile phones, they’re just phones!).
Rather than be afraid of younger voters, we need to accept that we will have to adapt our communications activities to take account of this exciting new demographic. Yes campaigners in the Referendum recognised this issue early on and were very proactive in using text messaging and a myriad of social media channels to get there message across.
Communications professionals working in the public sector need to realise the importance of apps, RSS feeds, Google Analytics, Pinterest, Hootsuite, etc. It’s all a long way from my early days of hammering out press releases on an old manual typewriter and them sending them out to newsrooms via a highly temperamental fax machine.
As for the teenagers themselves, one consequence of giving them the vote will be that they’ll have to take their share of the responsibility for the consequences of which box they choose to put their X in. They won’t be able to blame absolutely everything on the older generation any more!