Young. Digital. Engaged?

Political Participation and Information Behaviour of Young People

Young peo­ple are increas­ing­ly turn­ing to online media and social media plat­forms to learn about and engage with infor­ma­tion about polit­i­cal issues. How­ev­er, there is lit­tle guid­ance for polit­i­cal par­ties, pol­i­cy­mak­ers and elect­ed politi­cians on how to respond to these changes in young people’s infor­ma­tion behav­iours and how to engage with young peo­ple about polit­i­cal issues. This study pro­vides a deep­er under­stand­ing of how young peo­ple in Ger­many access infor­ma­tion about polit­i­cal issues, how they expe­ri­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tion from polit­i­cal par­ties and elect­ed politi­cians and of what suc­cess­ful polit­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion with young peo­ple can look like.

In order to inter­act with young peo­ple on polit­i­cal issues, politi­cians and polit­i­cal par­ties need to engage in spaces where young peo­ple are present and where they come across infor- mation. For the vast major­i­ty of young peo­ple in Ger­many, social net­works and online media are key sources of polit­i­cal infor­ma­tion. One-size-fits-all approach­es that tar­get all young peo- ple should be avoid­ed, because 16- to 24-year-olds use many dif­fer­ent strate­gies to gain in- for­ma­tion and com­bine online resources with offline polit­i­cal engage­ment in dif­fer­ent ways.

Cru­cial­ly, polit­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion should take into con­sid­er­a­tion young people’s lived experi- ences and adapt to these espe­cial­ly in terms of lan­guage and cho­sen for­mats, but also in terms of which kinds of polit­i­cal issues are addressed. It is impor­tant for young peo­ple that polit­i­cal actors use social media plat­forms in pro­fes­sion­al, authen­tic and inter­ac­tive ways.

Polit­i­cal par­ties and elect­ed politi­cians should offer oppor­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple to engage with politi­cians direct­ly, whether that is online or offline, espe­cial­ly in order to address those young peo­ple who are oth­er­wise hard­ly reached. Per­son­al and direct exchange with politi­cians has the poten­tial to reduce the dis­tance to insti­tu­tion­alised pol­i­tics that many young peo­ple in Ger­many per­ceive and can increase their inter­est in polit­i­cal con­tent. This can include a re- newed focus on school vis­its post-pan­dem­ic, but also has to involve oppor­tu­ni­ties beyond schools, for exam­ple dia­logue via social media platforms.

This report sum­maris­es the results of the project „Young. Dig­i­tal. Engaged? Polit­i­cal Par­ti­ci- pation and Infor­ma­tion Behav­iour of Young Peo­ple“, a coop­er­a­tion between the Bun­deskan­zler-Hel­mut-Schmidt-Stiftung (BKHS) and d|part, an inde­pen­dent think tank work­ing on issues of polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion. Based on pri­ma­ry research with 16- to 24-year- olds in Ger­many and elect­ed politi­cians as well as sec­ondary data analy­sis of rep­re­sen­ta­tive sur­vey data from young peo­ple, the project results pro­vide con­crete guid­ance on how polit­i­cal actors and young peo­ple can inter­act and share infor­ma­tion on polit­i­cal issues. The pol­i­cy rec­om­men­da­tions in this report were devel­oped joint­ly by par­tic­i­pat­ing young peo­ple and elect­ed politi­cians in Ger­many and pro­vide a start­ing point for a suc­cess­ful polit­i­cal exchange – online and offline – between young peo­ple and polit­i­cal actors.