Before the UK General Election on 12 December 2019, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) ran two social media campaigns to encourage greater political engagement among young people. One was aimed at increasing youth voter registration, which is particularly low among 18-34 year-olds; the other was intended to raise awareness of climate change – a hot button issue in this age group – and thereby generate demand for more ambitious climate action from the UK’s political parties. The campaigns were based on the theory that concern about climate change might persuade more young people to get involved in politics.
CIFF commissioned Common to investigate the barriers and drivers to voter registration and to evaluate the effectiveness of the messages used in both campaigns. Our methodology included desk research into existing studies on voter registration and political engagement; a quantitative survey with a panel of representative 18-34 year-olds in the UK on the barriers and drivers to voter registration; an experiment to test how exposure to the campaign’s social media posts affected people’s behaviour; and an analysis of user data to see whether interaction with CIFF’s campaign posts correlated with increasing national concerns about climate change. The research was conducted between 8 November 2019 and 31 January 2020.
Although we did not find a detectable effect of the campaigns on either climate change engagement or voter registration, the exercise led to a number of insights that could be useful for future campaigns. For example, our research suggested that while climate change may be a good way to encourage political engagement, young people are more likely to take personal rather than public action to reduce climate change (reduce their energy consumption rather than join a protest march, for example). The campaign might have been more successful if it had communicated how individual actions can contribute to change: people need to see that change is possible as a result of what they do and that others around them are acting the same way. We recommend that a future campaign, rather than simply using social media to tell people what to do, should focus more on helping people change their behaviour.