The thudding football and the challenge of maximising student voter registration

PC1When I was a student, I lived for a year in an end of terrace house next door to a school. My bed was in the front room shoved up against an outside wall which faced the school playground. The wall had a rudimentary football goal painted on the other side of it. This meant that I was regularly woken at the highly unreasonable hour of 11am (when the school children had their morning break) by the sound of a ball repeatedly thudding into the brickwork inches from my head. I was usually the first student in the house to get up.

There wasn’t a UK General Election that year (although there was a change of Prime Minister.) But if there had been I can well imagine myself being woken on Election Day by the thudding football, and slowly coming to the realisation that voting would be tricky because I was the best part of a hundred miles away from my parental home where I was registered to vote. I very much doubt that I would have made it to the bus station, let alone the polling station.

I’m not suggesting that all of the UK’s current students whose term time address is different from their home address – over a million people – are as somnolent as I was. In fact I very much doubt it. It might just be me, but students today look much more together than I ever remember being. But the fact remains that the majority of them have two addresses. A temporary, often this-year-only, term time address; and a more permanent home address, which is probably their administrative base camp. They can register to vote at both of these addresses (only voting at one of course) but the transient nature of student living means there is a significant risk of students not getting around to registering at their term time address. And, their term time address is where they are most likely to wake up on 7 May.

That’s why we have been working on a campaign targeting students and encouraging them to register to vote in the constituency where they are planning to vote.

Students will see the main TV and digital campaign we are running, but we have also created specific ads highlighting the important message about registering with their term time address and emphasising just how quick and easy it is to register online at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. We will run these digital ads in contextually relevant sites and combine them with an SMS campaign – geographically targeted at University campuses.

We have also been working with the NUS to generate partnership activity. The campaign launches today and is designed to get students to register to vote before the end of this term.

EC UCAS1

We have also been working on campaign activity targeting 18 year olds and those turning 18 by 7 May. This group have an exciting opportunity to vote at a UK General Election in their first year of suffrage. But there is a danger that they could miss out on that opportunity if they’ve not got around to registering. Again, I can’t help referring back to the personal admin skills and motivation of my 18 year old self when thinking about this, but the good news is that it really is incredibly easy to register online. And to make sure 18 year olds know this we’re running activity to nudge them into registering using Facebook, editorial style digital advertising and partnership activity with the likes of UCAS.

Hopefully the work for both audiences will be just as impactful, but much more enjoyable, than that thudding football of my student days.

Michael Abbott
Head of Campaigns

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