Justin Sienkowski

Technology could be key to youth voter participation

It’s no secret that millennials are consistently the voting-age population group that is least likely to cast a ballot on Election Day. According to a report by the Center for Information and Research on civic learning and engagement, 19.9 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds casted ballots in the 2014 election. This was the lowest rate in 40 years. In order to address this issue, however, we must first look at why so few millennials vote.

Ashley Spillane of MSNBC.com said in her post “The state of the youth vote in America” that a lack of trust in the political system is a key deterrent for many young voters.

“Despite making up more than one-third of the population and holding the power to become the most influential voting bloc in the country, young people are frustrated with the political process and are opting out of participating,” Spillane said.

Sure enough, a poll by the Harvard University Institute of Politics indicates that young voters by and large don’t trust institutions such as the president, Congress, the Supreme Court, the media or Wall Street. Between those five institutions, respondents said that they trusted them to do the right thing an average of only 24.6 percent of the time.

Since millennials don’t trust the politicians that run for office and the journalists that cover them, they often turn to social media to seek and express their opinions.

Four years ago when I was 18, I’d scroll through my Facebook timeline and what I saw was mostly nonsensical musings from friends and family. Now, Facebook feels more like an all-out political debate. This may partially be because of the maturing of the people on my friends list, but it does parallel the rise of social media as a tool for political discussion among young voters.

A Pew Research Center study in 2015 found that just under a quarter of millennials say that at least half of the Facebook posts in their feeds are related to politics, making Facebook a prominent media source for politically-minded millennials. In the current election cycle, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has utilized social media in new ways to connect with his many young supporters, including holding an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit.

Social media has become such a popular tool in shaping political beliefs for millennials because so much of the information comes straight from the people they trust: friends and family. The creation of the Change Politics app is based off of that idea, but creates a simpler, more complete way to interact with your social media network when it comes to politics.

The hope is that new technology like Change Politics can help modernize the political process for younger voters while meeting their needs for social input. Millennials already use technology, especially mobile-based platforms and social media, as large parts of their daily routines. So, by making politics friendlier to millennials’ lifestyles, it could increase the numbers of young voters who participate in the political process.

The use of social media in a political context over the last few years has risen significantly, but further technological innovations are still needed to really reach young voters. By incorporating a social function with a form that is millennial-friendly, technology may be able to persuade young voters to head to the voting booths on Election Day.

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