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Published on April 4th, 2014 | by Eleanor Newis
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The Debate The Internet Won

In the post-EU-debate aftermath in which this article is being written, everyone seems to be asking “who won?” But the real winner isn’t Nigel Farage (remember to pronounce correctly) or Nick Clegg (try not to pronounce at all); the winner is the TV, the internet, the media. And it is a very worthy winner. Last week, after a few failed attempts at loading the LBC website, I stumbled across the live stream of the debate by YouTube, via The Guardian online. I sat there happily watching a political event from the comfort of my own duvet (yes I work in bed, but its fine, I’m a Literature student), and it was free.

The amount of young people disengaged with politics is worryingly high, and has increased in post-war years. A report by the Electoral Commission finds that even as far back as 1997 there was a -544 Pearson correlation between the proportions of a constituency’s aged 16-24 population and their turnout. The statistics essentially mean that young people are just increasingly less likely to vote, whether for political (i.e. Russell Brand related) reasons, or out of apathy. Yet an increased presence of politics in the media, and more specifically, media that young people use, could help combat this problem.

A further point of interest that comes up from the Electoral Commission’s report is that “the political affiliations of the young were less well defined that the affiliations of older generations”. We are more likely to alter our opinions, more likely to be floating voters. Surely, this means we are also the ultimate target group? Except that politicians don’t see it that way. But, there are people who do, and those people used to run newspapers, and make their living on Fleet Street. The 18-24 market is the prime target for online media content; it is behind YouTube’s decision to create a TV channel, behind Murdoch being able to charge people to read The Times online. As much as the political class may be economically shutting us out, the media is cottoning on.

In the 2010 election of course, only 44% of people aged 18-24 who were eligible to vote did.  It is a pitiful figure; over 10% lower than even the next quartile, the 25-34s, and a whole 32% lower than the age group with the highest turnout, the 65+. Now, the 2010 election shows us many things, none of which I have room to cover here because they all require an individual rant. But one of these things – one often overlooked as people are busy throwing things at Nick Clegg – is that turnout apparently increases with age: there is a strong positive correlation. There are a variety of reasons for this, but a key one is that political engagement used to be more of a cultural norm: it used to be more acceptable to be engaged than disengaged. Today, for young voters, it is the opposite: the social and cultural norm is apathy.

The next set of figures that should be looked at is those concerning young people’s relationship to media. Surprise, surprise, a report by Ofcom found recently that “younger adults, ABs and men are most likely to record the highest weekly internet use.” Now, I’m not going to go into why men are also in the “most likely” group – I think that statistic can be left unanalysed. But, young people overall have a much higher volume of weekly internet use than any other demographic: 13.5 hours at home, and 4.1 hours in work/ education, vs. the 10.9 hours at home and 1.8 hours at work of the whole population when averaged. Now, by joining a few dots, we can see that the internet could potentially make politics incredibly accessible to young people. Yes, lots of those hours will probably be taken up with Facebook (as I appear to be the only person still not on it), and quite a lot will probably go to whatever is featured on YouTube – most likely very funny, and completely pointless. But, why can’t some of that time go to political content?

Whilst there are complaints in journalism of the fading of print – complaints I can relate to, if only for the nostalgic feeling of newspaper print all over my fingers – there is a real good side to the rise of the internet, and to the media becoming more multi-faceted. Teenagers aren’t going to sit down and read a newspaper, maybe they won’t even listen to the radio; but they might just stumble across a debate being featured as a live stream on YouTube. And they might just watch it – probably not all of it let’s be honest, it was hard-going even for those of us determined not to find it boring, but some of it at least. And they might even think about it afterwards.

I’m not saying that YouTube can solve the UK’s 18-24 voting problem; but I do think that politicians should make more use of online platforms. Not the self-centred claptrap of WebCameron, but actual use: if politicians want young people to listen to them, they need to make it easy. They need to get out of the age-old “sound bite” rut, catering all their rhetoric to the 6 o’clock news. There are many bad things about the internet, but the statistics aren’t lying: young people pay more attention to the internet than politicians. It’s about time that politicians started paying attention to the media too.


Please note that all blog posts do not represent the views of Catch21 but only of the individual writers. We also aim to be factually accurate and balanced across all content taken as a whole.

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About the Author

Eleanor Newis

Eleanor is studying English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford, she is particularly interested in UK politics. Her interest is mainly in welfare policy, social integration, freedom of speech, human rights and also environment policy. "I enjoy writing as it is a great way of starting discussions, developing my own opinion and raising awareness around issues, as well as interrogating those in authority. It is important to question our politics, and equally important to question ourselves."

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