The Green Party of Canada has for many years enjoyed exceptional levels of support amongst younger voters. In fact, it could be successfully argued that the growth in Green Party support has roughly tracked the graduation of our youth into the ranks of voters at the age of 18. The most recent series of EKOS polls has simply re-stated something that pollsters have been telling us for the last 5 years. Green Party support comes disproportionately from young (under 25 years old) voters.
This is, of course a very positive signal for the future prospects of our Party. It comes with a built in problem though. The fact is that young people simply do not bother to get out and vote. I know that sounds harsh. I know that there are other factors to point to in every election, like exam schedules coinciding with the vote, or poor voter registration mitigating against the youth vote. These might be contributing factors, but the underlying reality is that turn-out amongst the youth is dramatically worse than any other population segment, and that has held true for many many electoral cycles. I would even go so far as to argue that a large chunk of the polled support, that always seems to evaporate on election day is due to the fact that the youth vote picked up in the opinion polls doesn’t get converted into ballots on E-day.
I just read Dave Baglers poston this issue. Dave has proposed that the solution is to mimic the other Party’s, and establish a full time Campus club organizer to improve the GPC’s presence on Campus across the country. Dave is right that this can have a huge impact in those few riding’s where a large Campus exists, like in London North Centre. I remember L.N.C. by-election pretty well. While the Campaign was overall a badly managed affair, the work that Ben West did to shake up the Western campus was extraordinary. I cannot stress enough though that this was a tactical effort, that was executed very well. Strategicallyspeaking, it simply doesn’t address the opportunity we are discussing. The resources required to duplicate this success in all the major University riding’s are not available. Even if they were, and everything went perfectly on every major campus, it would still only translate into 50,000 extra votes at best. The fact is that only a small fraction of young voters are accessible to us on campus, and at the very best this would be a small part of an effective strategy to mobilise the youth vote.
There hasn’t been much in the way of serious tactical, or strategic discussion about what to do about it. In a sense, Jim Harris’s focus on Trippi’s social networking campaigns was driving towards a solution, but the Green Party has ultimately failed to work out a systematic approach to boosting turnout amongst youth. In all fairness to the GPC, the NDP spent decades wrestling with the same issue, with the same result. (no change, or even a further decline).
IMHO, in order to achieve a big boost in turnout, we need to go back to first principles, and define the problem, and proximate causes. Then we need to determine a strategy, and tactics required to acheive the required result. This is a very ambitious project I’m talking about. In order to succeed, we will need to work it out pretty carefully, and focus a chunk of our election budget, and communications strategy towards achieving a concrete advantage.
I cannot speak for anybody but myself, but I haven’t let that stop me in the past! First off, we need to be able to target communications on this demographic. Since young people do not watch much TV anymore, the best way to reach youth is probably the ‘internet’. I would tend to agree that boring static sites are not going to help much, and interactive, and networking sites will pack the best bang for the buck. The real trick will be to focus on attracting, and retaining an audience. That includes using traditional media, ( TV and Newspaper), to promote, and highlight the online campaign. Every trick in the book should be utilised to identify, and collect contact information for Green Party supporters on-line. Self-identification, newsletter subscriptions, petition signers, ‘invite a friend’, and as many more great ideas as yet un-thought of as can, and will be forthcoming.
By itself, the exercise of identifying throngs of youthful GPC supporters will NOT solve the turnout problem. What will be needed is, (to paraphrase Monty Python), ‘something completely different’. Like what? Well, lets start by making the act of voting something interesting, and above all FUN. What I would like to propose is to turn the advance polls into a big push for the Green Party. If we build this into the communications strategy for the next National election, then I believe that we can get an enormous amount of very positive ‘old media’ coverage by running a positive campaign to boost voter turnout. If we pop a serious budget at promoting the advance polls, with a ‘non-partisan’ theme of getting out to vote at the advance polls, then we will be the biggest beneficiary of whatever success the campaign enjoys.
It will be a message that self-inoculates against any contrary message that the other Party’s may want to respond with. Like Mother, and Apple pie, the media, pundits, and other political actors can do nothing but make positive noises about increasing voter turnout, no matter how much they might gnash their teeth at the prospect of the GPC scoring a big win. It also goes a long way towards countering the strategic voting message that the Liberal Party will be counting on to steal our vote on E-Day. In the past, the Liberals have really poured it on in the closing days of the Campaign. We really, really have to forestall this tactic in the next election. What better way could there be than to take the GPC vote out of play a week before the Liberal strategic voting campaign message starts to saturate the electorate?
In order to really capture the imagination, and motivate youth’s to vote, then we could co-ordinate a network of advance poll parties across the country. If we can promise people a great party to go to after the advance polls close, with large venues in major cities, and small and large parties alike in smaller population centres, but really push it from coast to coast, then people will have a perfectly good reason to get out and vote. It will be associated with lot’s of fun. Who knows, maybe we can fill the coffers with some ready cash if we can work it right.
The possibilities are exciting to contemplate. The GPC frankly has no hope of commanding the attention of the electorate in the last week of the election, youth or otherwise. Even if we saved every penny we could, and spent it all in a rush just before E-Day, we would still be completely swamped by the spending power of the other Party’s. The Advance polls are another story though. If we only have enough resources to dominate the news for a couple of early campaign days, then rather than dribbling out our pennies to minimal effect, why not capture the airwaves for a few days before and during the advance polls? There is absolutely no reason why we should hang around waiting for E-Day to be clobbered by the firepower of the other Party’s. A ballot cast at the advance poll is just as precious and valid as a ballot on E-Day. It serves our purposes so well, in so many different ways, that I truly believe we should think ‘outside the box’, and re-write the book on getting out the vote. Besides, the timing is perfect for every campaign to take a break after the polls close, and have a great party to charge up the Party for the last lap of the National Campaign.