Today, the voices of our youngest generations are being heard loudly and clearly across the EU. 2022 marked the European Year of Youth and young Europeans also played active roles in last year’s Conference on the Future of Europe. Still, key questions remain on how to engage with Europe’s youth ahead of the 2024 European elections.
Based on my previous experience working in the European Parliament’s youth division, it is clear that there are a number of DOs and DON'Ts on how to engage with our friends from Generation Z. In this article, I wish to share some tips with you on how we can get young Europeans to cast their vote!
#1 Focus on the issues that matter most to youth.
For Europe’s Generation Z, the problems facing our planet and society matter most. Protecting the environment and preventing climate change, mental health, education and social inequalities are some of the most popular topics in this group, as shown by a recent Eurobarometer study.
Politics, in other words, is personal.
In the lead up to the 2019 European elections, the European Parliament’s “This Time I’m Voting” campaign promoted the role of the EU in tackling the climate crisis. Among many other voter awareness campaigns, this helped shift voting patterns for young people across Europe. Youth participation stood out in that election compared with 2014, voter participation among 16-24 year olds jumped by 50%. The 2019 turnout among citizens between the ages of 25 and 39 also rose from 35% to 47%, according to the post-electoral Eurobarometer study. This clearly shows that focusing on issues affecting Europe’s youth pays off for campaigns and candidates.
On the other side of the Atlantic, and more recently during the US midterm elections, we saw near record-high numbers of young people getting out to vote, signalling a possible shift in voting trend. Both the Republican and Democratic parties focused on the issues that matter the most to youth, namely: the economy, abortion rights, immigration and democracy.
#2 Rely on local volunteers and peer-to-peer mentoring:
The last European election saw thousands of young people taking to the streets, encouraging their peers to cast their votes. The European Parliament’s voter awareness campaign proved to be a key channel to engage local volunteers and organisations. This same community is still out there under the auspices of together.eu. But many other liked-minded communities exist across Europe: JEF’s Europe@School and the European Youth Parliaments are prime examples of youth groups using non-formal education to engage their peers.
Youth-led organisations can help promote voter participation. They can also pinpoint the priorities of their communities. More importantly, young community groups can speak the same language as their peers and can serve as role models, thus making participation less intimidating.
#3 Be genuine and avoid jargon:
At the same time, we know that Gen Z communicates differently than previous generations. With an attention span of 3-8 seconds, they want short sound bites, direct dialogue and less distance with decision-makers via social media. They are pragmatic and want to ask their politicians questions directly (and receive real answers)! Many are also looking for practical ways to contribute towards achieving social justice - both in the online and offline sphere.
Communicating in a youth-friendly way has the potential to bridge the gap between European policy makers and young people: EU policy developments should be made available in short, concise summaries.
European communicators can also make policy more appealing: they can use slogans, colours, eye-catching fonts, pictures, infographics, short videos, clear calls-to-action and more. Involving youth in designing communications can also guarantee that the tone and the message are suitable to the audience.
#4 Follow social media trends:
The 2021 European Parliament Youth Survey showed that young people were key users of social media when it came to politics. Four in ten young Europeans were then turning to social networks to discuss political and social issues. Many of them relied on three major channels: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube which all scored highly as important news sources. But Europe’s youth didn’t just sit back as passive observers. Many Gen Z members also posted opinions, used hashtags or changed their profile pictures to make their voices heard.
The recent rise of online activism proves that we should shift our perspective on youth political participation. Recent studies show digital activism leads to “real life” political engagement. This is why voter campaigns must continue to push digital advocacy among young citizens.
A successful example was recently seen with the European Parliament’s Snapchat account. Young Europeans were invited to send “snaps” to the Parliament while the Parliament’s own digital team spent their time reacting directly to the pictures. This not only generated high levels of engagement, but it also lent authenticity to the account. While Snapchat is waning in popularity, Europe’s youth are spending more time on different visual platforms. Nearly half of all Europeans between the ages of 15 and 24 are on TikTok. It might be a platform which we cannot ignore when it comes to European campaigns.
At the same time, young people have low trust in social media due to the overwhelming amount of dis- and mis-information online. Any campaign promoting youth participation will have to invest in critical media literacy.
#5 Making your voice heard in the present:
Young people (15-29) make up 17% of the EU’s population. Without their vote, no European election is truly representative. Contrary to typical stereotypes about disengaged youth, young people are reshaping politics: they are moving discourse to the digital sphere, shifting the terrain of conversation with representatives to direct dialogue, and innovating new ways in which institutions and governments can better serve the needs of the European electorate.
Authentic, jargon-free, direct campaigns with a strong presence on the ground and online – these are the channels through which we can engage European youth ahead of the 2024 election.
Réka Heszterényi is Project Assistant at the European Youth Centre Strasbourg and former Schuman trainee at the European Parliament’s Youth Outreach Unit. Réka continues to promote youth engagement through her work as the Secretary General of JEF Hungary and as an active volunteer for "together.eu”
Michael Bruton is a communication adviser at the European Commission, working for the Director General for Communication. Prior to this, he served as Speechwriter to the European Commissioner for Crisis Management. Michael has an extensive background in the field of civic engagement and voter awareness campaigns, previously leading the European Parliament’s information awareness campaign in Ireland ahead of the 2019 European elections.
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