MANDY WIENER: Swifties, political Tinder, and getting young people to vote
Earlier this month, superstar Taylor Swift posted a story on her Instagram account. A message encouraging ‘Swifties’ to register to vote. Taylor Swift has 272 million followers on the platform.
"I've been so lucky to see so many of you guys at my US shows recently. I've heard you raise your voices, and I know how powerful they are," she said. "Make sure you're ready to use them in our elections this year!"
Her post included a link to register at the nonpartisan non-profit in the US, Vote.org.
Swift’s fans listened and responded and Vote.org recorded more than 35,000 registrations.
According to NPR, the 35,252 new registrations on National Voter Registration Day were the most since 2020.
The number of 18-year-olds registered was more than double that of 2022.
Andrea Hailey, CEO of Vote.org, called it a "highly encouraging sign of voter enthusiasm," especially among voters who are newly eligible since turning 18. "Time and time again young people are showing up and demonstrating they care about their rights and access to the ballot box," said Hailey.
Swift recognises that she has the power to influence the most important cohort of the electorate – young people – and there is a dire need for them to go to the polls to have an impact on the outcome of elections.
There is a desperate need for such influence in South Africa where we have an alarmingly low voter turnout, particularly amongst the youth. In the local government elections in 2019, just 12 million South Africans cast their ballots.
With the national general election coming up next year, getting young people into voting stations is going to be imperative.
A report entitled The South African non-voter: An analysis by Collette Schultz-Herzenberg published in December 2020, found that while a bulging youthful population has produced a significant proportion of young eligible voters, the youngsters are showing up to vote in disproportionally lower numbers.
The report reads that according to Statistics South Africa’s 2018 population estimates, there were approximately 11.7 million eligible voters in the 18-29 age group in the 2019 elections. They constituted roughly a third of all eligible voters. Despite their numerical dominance, their registration levels were disproportionally low.
Of 11.7 million young adult citizens only 5.6 million registered in the 18-29 age group. Among the youngest (18–19-year-olds) voters only 19% were registered. Around 80% of those actually turned out to vote in 2019 – a total of 273 010.
“Global studies show that young people everywhere are increasingly disinclined to turn out and vote, and South Africa is no different in this regard. However, the implications for countries where young people make up a sizeable proportion of the electorate, like South Africa, are ominous. If turnout among young people continues to decline, while this cohort continues to expand, their lower turnout rates will further depress the country’s aggregate turnout rate,” finds Schultz-Herzenberg.
The argument is that young people are harder to mobilise, are less likely to have attachments to established political parties and don’t feel like elected officials are doing anything for them anyway.
As commentator Tessa Dooms wrote in News24 earlier this year, it's not that the youth don't care about the country, or democracy, or that they're apathetic. It's that voting has not produced the results they'd hoped for. “Why should young people bother giving their vote to people who have not demonstrated any kind of solution to success?”
Between now and the national elections in SA next year, there must be a groundswell of support for attempts to get young people to register and vote.
This requires novel and innovative ways to appeal to this cohort. Sure, it will require influencers like our equivalents of Taylor Swift to get involved.
A group of politics and economics students is using the concept of Tinder to sell the idea of voting to young South Africans.
Ryan Young, co-founder of Yoh, Vote, explained on The Money Show recently that the platform is a non-partisan, political matchmaking website - "pretty much political Tinder".
The Yoh, Vote website displays the stats that reflect the disheartening state of voter apathy in the country and what it wants to do about this.
"We thought, what is a thing that a lot of young people have experience in, and that's using Tinder and dating sites."
Importantly, the site also has a link to make sure you register to vote, "because that's the real way to sign up for political dating".
We require increased voter education but, most importantly, young people must be convinced that their votes are actually worth something and that politicians will deliver on their promises. That’s going to take some convincing considering current circumstances.
This article first appeared on 702 : MANDY WIENER: Swifties, political Tinder, and getting young people to vote