Politicians 'out of touch' with youth

JESS MCALLEN
Last updated 05:00 29/06/2014
winston peters
SCOTT HAMMOND/ Fairfax NZ
WINSTON PETERS: '#'.

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The war for the youth vote is in full swing. Political websites, Twitter profiles and Facebook pages are becoming increasingly active but millennials say the efforts are embarrassingly out of touch.

There's a fine line between relating to a younger generation and being the dad desperately letting his (thinning) hair down, begging to be validated as "cool".

And young potential voters say politicians are sprinting over that line and losing votes in the process.

Last Thursday, Internet Party leader Laila Harre tweeted a crowded selfie with seven Auckland Girls' Grammar students: "At AGGs talking with the digital natives."

Stop trying so hard, said renowned digital branding expert Justin Flitter.

"Just be authentic. You don't have to label them digital natives. Youth don't want to be isolated and pigeonholed into their own group. They are intelligent - it comes across as patronising."

Young voters want to know why their cross at the poll counts and how it will impact their future, he said.

"If you're talking about student loans, explain how they will be funded. They want to see whether or not politicians are saying a load of garbage to try and win the vote, or if it's a logical argument."

Generation Y is the much-coveted voter demographic this election. A 2013 "Better Business" report defines them as aged 13-29 and predicts over-18 Gen Ys will rise to 24 per cent over the next five years.

Despite being on the verge of adulthood and work life, they are severely disengaged with politics - in the 2011 election 42 per cent of 18-24-year-olds did not vote.

Gen Y buy ideas, beliefs and products from people, not corporations and - at the risk of sounding like their Boomer grandparents - are also very distrusting of "The Man".

Social media offers a grassroots way to challenge this distrust, but Flitter says many politicians are simply broadcasting one-sided conversations or going to extremes in stereotyping youth.

"You can't just suddenly get into election mode and throw a bunch of concerts, pull out a bunch of memes and expect youth to vote."

Instead of being listened to, young voters are being caricatured as self-obsessed, iPhone-gazing selfie-lovers.

It's cringe-worthy, said 22-year-old Harry Evans.

"It's jumping on a bandwagon of what they think is popular but not really understanding why people find that thing funny - or that people stopped using it a few months ago.

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"There's also a sense they are taking this light-hearted internet joke and crudely jamming a political message into it."

But what is most embarrassing, he said, is the use of memes.

"Labour has a bit of a history with this. The Greens are quite natural in their use of it. They use infographics to convey a message."

"Neither National or Labour use it in a ‘cool' way. They just do uncool things with varying regularity. I would expect less embarrassing stuff as social media becomes older."

US President Barack Obama was praised for his social media campaign in the 2012 presidential elections: tweeting with wit, posting pictures and even doing an AMA (Ask me anything) on popular website Reddit (Green Party co-leader Russel Norman and Green MP Gareth Hughes have both done this on the r/NewZealand subreddit).

Part of Obama's success was down to his online activity reflecting his offline activity, said Flitter.

Many politicians are sticking to a scripted persona online and potential voters don't know anything about them, he said.

"We want to see the human-like qualities, where sometimes you do get ‘pissed off' and have a rant."

In response to the criticism of the Internet Party's approach to social media, Callum Valentine said the party is open about being able to laugh at itself.

Valentine is both the social media manager and a candidate for the party. The 26-year-old is training all the other candidates how to develop a strong online presence.

"We're trying to be less serious in our tone and language. One of the main things I try to do is talk the way people talk, so have quite a simple conversational style on social media."

He said while it was "widely known" Harre wasn't prolific on social media, he thinks she has picked it up quickly and is doing a good job engaging with the "digital natives".

But social media alone won't get people to vote. Political leaflets used to dominate letterboxes. Now, social media is about actually filling these virtual leaflets with substance, not a giant hashtag.

"I don't want someone ‘cool', ‘funny', or ‘hip' running my country," said 23-year-old Hamilton student Andree Hickey-Elliott. "I want someone who can manage the huge multitude of factors involved with running a country."

She is disillusioned by modern politics, a common theme among Gen Y, but it's not due to a lazy or uncaring personality. It's a lack of trust about who is being genuine and who isn't.

Hickey-Elliott spent six months volunteering at an old persons' home and is working on her Masters of Environmental Management. "Fake goofiness comes across as unprofessional. I don't trust fake goofs and idiots with money, let alone lives and resources."

But 20-year-old building apprentice Aidan Lyne is more forgiving.

"They can come across as a bit dorky but that's subjective. Their attempts to branch out to youth through social media displays a willingness to move with the times and ultimately any bid to engage youth is positive."

The problem politicians face in getting the younger vote is that they aren't from a generation that loves apps, "doge" memes (look it up) and illegally downloading Game of Thrones.

"If you aren't actually engaging on social media - aside from posting press releases - it looks like you're not capable of discussion yourself, or someone is dictating how it should be done," said Flitter. "None of those things constitute a good environment, especially if you're elected."

EXAMPLES OF SOCIAL MEDIA FAILS:

DAVID SEYMOUR'S EPSOM VIDEO

All this clip had in common with youngsters was reminding them of studying film at high school (note the use of low-angle shots to make the subject appear powerful).

COLIN CRAIG'S NEK MINNIT POSTER

Craig held a public meeting which featured a poster saying: "Nek Minnit. Conservative." Aside from incorrectly using the meme, Craig also drew the ire of skateboarder Levi Hawken (who trademarked the phrase).

YOUNG NATS' INSTAGRAM PHOTO OF LORDE

Who doesn't like posting a picture of the 17-year-old singer to appeal to young voters? The Young Nats congratulated Lorde a month ago for her Billboard Music Awards success. But the move backfired last week when the picture came to Lorde's attention: "unfortunately do not identify with ye old yung nats…..".

POLITICIANS NOT QUITE GRASPING HOW TO TWEET

From Winston Peters' "#" to John Boscaween's solitary "E" some politicians seem out of their depth on Twitter.

THE INTERNET PARTY LINGO

Serial overuse of: awesome, OMG and "digital natives". Also: selling shirts with cats on them, a photo of candidates pulling the peace sign and Kim Dotcom's video last week singing "Internet - Party - MANANANA" in the tune of The Banana Boat song.

- Sunday Star Times

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