Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Overall voter turnout in European national elections has been steadily declining and the gap in turnout between 18-25 year olds and other age groups continues to widen. In the UK, young people aged 18-25 are the least represented group on the electoral register, with only 44% registered to vote. In contrast, 94% of over-65s are registered, giving politicians a direct incentive to pursue policies benefitting the older generations while disregarding young people’s needs. These incentives feed into every political party’s manifesto, causing a vicious cycle of disengaging young people from politics even further. A study from Nottingham University reveals that only 12% of young people feel that their voices are being heard in society, and less than half had even attempted to express their views.
Low youth turnout can be attributed to two main factors: confusion over the practicalities of voting and registration, and feelings of political apathy or alienation. A recent shift to online registration in the UK could in theory help simplify the process. But of the 93,000 people who registered online during the first week of the new system, only 326 of these were under-24. This highlights a complete lack of information channels reaching young people on how to register and why it is important for them to do so. Furthermore, in June 2014 “Individual Electoral Registration” was introduced, prohibiting heads of households from automatically registering their young family members, and making it each person’s individual responsibility to actively sign up. In Northern Ireland the introduction of IER caused youth registration rates to drop below 10%, sparking a big retrospective push to regain the youth vote. The UK Government failed to learn from this experience, and has not developed any significant plans for raising awareness following these changes in the system. The Hansard Society predicts that youth turnout might be as low as 12% in the next general election.
The practical obstacles to registration however, could be overcome if young people were motivated to act and actually participate in democracy. The state education system, however, is failing to ensure young people have an engaging or informative introduction to politics and changemaking. Civic engagement is officially part of the national school curriculum, but it fails to teach the practicalities of our democratic system. 64% of those who had taken the Citizenship Studies GCSE reported that their knowledge and understanding of policies had increased ‘not very much’ or ‘not at all.’ Rather than giving young people the knowledge they need to be confident and informed voters, young people are left feeling ignorant and powerless. Attempts by both politicians and non-partisan campaigns to engage young voters are patchy, short-term, and rarely succeed in reaching out to youths in ways that resonate with them. They are often dismissed as out of touch, with outdated use of social media and delivered through representatives from a different generation. Furthermore, they discuss politics rather than issue-based content and hence fail to get young people’s attention. Opportunities and platforms for young people to discuss and air their views only focus on the minority who are already interested in politics, while projects seeking to inform disengaged young people rarely go beyond superficial engagement. As a result, low youth participation caused by ignorance or institutional barriers is often mistaken as apathy towards politics.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Low youth engagement in the democratic process has been a consistent problem across Europe for fifty years. Michael Sani aims to make history, by empowering a generation of young people to realize and execute the power of their votes and voices, and by ultimately holding elected decision-makers to account for issues that matter to young people. To reach this aim, Michael founded Bite the Ballot in 2010 to ignite a self-propelling youth movement; for the first time he is putting the challenge of making young people participate in democracy into the hands of young people themselves. Bite the Ballot’s young ambassadors create wake-up call experiences for their peers, leading into lifelong political engagement. By working through young people for young people and by bringing politics to where young people are, Bite the Ballot reaches those deemed to be furthest away from politics and has already succeeded in getting 50,000 young people registered to vote in one day.
Whereas most efforts done by charities, local authorities or politicians to get young people excited about politics either do not resonate with them or target those who are already interested, Bite the Ballot communicates political issues through a range of new and unexpected communication channels. To reach young people where they are, Bite the Ballot works on two levels: a grassroots peer-to-peer network bringing politics to life on the ground, and a network of digital media channels keeping up the momentum and multiplying outreach. Michael has established a network of young Community Engagement Officers or CEOs who are responsible for mobilizing young people in their communities and who lobby local authorities and electoral commissions to ease up voter registration opportunities. To allow CEOs to create an impactful experience for the young people they engage with, Michael has developed a series of interactive educational games that can be streamed anywhere from classrooms to youth clubs. The games inspire young people to discuss issues, not politics and reveal both the power everyone holds in their vote as well as how staying away from the ballot box equals remaining unheard. Already Bite the Ballot games and resources are being distributed by educational institutions as best practice to over 6,000 secondary schools in the UK.
To leverage peer-to-peer engagement Michael has created a web of partnerships with social media outlets such as Twitter and YouTube, who keep the conversations going and offer to young people a new range of platforms to form and articulate their opinions. Finally, Michael is working to tear down the barriers that hinder such involvement on a practical level, lobbying the government to make registration and voting easier, more accessible and truly open to everyone. By activating young changemakers while changing the practicalities of our democratic system, Michael aims to mobilize a critical mass of young voters who will tip the democratic system as we know it.