Back in 2019, Julia was a first-time voter and student of European law at a Spanish university. She was well-aware of the importance of voting and considered herself a strong supporter of the European project.
Julia’s classmates were a slightly different bunch. They were aware of the importance of voting and participating in a democracy. However, when election day arrived, they failed to show up in big numbers because they had exams, plans for the weekend or simply forgot about it.
The 2019 European election campaign, thistimeimvoting.eu allowed thousands of people like Julia to take the campaign message to those who needed a nudge to vote. More importantly, it gave Julia a platform to speak with her own voice and to take action.
This partly explains the remarkable election results in 2019. The final turnout stood at 51%, an increase of over 8 percentage points from 2014. The turnout amongst the youngest voters saw the largest increase. The small actions taken by people like Julia paid off.
The European institutions playbook of empowering citizens to spread the message during the 2019 European elections was a huge success. So what will the playbook be for 2024? These are the three points that should be a part of it:
- Finding the right message
- Reaching beyond its base
- Deploying the latest technology
#1 Finding the right message
Back in 2019, the chaotic Brexit negotiations eclipsed the discussion about the positive future of Europe by focusing on the negatives of leaving. Another big concern at the time was the downward trend in turnout during European elections. In other words, the inner challenges of the EU dominated the context of the election: Brexit, abstention and apathy.
In 2024, the challenges will be both inside and outside our borders. The war in Ukraine has changed the situation and perception on the role of the European Union. It is still unclear if the war will still be a major issue in the election but what is clear is its effects will still be felt.
Ukraine fought, and is fighting for, more than just its independence but also for democracy. The war has shown the importance of democracy and how much we cherish it. The upcoming election is the opportunity to showcase this and focus on a single issue. This will help with communications as it would be clear and straightforward. Democracy is a single issue that resonates with voters in many countries.
In this context, the European institutions need to seize the opportunity to convey a positive message and narrative about the EU. This narrative must go beyond keeping what we already have in Europe - prosperity, security, democracy - and convey the message that Europeans, by voting for whichever political option they freely choose, can make their voices heard and shape the future of Europe.
In summary, the European institutions have to communicate that more Europe means more democracy and a better life for Europeans.
#2 Reaching beyond its base
The campaign thistimeimvoting.eu, which has since grown into the together.eu community, laid the groundwork by focusing on recruiting passionate and ordinary people and reaching those who otherwise wouldn’t have been involved.
The campaign’s crown jewels were its volunteers, who would self-organise to give talks or organise events with the objective of creating stronger voter engagement and increased awareness of the election.
If in 2019, the ultimate goal for volunteers was to take action to mobilise voters, then the natural step in 2024 is to give them a bigger ask: to increase the pool of volunteers and become more persuasive in their messaging to get out the vote. This can be done by various forms, such as:
- Campaign bootcamps and train-the-trainer programmes through which volunteers learn the communication and advocacy skills needed to become better campaigners.
- Gamification techniques that make it easier, and more fun, for volunteers to do the job.
To put it more simply, we need to make sure Julia becomes better at public speaking or managing her Instagram. So, if she could bring 10 of her classmates to the polls in 2019, she has potential to bring 100 in 2024.
#3 Deploying the latest technology
While the technological landscape has slightly changed in the past few years, the following list is a must-have for any modern campaign:
- A voter relationship management system (VRM) with strong digital organising features to run a modern and sleek campaign in several countries and languages.
- An action-driven website that allows the campaign to produce a greater volume of content in different languages and at a short notice. The latest election campaigns run in Germany and France produced a large amount of single-issue “landing pages” on a daily basis, which were used to test different messages and to customise the message to a local context.
- “Relational organizing” tools that allow volunteers to click a button on their phone or computer, create a message automatically, and send it to their inner circles. Instant Messaging Platforms such as WhatsApp can be used very effectively.
- Digital Action Hubs where gamification tools can be deployed, so that volunteers and partners multiply their reach exponentially.
- Chat bots that are pre-customised to provide voters with information about the elections.
These proposals are about learning from the success of 2019 to build an approach where every single member of the public has a clear sense of why more Europe means more democracy and a better life.
I honestly believe that if people get disengaged from European politics, the future of our Union is in danger. There is no other alternative than a stronger European Union on the horizon. How that alternative is communicated to the general public every day between now and 2024 will be central to whether a pro-European majority, and an even higher turnout than in 2019, can become a reality.
We have two years to go. The work needs to start today.
Sebastián Rodríguez is the founder of the European campaign playbook and campaign strategist at the European Movement International.
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