The digital answer to disengagement: why we set out to re-engage voters with the political manifesto

by: on 07 May 2015

In the midst of General Election fervour, co-founder of 383, John Newbold, tells us how various organisations are stepping into the digital vacuum left by the political parties

"Within Britain today those who are least engaged in the political process are also likely to be those who are the most engaged in the digital world."

John Newbold, 383 

It is 2015 and a group of the most influential and recognisable brands in the UK are providing a masterclass in what not to do when it comes to the Internet. 

I am talking, of course, about the UK’s major political parties. And, in particular, their mediocre efforts to help younger voters tap in to their core messages online (awkwardly choreographed Twitter feeds included). 

With the General Election on our doorstep, we’ve now been through one of the most archaic aspects of election campaign season; the launch of the manifestos. This grand unveiling of long documents that many voters will never read is made even more frustrating by the parties’ apparent inability to wrap the online versions of their policies in a user experience which is digestible and discoverable by a large percentage of their target audience.

In an online world that, for many younger voters is often lived 140 characters at a time, the idea of scrolling through long web pages, or scanning wordy policy on a mobile device couldn’t be a more polarising experience. Perhaps that’s why only 18% of Brits (of any age) have ever read through the manifesto of a political party from cover to cover, and only 41% of Brits have ever looked at so much as an extract of one (source: 383/YouGov). 

Amidst the TV debates, billboards and press attention, is fixing the level of engagement with a party’s online content really that important though? I believe it should be. Because within Britain today those who are least engaged in the political process are also likely to be those who are the most engaged in the digital world.

In 2010 only 44% of 18-24 year olds turned out to vote (source: Ipsos Mori) and according to the Hansard Society, an organisation which studies political engagement, apathy in the 2015 General Election will rival—and perhaps exceed—the level set in 2010. In that survey a soberingly small 16% of 18-24 year olds said that they were certain to vote in the upcoming elections!

So with the country’s digital natives being the least likely to vote, what can be done to help improve the situation? Unsurprisingly, it’s an experience gap that many organisations have taken a shot at improving (ours being one of them). 

At 383, we specifically focused in on the accessibility of party manifestos and came up with mymanifesto.me. It’s a simple tool that allows voters to easily compare policies from all of the main parties in one place. Crucially, it's built first for the mobile generation - all the policies broken down into bite sized cards and accessible through a tinder style interface. The outcome for users is the opportunity to build their own ‘blended’ manifestos to illustrate which party they’re most closely aligned with. By using a simple ‘love/hate’ and ‘like/dislike’ metric we allow people to quickly graze party content, without any fuss or fluff. It’s an experience that takes minutes, not hours and helps voters tackle weighty issues in a light way. 

As mentioned previously, there have been several organisations who’ve developed fantastic online experiences in lieu of the parties doing it themselves. MyManifesto aside, here’s my pick of the other digital tools filling the gap while the parties themselves get their acts together! 

·         Verto – Verto is a ‘voter advice tool’ and the combined work of Bite the Ballot (an org that tries to get more young people to vote), and the well-known politics think-tank Demos. 

·         Vote for policies – a pioneer in terms of both digital election tools and focusing on policies rather than personalities, VfP expects 1m people to ‘complete’ election questionnaires through its site by the time the election rolls around 

·         Fantasy Frontbench – a work of genius or madness (or a bit of both), Fantasy Frontbench allows you to generate your own Commons frontbench team by gender, age, education and various other politically sensitive metrics. When you’ve done that you can compare your team’s voting record with the record of the current cabinet. It’s beautifully designed and addictive.