Harper Looks to Facebook to Reach Young Voters

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s attempt to use Facebook to target key youth voters is missing the mark, says a political analyst.

“I think they’re trying but I don’t think it’s terribly effective or at least not yet,” said Capilano University Communications Department professor Kathleen Cross. “As a branding tool, it is effective, in the sense that he is coming across as less stiff and more personal.”

Reaching young voters is important for the Conservatives, which has the lowest turnout in that age demographic compared to the other major national parties, said Cross.

Facebook has emerged as one way of doing this. Nearly eight million Canadians – more than one in four – have a Facebook profile page, according to study by Toronto-based Solutions Research Group. Zinc research also shows 74% of the Canadian Facebook users are between the age of 18 to 34.

Harper’s Facebook profile includes personal information such as his birthday, favourite music, movies, and books. Facebook users are also able to access his other websites, including YouTube, MySpace, Flickr. His profile picture is a family portrait. No policy information is included.

“As a political strategist, you absolutely have to use that opportunity to get any kind of a profile out even if it’s not necessarily including any kind of policy,” said Cross.

Tapping into the swing vote

Simon Fraser University School of Communication professor Catherine Murray said Facebook is an opportunity to soften Harper’s image, “A lot of people believe he can lead, but people don’t know if they can lead with care, in other words, caring about them.”

Other party leaders are also trying to reach out youth voters via Facebook. Jack Layton, Elizabeth May, and Stephane Dion all have personal profiles and fan pages on the site.

These youth voters are considered part of the swing vote, said Cross, which makes them even more valuable.

“Almost all elections are geared towards swing voters. You’ve got people who will always vote Conservative, people who will always vote Liberal, people who will always vote NDP. And then you’ve got the people who kinda move between parties,” Cross said. “And those are the ones that decide in fact who’s the next government.”

On Facebook, Harper has over 16,000 supporters and over 500 fans, but analysis says they seem to be existing offline supporters that are expressing their views online.

“Electronic politics are working very well for those who are educated, who already have an interests in politics,” says Murray. “In other words, it works to reinforce political interests that are already there.”

For Simon Fraser University Health Science student Benjamin Lee it doesn’t matter that Harper has a Facebook site because he would not base his voting decision on a social networking site.

“It has to be something much more substantial and in-depth,” he says.

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