News Analysis: Going after a Generation's 'X'

Article excerpt

Young people show increasing reluctance to vote; will a Parliament mailer really change anything?

Should he triumph in this week's Conservative leadership election, David Cameron will have his work cut out fulfilling his vow to 'switch on a whole new generation' to Toryism. The signs are the new generation has little interest in being switched on.

It is not just the Conservatives who have ground to make up among younger voters. The entire political process has fallen out of favour with the iPod generation. The problem has become so acute that MPs plan to have a guide to voting mailed to teenagers when they turn 18 (Marketing, 30 November).

The extent of young people's alienation from politics was clear at the General Election in May. The turnout among those aged 18-24 was 37%, according to MORI, compared with an average of 61% across all age groups.

A recent survey by youth marketing agency The Lounge provides further evidence, suggesting 36% of young people would willingly sell their vote, a majority of them for less than pounds 100.

The trend has long-term implications. It is feared there are now large numbers of young adults for whom ignoring the ballot box has become a habit and that they will pass the habit on to their children.

Providing context

In this context, the guide to voting has been welcomed by all parties, as well as by the Electoral Commission and the Hansard Society. The mailing was proposed by the House of Commons Modernisation Committee last year, with the suggestion that it should include instructions on registering to vote, a brief history of Parliament and details of the roles of elected officials.

A direct mail agency will be appointed shortly and, from mid-2006, 600,000 packs will be sent out each year.

It is significant that MPs chose direct mail as a way to tackle the problem.

At a time when state-funded advertising is routinely denounced as a waste of taxpayers' money, it is a recognition that marketing can be a crucial tool in changing society.

The question is whether Parliament has chosen the right strategy to win over young people. In particular, can it succeed in the stated aim of reaching those from marginal social and economic groups who feel alienated from the political process?

Nobody expects the guide to increase the turnout at elections on its own. However, some in the youth marketing industry believe it will struggle to have any impact at all. Sam Conniff, co-founder of Livity, an agency that has worked on both public- and private-sector youth projects, believes MPs will fail to reach their target audience through a mailing.

'If you are trying to contact vulnerable kids in marginalised areas, where literacy rates are low, direct mail is not the way to go,' he says. …

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