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Persuading Young Voters to Participate in Elections Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 7th, 2021

Abstract

Persuasion is the art of guiding people towards an idea or a course by trying to change their perceptions and attitudes about the same whereas voting means casting a ballot in any form of election. The low voter turnout of youths has been a worrying trend and therefore the need to adopt new ideals that would fast track their participation. This could be achieved by persuading them to get involved using volunteer youth groups, factoring in youth agenda in the policies, engaging modern technology amongst others. All these have produced different results, most of which have impacted positively. In conclusion, it is generally agreed that persuasion tend to influence the perception of people towards a given ideology. This however depends on the approaches and medium used.

Introduction

Voting is the act of casting ballot in an election or a referendum. This can be at the local government, national level or even within organizations and or institutions. Those who turn up to vote are therefore referred to as voters. Various countries use different yardsticks to identify voters. However, the most commonly used is the age factor and the nationality of the voters. In America for instance, any person who has hit the age of 18 years is eligible to vote but can register at the age of 17 ½ years (e. g in the state of Georgia), must be of sound mind, legally resides in state and must not be serving a sentence that relates to felony with moral turpitude: they can as well vote as absentee voters while overseas. Contrary to this, in Kenya and many other African countries, only the citizens that live within the borders of the country and have obtained the national identification card (thus at least 18 years old) are allowed to register. Those who stay overseas are simply locked out of the exercise.

Voters are usually segmented into various categories based on a variety of factors; some of which include the age brackets, economic class, gender, tribe, and or race and level of education (Al From and Victoria Lynch, 2008). This leaves the entire segmentation a little ambiguous as they seem to overlap. The most outstanding one is that of the age bracket, where the potential voters are categorized as young, middle aged and the old voters. Conventionally, these include 18-29 years, 30-55 years, and over 55 years respectively. In any particular country, across the board, the bracket of younger generation constitutes the bulk of the population. The youth are very diverse and more liberal than their older counterparts e. g in America, research conducted by the Pew Research Center on young voter, they realized that about 62% of them between the ages of 18-29 are whites and 18% are black while 14% are Hispanic. The table below gives a brief summary of the diversity in the United States.

Table1: Table showing the Diversity among the Youths:

Table one

The success of any particular political party involved in any elections, national or local, can potentially be determined by the youth vote. They are therefore famously referred to as the swing vote. In spite of the numerical advantage that the youths wield, their performance during elections in most countries have not been satisfactory, and this could be attributed to certain factors, some of which are genuine like the residency laws that restrict areas of registration and polling centers. These however, have been taken care of by the use of absentee ballots albeit with still some teething problems. Other reasons narrow down to youth and inexperience, political culture and transient state in their communities (Haslup and O’Loughlin, 2001). As it is put in the Seattle Post Intelligencer newspaper article, others feel that the politicians simply ‘don’t do anything that hits closer home’ and so they don’t really see the point of going to vote. From some quarters, other people tend to reason that those who actively participate in an election do care and are worried about some decisions, a fact that seems to be lacking amongst the youth especially within the age bracket of 18-24 years who generally have fewer things to worry about (Ralph, 2006).

For this trend to change therefore, the political players have to go back to the drawing board to review new strategies to ensure more of the youths get involved in the political processes. One of such includes adoption of persuasion strategies that can work; this in itself being not a very easy task. By definition, it’s the process of guiding the target group towards an idea, principle or action through rational and symbolic means. Generally, it involves changing the attitudes of people towards a specific idea or an item (Cialdini, 2000). In a political contest, persuasion involves the selling of a political party’s agenda while at the same time trashing the opponent’s as lacking in the key fundamentals. The success of this depends on the execution strategy whereby the well executed ones will capture the minds of the populace.

Persuasion Approaches Used to Persuade Young Voters to Vote

The political class has never been left behind in noticing the potential effect of the youth vote and their inherent low voting patterns. This is across the board in almost all countries, since its being projected that out of the world’s population, about 45% are youths. To benefit from this voting block, different politicians from different countries have quite often used different approaches to sway this block to their direction and some have realized substantial success while others have simply failed to make the mark:

During the just concluded US elections, the democratic candidate extensively employed the modern technology to connect with this population. This was made possible by the use of internet and mobile telephony. The registered members could get mails signed by the candidate himself over the net on a daily basis while his team of volunteers worked the phones to get these youth voters pledge their votes. This rather created a personal feeling and an attachment to this candidate. It was therefore not a big a surprise as many would have thought to see a surge in the number of registered democrats. Besides the modern technology employed, the candidate had a strong contingent of volunteers who knocked from door to door to solicit for the votes. In colleges, he had well organized team who would solicit for votes on his behalf. Besides, the registration materials were made available within the colleges through the youth volunteer groups. This could have proved beneficial since these youth college students would employ a language and storyline that resonates well with their colleagues thus creating a better and clearer understanding of the policies. This could not be better capture than it was stated in the Jackson Free Press (November, 2008):

‘Early in his campaign, all the way back to the caucuses in Iowa, Obama organized the youth at almost every college and made his presence known in high schools. His campaign adopted the communication routes of the teen pre-teen crowd, regularly communicating through text messaging and cell phones, and made incredible strides in online financing’.

The political class has quite often tried to use colloquial associated with the youth as a form of identity. This is in an attempt to depict him/her as one of them or at least one who understands their plight. This was particularly portrayed in the Kenyan and even in the US elections whereby the democratic candidate could afford to great the youths who attended his rally using his fist, quite common with the youth, instead of the normal handshake that he employs while with the older voters.

Some politicians have also quite often enlisted the services of celebrities. In this case they hope to cash in on the popularity of the celebrities especially the music artists by winning over their followers. It is believed that some people easily get persuaded towards or away from a particular ideology based on those fronting the same. I this context therefore, some of those ‘fence sitters’ who identify with the particular celebrities will fall over towards that side the celebrity is supporting. This really played out clearly when the US presidential candidates were in a mad rush to seek for endorsements from these people, including even the household newspaper outlets. Almost a similar situation was witnessed in the Kenyan elections where the various political parties chose various hit songs that the youth identified with to be part of their campaign slogans. This could only be done after seeking the express permission of the artist in question. Alternatively, many a politician do host live music bands altogether like in the case of the vine yard mayoral election where Perry Barse hosted a five band rock concert as was reported in the Daily Journal of February 19, 2008.

In the African continent, all haven’t been very rosy when it comes to youth persuasion since time immemorial. The political leadership quite so often uses voter bribery, and specifically to bribe the vulnerable youths who are poor and unemployed. They see this period as a spell for the making of quick money. Not even a single country in the continent can escape the accusation. In such a situation, the political class buys the allegiance of the youth using cheap liquors and a few other goodies, some of which are basic to human survival like food staff especially in the drought prone areas.

It also not a very unusual for politicians to use languages with tribal or racial undertones as a way of scaring members of his tribe or race against his opponent, especially in situations where the opponent comes from a different background in terms of tribe or race. These tactics have paid dividends as the youths are advised to protect ‘their interest’ by keeping the opponent out of the region in question, but with the ramification of leaving the nation divided after the electioneering period. Some have collectively used the propaganda war and rumor mongering strategy to discredit the opponent in the eyes of the youth; they tend to either misinterpret or outwardly lie about the opponent’s plans while glorifying his own as the most youth sensitive so as to be seen as the champion for the youth agenda.

During elections, the politicians try to put their best foot forward. Any politician worth his/her salt cannot turn a blind eye to the youth population. In order to appeal to them, the politicians always try to bring in leaders with youthful appeal into the ranks of the parties only to be a ceremonial one in the management team with the brief of wiring in the youth vote. They develop fantastic policies targeting the youth with the hope that the youth will eventually identify with the party and its candidate. In the African context, however, these have remained just that, ‘fantastic policies’. Also, in some situations, the incumbents who are seeking re-election introduce such programs like the youth fund to appease the majority jobless youths for re-election purposes.

Some political players also buy a good chunk of prime time in media houses, especially when youth programs are run. This way, they target to reach a good number of the youths at once with their messages, usually tailored to touch on the interests of the youth. Some of these may be historical or long and outstanding issues that have remained unresolved like unemployment.

Conclusion

In any endeavor, one must always sit back and review the cost-benefit analysis so as to ascertain whether the effort was worth it. In this light, many a politician must always sit back at the end of the day to take stock on whether their efforts to lure the youth vote bore any fruits. Towards this end, some of the strategies used have proved more effective as they resonate well with the target group whereas others are simply a flop. The yardstick that one can use at the moment of persuasion of the youths is whether the message resonates well or there is some level of rejection:

The use of modern technology seems to have worked wonders. A case in point is in the US elections where the democratic candidate, according to CNN estimates, has at least 4 million friends through the face book page. These are people who have the potential to invite or simply talk their friends into voting for the candidate due to the personal touch and the comfort that goes with it. Moreover, those who signed in on his official campaign website received mails quite so often; mails which are signed by the candidate himself. Also, the strong contingent of youth volunteers in colleges turned the table to his favor. These are facts that can never be over emphasized as the research by the Pew Research Center that was released on November 12, 2008 about how young voters performed during the elections compared to the other previous elections attests to this as summarized in the graph below;

Youth voting Patterns for the Democratic Candidates
Graph 1: Youth voting Patterns for the Democratic Candidates 1980 in %

From the graph, it can be rightfully be deduced that his strategies that targeted the youths paid dividends since it was the best performance so far put by the democrats among people of that age bracket.

As much as there have been success stories about the various techniques used to lure the youths to one’s camp, some have been retrogressive as they don’t sell with majority of the youths. Use of language negative connotations against the opponents in some instances turn off the youths especially those with at least up to O level education, since they look for points from all the rhetoric by the end of the day. This is true especially in the African continent where as time drags by, the youth tend to deviate from totalitarians and warmongers using the power of their votes. As one writer puts it in the CBS news article titled ‘The Psychology of Political Ads-How Political Campaigns Use Advertising to Trigger Emotions and Change Minds’ written in 2008:

“We have these emotional responses when something negative comes our way; it’s a ‘flight’ type response…, the more negative the stimuli, the harder people slam their eyes shut; When exposed to the negative ads, people did indeed slam their eyes shut harder,”

In conclusion therefore, as much as one would like to dismiss the power of persuasion in any contest, the obvious fact is that it plays a major role in influencing the attitudes of people towards a given course. Moreover, the corporate world could not in any way spend millions of money to produce and air advertisements intended to persuade people to their course.

References

Adam, L. (2008). “Youth Vote More Prominent in Future Elections? ” Jackson Free Press. Mississippi.

Ciadini, R. B. (2000). Influence: Science and practice. 4th Ed. Pg1-5. Allyn & Bacon Publishers.

From, A. and Lynch, V. (2008) ”Who Are the Swing Voters? Key Groups That Decide National Elections in USA” Social Sciences & Humanities magazine. Web.

Keeter, S., Horowitz, J., and Tyson, Alec. (2008). “Young Voters Election” Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Web.

Rolph, A. (2006). “In pursuit of youth, each vote counts” In the pursuit of youth, each vote counts” Washington. Seattle Post Intelligencer. Web.

Zatzariny, T., Jr. (2008). “Mayor will court youth vote with concert” The Daily Journal. Web.

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