Dr Sanjit Roy and Aman Abid from the UWA Business School look at young people’s declining interest in politics and why social media is an important tool to engage Generation Z.
The last federal election showed low voter turnouts in Australia’s youngest electorates, despite a record level of young voter enrolments. This suggests a high level of dissatisfaction with democracy among younger voters, who are more likely to engage in non-electoral, issue-based and networked forms of political participation. Those born after the mid-1990s (termed Generation Zs) comprise around 10 per cent of the Australian voters.
The decline of political engagement among Gen Zs is a widespread problem that plagues most developed nations. It’s important that politicians cultivate relationships with these voters in order to revive democracy.
Research by the UWA Business School shows that social media provides ideal avenues to build voter relationships and there are many ways of increasing its effectiveness.
Politicians can bond with young voters by posting personal and social updates rather than political and professional ones. Young voters can feel detached from politicians so content that humanises politicians and shows them to be relatable, ordinary citizens is important. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Instagram page reveals that his top-performing posts are windows into his personal life. Young voters enjoy such intimacy with influencers, celebrities and sporting icons they follow and the same is true for politicians.
Time and time again, studies show that emotions drive the popularity of content on social media and politics is no exception. In particular, positive emotions are more likeable since young Australian voters are reluctant to engage with controversial political content on social media.
Smaller parties and their candidates tend to be perceived in a more positive light. Young voters noted that these entities take an educational approach to social media which is mutually beneficial and long-term oriented. Consequently, young voters feel they can build a higher level of trust with them. These parties engage young voters by focusing on shared values through topics such as marriage equality, income equality and climate change.
The big picture
Social media can revive political engagement through ‘political fandom’, an approach to politics derived from popular culture. Such an approach sees politicians and voters build effective online allegiances akin to those between fans and celebrities. Voters support politicians with whom they identify and share similar values. A noteworthy trend is young voters’ preference for personalised politics, with the private lives of politicians intriguing and interesting to young voters.
When distractions become the focus
Politics is not just a popularity contest. Democracy will not be served by embracing the trivial and departing from rationality as can be seen by the impact of much of Donald Trump’s social media posts that contained inaccurate information. While it’s important for politicians to be relatable, they also need to demonstrate credibility.