The ‘No communication = no voting’-rant on EP elections 2014 – A tragedy


By Chris­tine Hueb­n­er.

And it’s on: since Thurs­day some 400 mil­lion Euro­peans are called to the bal­lot to cast their vote in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions 2014. The mam­moth elec­tion event span­ning four days of con­tin­u­ous vot­ing kicked off in the UK and the Nether­lands on Thurs­day. Until Sun­day, vot­ers across 28 EU mem­ber states are invit­ed to the polling sta­tions.

election-dates[1]

Source: Euro­pean Par­lia­ment (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/us/en/elections_2014.html)

 

Emp­ty polling sta­tions

I set my mark on the bal­lot ear­ly on Thurs­day morn­ing before start­ing my work­day in an entire­ly emp­ty polling sta­tion in Rot­ter­dam — no com­par­i­son to wait­ing in line for a good 10 min­utes dur­ing the munic­i­pal elec­tions just two months ago. This emp­ty expe­ri­ence set the tone for what fol­lowed: a day of dis­cus­sions with col­leagues, friends, and acquain­tances of which most had no inten­tion to vote. And there was no blame – their rea­sons why were all com­pre­hen­si­ble to me:

  1. “I know close to noth­ing about the can­di­dates. There was hard­ly any­thing about it in the media. And did you see any posters or elec­tion cam­paign­ers out here in the past days?”
  2. “I tried to find out more about the par­ties and what are they are up for, but only doing the vote match test is not enough I find. It is real­ly sad that there was so lit­tle infor­ma­tion.”
  3. “I feel I have no stake in this elec­tion – what are we vot­ing for any­ways if even our own politi­cians are not enthu­si­as­tic about this?”

The tragedy of non-com­mu­ni­ca­tion

Who­ev­er I talked to, they were all right: com­pared to the efforts tak­en in nation­al or local elec­tions there was hard­ly any cam­paign­ing going on for this elec­tion. If they exist­ed, posters in the Nether­lands, Ger­many, Aus­tria or the UK boast­ed cam­paign slo­gans void of any con­tent: They are pro­claim­ing such smart things as “Togeth­er for Europe”, “Rethink­ing Europe”, or “Say yes!” (and for mat­ters of com­ple­tion “Say No!” as well). Nation­al politi­cians demon­strate low enthu­si­asm for the vote, if they pay atten­tion to it at all amongst a mul­ti­tude of oth­er elec­tion events going on at the same time.

Cam­paign posters in the Nether­lands — a rare sight these days

 

Not worth the prime-time sta­tus

There were three (!!!) TV debates of the EU cam­paign lead­ers (host­ed in Maas­tricht, Flo­rence, and Brus­sels) and none of them was broad­cast­ed by a lead­ing nation­al broad­cast­ing unit, let alone in prime time: in Ger­many spe­cial inter­est chan­nel Phoenix aired the debate, in the Nether­lands pub­lic broad­cast­er NOS just man­aged to offer a web stream­ing. For those inter­est­ed, you can view the entire sad list of broad­cast­ers here. EU offi­cials cel­e­brat­ed the 100k tweets for the Twit­ter hash­tag #TellEu­rope that had been accom­pa­ny­ing the TV debate as a great suc­cess. How­ev­er, com­par­ing this fig­ure to a soar­ing 2.3 mil­lion tweets for the hash­tag #euro­vi­sion dur­ing the song con­test just two weeks ago, I am get­ting the chills of down­right real­ism. And that is with­out even match­ing up to prime time TV cov­er­age of the two events!

Click on picture to enlarge

Click on pic­ture to enlarge

 

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion done right — but for the wrong rea­sons

It is iron­ic that this vote is going to be decid­ed by duti­ful lob­by­ists, broad­cast­ing deci­sion mak­ers, and maybe even Face­book rather than by polit­i­cal par­ties, their can­di­dates and – most impor­tant­ly – the EU cit­i­zens. For the first time, the mega­lo­man­ic social net­work is offer­ing its ‘I’m a Vot­er’ elec­tion fea­ture for Euro­pean users and may have more of an impact on vot­ing behav­iour with it than all cam­paign­ers tak­en togeth­er. A study pub­lished in Nature states that the use of the but­ton may cause a small, but sig­nif­i­cant surge in vot­er turnout. It is – of course – not for mat­ters of civic duties that Face­book is offer­ing the fea­ture, but rather as an alleged­ly smart mar­ket­ing tool.

Facebook’s “I voted”-feature in the EP2014 elec­tions

 

And the results?

What could be the poten­tial impact of this tragedy of non-com­mu­ni­ca­tion around the EU elec­tions? Although this new EU par­lia­ment may become sig­nif­i­cant­ly more influ­en­tial than any of its pre­de­ces­sors, it could well be elect­ed by a non-rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of some 30%-40% of the pop­u­la­tion (judg­ing by turnout fig­ures from 5 years ago and pre-elec­tion polls).
Stud­ies fore­cast that it will most­ly be the well edu­cat­ed who will deter­mine the com­po­si­tion of the new Brus­sels par­lia­ment — those who know how to nav­i­gate the Inter­net to get infor­ma­tion that is not avail­able in the gen­er­al media. The remark­able trough of enthu­si­asm for this elec­tion in the media and amongst politi­cians them­selves could fur­ther help pro-Euro­pean vot­ers gain impact: those that are intrin­si­cal­ly moti­vat­ed to sup­port the Euro­pean idea are twice as like­ly to vote com­pared to euroscep­tic vot­ers. On the oth­er hand, an inter­locked sys­tem of low turnout, reject­ed elec­tion thresh­olds (notably Germany’s no to a 3% thresh­old) and the lat­est suc­cess­es of anti-EU right wing par­ties could give an uncon­trolled boost to their pop­u­lar­i­ty in the elec­tion and sta­tus in the new par­lia­ment.

In 21 coun­tries, vot­ers can still turn to the bal­lot tomor­row, Sun­day, May 25th. Although we can­not shape the com­mu­ni­ca­tion tragedy around this EP elec­tion any­more, we can at least try to influ­ence the real-life pol­i­cy that will result.
Go cast your vote tomor­row!

Chris­tine Hueb­n­er is a found­ing part­ner at d|part. She guides the team in ques­tions of study design and choice of research meth­ods. She is also a doc­tor­al researcher at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Edin­burgh, where she explores the views of young peo­ple on cit­i­zen­ship, iden­ti­ty and polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion. Chris­tine has pub­lished wide­ly on the par­tic­i­pa­tion of young peo­ple, on the chang­ing nature of civic and demo­c­ra­t­ic engage­ment and on ques­tions of polit­i­cal legit­i­ma­cy.

Dis­claimer

The views and opin­ions expressed in this arti­cle are those of the author.

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