The recent General Election had an estimated 72% youth voter turnout, with around 66% of this 18-24 year old age group estimated to have voted Labour.
How did this happen? And what can we, as communication specialists, learn now that the dust has settled?
One thing’s for sure, this battle for the young vote seems to have been fought and won on this group’s digital home turf of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Hashtags such as #youthvote, #youngvotesmatter and #voteforchange created a fast moving, inclusive conversation which Labour managed to harness – motivating new and apathetic voters with positive messaging. Social media has become a new frontier for political discourse, providing minority voices for the first time with an easily accessible platform to diversify political discourse away from traditional mainstream media.
The main political parties have both attempted to adapt to this changing environment with different levels of success. While Conservatives focused their resources on YouTube videos and Snapchat ads, Labour focused on Facebook and Twitter, where young supporters chose to spread their views through memes created independently and distributed organically. This was the first British election that memes, part of the far right tide that carried Trump to victory, gained traction this side of the Atlantic, playing a huge role in stoking and maintaining the fervent support among young voters.
Memes represent a new incarnation for satire, one which, for the first time, is not controlled by institutions or critics. Now, anonymous kids in bedrooms can create and share something that represents a popular zeitgeist that will spread as far as it is able to capture imagination, often utilising humour and popular culture references.
Labour supporters utilised memes effectively and succeeded in highlighting the differences between their leader and May, shifting perceptions of Labour’s potential. Grassroots activism has always been a core element of Jeremy Corbyn’s support, so though the memes were often irreverent, their authenticity chimed well with his message of an approachable alternative to traditional politics.
It seems that memes and social media connected with this demographic due to the visual, immediate impact and the ability to communicate complex personal views in witty, irreverent ways. Political commentary and public reaction can now happen in real time, where anyone can get involved and have their say, rather than waiting for the 10 o’clock news or the morning papers. Timely responses are more important than ever, as is understanding how to connect with milllennials authentically through their preferred media.
By Jess Weiss