Parties wooing young first-time voters

Candidates are not only conducting campaigns on social media, but are also holding discussions with the youth

April 23, 2018 01:31 am | Updated 01:31 am IST - Bengaluru

  All set:  Young voters at a programme organised by the Election Commission recently to create awareness on the importance of voting, in Bengaluru.

All set: Young voters at a programme organised by the Election Commission recently to create awareness on the importance of voting, in Bengaluru.

Veteran party leaders who have spent decades in the political arena are familiarising themselves with ‘millennial speak’ in an attempt to connect with young first-time voters. Candidates are not only conducting campaigns on social media, but are also making it a point to hold debates and discussions with the youth to understand what they expect from their elected leaders. And with good reason, too. The stakes are high: the number of first-time voters stands at 15.42 lakh, more than double of that during the 2013 Assembly elections which saw 7.18 lakh in this category on the electoral rolls.

Young voters, aware of the aggressive social media campaigns and promises made, say they are not so easily swayed. Engineering student Rahul M. Bogase, 20, said that while he and his friends had a high engagement on social media, their votes would not be “influenced” by online messages by parties. “Ultimately, what matters is who the candidate is in our constituency and if he/she is capable of solving our local issues and improving the infrastructure,” he said.

For first-time voter, Harshith A., party takes precedence over candidates. “I will look at the performance of the the respective parties and take a call based on the track record of criminal cases, corruption and performance while they were in the government,” he said. He, however, conceded that while he kept himself abreast of news developments, politics was not his forte.

H.S. Manjunath, National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) Karnataka president who will be contesting on Congress ticket from the Mahalakshmi Layout segment, said the party had fielded three youth leaders for the Assembly elections. “First-time voters want to vote for a party that gives them freedom and is against moral policing. They are well aware of which party to pick on these grounds,” he said.

When it comes to wooing the youth, the incumbent Congress government has a head start, thanks to its schemes such as free bus pass for students, free laptops, and free education for girls till post-graduation. “The party has clearly given priority to the needs of first-time voters,” Mr. Manjunath said.

The Congress has also launched Nanna Karnataka, an initiative where they would organise 100 town hall meetings, dialogues in major cities and towns before the elections with the aim of fostering dialogue between young voters and party leaders.

Employment, a concern

JD(S) leader Madhu Bangarappa said his party was focussing on the need to create more jobs for youngsters, particularly in rural areas. “We see youngsters coming to the city and taking up jobs that do not match their qualification. This is because of lack of livelihood opportunities in their villages. Our party believes in developing industries and enterprises at the taluk level,” he said.

He recalled that at a recent meeting with young voters, most of them demanded that the new government focus on creating jobs, reducing red tape, and improving administration. “Youngsters these days are well-informed. They have a strong stand on corruption and are not tolerant of it. So, we believe that our party has an edge,” Mr. Bangarappa said.

The BJP had recently conducted a competition, New Bengaluru for New India, among college students with a focus on possible solutions to the city’s problems. “We also did Facebook lives with the finalists. Most of the voters said they wanted more opportunities in the startup sector. A solution to traffic jams and the need to save lakes were also discussed,” said Balaji Srinivas, State convener, BJP social media cell.

Experts and political commentators, however, warn of the pitfalls in trying to bracket the youth in a single category. A. Narayana, associate professor for public policy at Bengaluru-based Azim Premji University, felt that barring their age, there is nothing uniform about first-time voters.

“They are as diverse as the rest. An 18-year-old in a farming household will be very different from an 18-year-old in a urban household. No single messaging will reach them the same way. Besides, no political party has designed any hard-hitting message,” he said.

He also felt that first-time voters were not likely to be well informed of the politics in the State. “They do not have an independent view of what is happening in their country and their choices are likely to be made by their immediate surroundings such as their family,” he said.

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