Saturday, September 19, 2020

Don’t be a vote ghost

New Zealand, like all Western democracies, has a major problem: Younger voters don’t vote. That means that as a share of the population older people are way overrepresented, and younger people are way underrepresented, in elected bodies. Over the years, there have been many attempts to change this, to get younger people to vote, but those efforts have had limited—sometimes no—success. Even so, we must continue to try to get younger people to vote so that the governments we elect better represent us all.

The New Zealand Electoral Commission is attempting to do that through its “Don’t be a vote ghost” campaign. The video above is their 30 second ad, and it, and their shorter versions (below), are currently in heavy rotation on NZ television. The first goal is to get younger people registered to vote, and then to also get them to show up.

The reason that this is necessary can be seen in a chart from FigureNZ (the original version, at the link, is interactive), using data from voter turnout for the 2017 General Election:

I’m well aware that other countries would envy New Zealand’s relatively high turnout among enrolled voters (putting aside the percentages of unenrolled people), however, it’s clear to see that people under 35 vote at significantly lower rates than do those who are older. According to the NZ Electoral Commission, in 2017 nearly a third of enrolled voters under 35 didn’t vote.

There are many reasons why younger people don’t vote, and even more theories. Back in March, John Holbein looked at what we know about young people’s voting in the USA for the American Political Science Association’s Political Science Now. It’s worth a read.

Whatever the country, there are a number of issues that young people care about that could be dramatically affected if they actually voted, but this is about far more than mere issues: Young people’s issues seldom receive much priority from older politicians precisely because politicians don’t need to rely on the votes of younger people, so they feel they can largely ignore them. This also means that younger people have very little representation in government, including having younger politicians, but also older politicians who agree with the priorities of younger voters. If government is to truly represent the people, then it must truly represent the people. Young voters can help ensure it does.

The TV ad campaign includes several short versions of the ad above. Both of them use a netball seen that’s not in the longer version, the shortest of them focusing on that.

First, the 15 second ad:

Finally, the 6 second version:

I think the longer two ads are effective at conveying the campaign’s message. In my opinion, though, the 6 second version is the weakest of the three. However, that one’s obviously intended to reinforce the message of the longer ads, meaning it usually runs in the same ad bloc as one of the longer ads (based on what I’ve personally seen so far). That’s a common practice among many advertisers.

This campaign won’t, by itself, increase the turnout of younger voters. Like most countries—though nearly as much as the USA—New Zealand needs systemic reform. Because there are a lot of reasons that younger people don’t vote, though, it’s obvious that no single ad campaign can ever address all the obstacles. But even if it only helps just a little, it’ll be well worth the effort.

And, yeah: Don’t be a vote ghost. Boo.

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