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Livestream Report - Digital strategies to mobilize citizens, can EU really get people to vote this time?

Elia
 
 
New technologies are increasingly shaping the behaviour of institutional and political actors, who struggle to find the best ways to stimulate voter turnout. On 18 March 2019 the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs committee (AFCO) organised a public hearing with the title “European Parliamentary Elections, European Parties, European Voters”, where experts shared their point of view on this particular issue.
 
EU COMMISSION AND EU PARLIAMENT JOIN EFFORTS ON COMMUNICATION
 
To invert the negative trend of voter turnout - only 43% voted in the 2014 European elections - the European Commission and the European Parliament decided to improve the coordination of their communication campaigns in the wake of the 2019 elections.

Both Mikel Landabaso Alvarez (Director for Strategy and Corporate Communication at the European Commission) and Alexander Kleinig (Head of unit of Concept & Design in DG COMM of the European Parliament) agreed that this collaboration will increase the impact of the EU’s communication strategies, raise awareness on the next Elections and, consequently, get more people to vote.
 
Alvarez and Kleinig cited many examples of this “EC-EP Cooperation”: both institutions agreed on using the terms “European Elections” instead of “EP Elections”, using the EUbranding wherever possible instead of institutional logos, cross-referring to each other respective campaigns, coordinating outreach and mobilization of Erasmus students, trainees, civil society organisations, cinemas, football celebrities, rural communities and so on.
 
Finally, the Commission in close cooperation with the European Parliament has been communicating on three fronts with the aim to empower and inform citizens (“What the EU does”, “Why and how to vote” and “How to engage”).
 
THE 3 CORPORATE CAMPAIGNS OF THE EU COMMISSION
 
Regarding the specific communication campaigns on both sides, the European Commission launched several months ago three corporate campaigns: InvestEu, #EUandME and EU Protects, all three targetingcitizens who were neutral or ambivalent about the EU (don’t know/don’t care basis).               

The first campaign, InvestEU, was conceived to showcase the impact of EU funding and it was divided in two phases: Phase 1 (March 2017 - March 2018) which reached 203 million citizens all across Europe and Phase 2 (May 2018 - on-going) that reached 40 million citizens, recording 112.000 websites visits to and 2.7 million video views.

The second campaign #EUandME launched in May 2018 was conceived to reach out to young Europeans, showcasing the core European values and achievements. Until now, it has reached nearly 40 million citizens, with 43% of them who felt proud to be European and 51% who claimed to trust the EU.

The last campaign, EU Protects, was launched in October 2018 and wanted to showcase the ordinary heroes of the EU; until now it has reached 10.4 million citizens, recording more than 10 million views of short films and almost 300 million paid digital advertising impressions.

“THIS TIME I’M VOTING”, THE EU PARLIAMENT CAMPAIGN

One year before the 2019 Elections, the European Parliament launched its own information campaign called “This Time I’m Voting”  to raise awareness and increase the next voter turnout.  The main peculiarity is that the name of this campaign was declined in the native language of each EU Country (e.g. it was translated in “Stavolta Voto” in Italian, “Esta vez voto” in Spanish, and so on).
 
This campaign targeted above all the youngest citizens and tried to stimulate its active participation while engaging them in a peer-to-peer way.  It consisted of three levels: the first one was signing in on the platform and staying informed with the periodic newsletter; the second level implicated writing on social networks the personal reasons to vote and sharing them to relatives and friends, in order to encourage them to vote as well; the third level involved active participation in the campaign. In fact, through the platform everyone could signal to the nearest EU Institutions Representation office their availability and have been contacted back to organize something (including join efforts with “activists” coming from the same area).

WHAT ABOUT THE POLITICAL PARTIES’ DIGITAL STRATEGIES TO MOBILIZE CITIZENS?

As explained by Prof. Juan Rodríguez Teruel (University of Valencia), since the 2000s new political actors have emerged, often gaining support because of their opposition to austerity and the so-called “old politics”- combined in some countries with nationalist claims (e.g. strongly disputing immigration).    

Nowadays, the anti-establishment vote based on economic reason has emerged because of the rise of new inequalities in our society, the dissatisfaction of those citizens who did not benefited from globalization and the electoral realignment caused by the raising general discontent among many voters (produced by new societal uncertainties).               
This has three main consequences on traditional parties: first of all, they had to adapt to new forms, rules, ideas and practices that they disdained before (for example citizens nowadays demand more and more participation to the internal democracy of the political parties).         

Then, a re-structuration of political spaces because the left-right divide is currently under redefinition; in fact, there is a reduction of the perceived policy differences among political parties.

Finally, the rise of political outsiders (for example celebrity politics is gaining relevance, with famous journalists, scientists, actors, athletes, etc. who decide to run for  elections).

NEW TRENDS IN DIGITAL POLITICS 

Prof. Teruel also stated that the rise of new technologies requires political parties to adjust their “digital strategy” to mobilize voters; the modern means of communication and social networks have great influence in the shaping of voters’ political choices and we will consequently observe new trends in the next years.
Firstly, polarization might become the new standard in electoral campaigns because it improves linkage with voters and brings electoral efficacy – although, increasing the use of a strong populistic rhetoric.      

Secondly, parties will become more and more digital to meet the pressing requests made by citizens to participate in their internal democracy. For example, there are parties that employ online platforms to ask voters’ opinion, like the Five Star Movement in Italy and Podemos in Spain.          
This last aspect should be further analysed: surely it broadens the political space of discussion, but it can also create self-referentiality and short-term orientation. In fact, politicians can be more and more tempted to meet the changing sentiments of voters, mining the construction of real long-term policies and worsening in this way the quality of decision-making.

CONCLUSION

Whether it is EU institutions or political parties, the voter turnout must reverse the trend this time.  Regardless of the communication campaigns getting them to vote, Europeans must realise the importance of these Elections, ultimately understanding that they will have the unique power of choosing who will represent 500 million people and, consequently, who will shape their future for the next five years.