Monday, July 28, 2014

Why candidates need to focus on first-time voters

Most people have a tendency to be loyal and to gravitate toward what is comfortable and familiar. If a person has a Honda as his first car, he is more likely to purchase another Honda as his next car than someone who had a Ford as his first car instead. It's not that Honda is necessarily any better or worse than Ford; it's that this person already has a good idea of what to expect from a Honda and already has some grasp on its strengths and weaknesses. This psychological concept can be seen from a commercial perspective when it comes to buying certain brands or preferring certain products, but it also plays a very critical role in the world of politics.

A good number of political candidates may gravitate their attention toward their core demographic, but the electorate will continue to age and it is arguably even more important to focus their efforts on the newest and next generations of voters if they hope to secure their political future. Pursuing the youth vote also means attempting to secure that first voter advantage. If a young person is voting for the first time and chooses candidate A from party X, he or she is more likely to vote for party X again in the next election.

This situation is playing out right now, leading up to the 2014 presidential elections in Indonesia in July. The Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) has clearly recognized this, as the party's presidential candidate Joko Widodo has garnered a lot of attention on social media in the country. And social media is a platform that is dominated by younger demographics. When “Jokowi” was announced as the PDI-P's presidential candidate, the hashtag #JKW4P quickly started trending locally. This would then lead to further influence on other young voters who may not have otherwise cared or paid attention to the upcoming election.

Of the 187 million people registered to vote in Indonesia, an impressive 29 percent (54 million) are under the age of 30 and an incredible 22 million – aged 17 to 21 – are voting for the first time. If the PDI-P is able to capture the hearts and minds of these 22 million voters, they would have secured 12% of the popular vote already.

In Indonesia, as well as other countries around the world, the youth movement is centred upon technology. Countless election-related apps have sprung up in Indonesia, educating the public on the importance decision they are about to make. American President Barack Obama certainly leveraged technology and social media during his 2008 campaign and the youth of Nigeria support e-voting technology. Whereas older generations may be reluctant to change, young people are embracing the power and convenience of the Internet and e-voting.

A presidential or other political candidate in nearly any part of the world must be cognisant of this shifting paradigm if they hope to stay relevant in the years and decades to follow. The parties and candidates that clearly demonstrate their dedication to social media, the Internet and advancing technology within and beyond the election cycle will be better positioned to appeal to younger generations.

And if receive that same kind of enthusiasm and dedication in return, they may just see a flood of voters buying more Hondas for years to come.