How social media is used to reach young voters

The year was 2000 and it was the first time I was eligible to vote in a presidential election. Since I lived on a college campus four hours away from home, I requested and filled out an absentee ballot. But then I procrastinated and forgot to mail it in. Oops! I remember one particular friend being appalled. We live in a swing state, he lamented. How could you forget to mail your ballot?

Honestly, why I didn’t vote could probably be boiled down to two reasons: apathy about the candidates and a lack of awareness about the issues. No one was reminding me to vote either. Back then, campaigns and civic groups didn’t really reach out to voters online. And how could they? I’m pretty sure we were still using Yahoo! as a search engine and the popular “social media” at the time was AOL instant messenger. 

Today, social media has massive reach and is a significant way millions of young people connect. About 90 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds use at least one social media platform, according to the Pew Research Center. Anyone who wants to reach young people is doing so through social media, and campaigns and civic groups are no different.  

Young voters consume a lot of their election information online. Nearly half of 18 to 24-year-olds heard about the 2018 elections from Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, according to Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). Voter registration reportedly spiked nationally in the 24 hours after singer Taylor Swift encouraged her 112 million Instagram followers to register to vote. King County experienced a voter registration bump after her post, though it was also the day before our registration deadline. Was T-Swift really that impactful? We’ll never know. But what we do know is that her social media following, much like her musical fan base, probably skews young.

King County Elections uses social media to reach out to voters every day. We’re on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Lately we’ve stepped up our Snapchat game to connect with younger voters. (The company says that 85 percent of its users are ages 18 to 34.) We launched our first Snapchat campaign to get out the vote during the 2017 General Election. For the 2018 midterms, we dived deeper with filters and animated ads reminding people about the Election Day deadline.

With Snapchat, we’re also hoping to reach future voters. Next year, 16 and 17-year-olds will be able to pre-register to vote in Washington State. Since Snapchat is the most popular social media network among teens, we’re already planning how to use it to reach out to them about pre-registration. 

Check out some examples from our 2018 Snapchat campaign:

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