Duty. Often, voting in elections is most often referred to as a "citizen's duty".
And with less than one month left for the parliamentary election, the calls for voting increase. Especially to those under 30 years, where half did not make a political choice in the previous elections. To avoid a recurrence, over 24 Norwegian newspapers, from Aftenposten via Dagen till Nationen and Varden, have joined forces and launched the campaign "MY VOTE 2013".
The campaign aims to inspire more young people to use the right to vote in the election 9. September. But not everyone thinks the most important thing is to vote, as advertising agency Dinamo suggests in its campaign. Lars Akerhaug, a Minerva journalist, writes in a commentary in the Christian newspaper Dagen that "there is no reason to encourage young people who do not know the difference between SV and Frp to vote".
Andreas Halse, leader of Socialist Youth (SU), stated in June to Ny Tid that the most important thing is actually not to vote. As a reaction to the media campaign "My voice", where it is mainly linked to the newspapers' own websites, Halse believes that the low turnout among young people is a symptom of a larger problem: namely that politics fails to engage young people to vote. It is today's politicians who are the problem – not the voters, he believes:
- I think the low turnout among young people is due to politicians not talking too much about issues that young people recognize themselves in. But also that the parties seem increasingly similar through all their communication advisers, says SU leader Halse to Ny Tid.
He is not enthusiastic about the "My Voice" campaign, which describes as "unpolitical voting morality" – which may work against its intent.
- I think many people just get pissed and tired of hearing many times how important it is to vote, without credible explanations as to why, says Halse. He adds that we as citizens are not obligated to vote, since we are also not obliged to trust the politicians.
It is the task of politicians to win voter confidence. By always focusing on the importance of voting, and not on what or who, we get an unpolitical message that helps to break down the dividing lines in politics. Rather spend the time talking about politics, rather than trying to moralize youth into the polling stations, Halse urges.
Young Liberal Party leader Sveinung Rotevatn will not go as far as Halse and say that the campaign represents «apolitical vote moralism». But he also emphasizes that the concrete content of the policy is more important than general calls to vote.
- I think it is good to remind people that there are elections and encourage them to use the right to vote, but I do not think such campaigns work if there is no kind of meaning behind the voting, and without at the same time emerging political dividing lines. People vote if they get involved, and that is first and foremost the task of the political parties. My job leading up to the election is to tell people why they should vote Liberal. It is probably also more effective than attitude campaigns, Rotevatn tells Ny Tid.
Election researcher Bernt Aardal, for his part, is not critical of the media agencies' voting attitude campaign.
- Is it problematic that the campaign emphasizes the importance of voting, rather than what one votes for, Aardal?
- No, I find it difficult to see, because it is clear that if you turn it around, there would be more unrest and uproar if each newspaper that participates should have familiarized itself with which party they should recommend, Aardal answers to Ny Time.
He is positive about the newspapers' measures and believes the campaign picks up the thread from 2011 after July 22, by focusing on young people having to get involved. Aardal points out that although many were disappointed that turnout generally did not increase by more than 4 percent in 2011, the figures show that turnout among younger voters increased by 11 percent:
- The interesting thing now will be to see if those who voted for the first time two years ago will vote again this year. Empirical findings show that if you first get involved and participate, the probability is greater that you get involved and participate later in an election, says the election researcher.
But Aardal also emphasizes that one should have sober expectations of what the "My Voice" campaign can achieve, as there are several purposes for such a campaign.
- If the campaign's message was just to vote, I can agree that it will be too one-sided. But what we see is that many newspapers follow up by providing fairly full coverage of what the various parties stand for, coverage of the election campaign and background material aimed at this age group. I also do not disregard the fact that this is a campaign that will also be able to reach other groups where turnout is low, says Aardal.
In the 2011 local elections, 40 per cent of Norwegian citizens with an immigrant background voted, figures from Statistics Norway show. Only 52 per cent of immigrants with Norwegian citizenship exercised their right to vote during the 2009 parliamentary elections, while the general turnout was 76 per cent. Linda Alzaghari, general manager of the minority political think tank Minotenk, does not think that those who do not care about politics from before, will care anything about this campaign either.
- I think first and foremost the campaign serves as a reminder to those who usually vote. It requires a little more to arouse political involvement, as we are doing very well in this country, and I think many people think that it does not matter who you vote for. But it is worth trying, says Alzaghari.
She also does not believe that the campaign, as a kind of skipper right before the election, is the solution that will make more young minorities exercise the right to vote. The Minotenk leader says that a more political awareness should be set up in the school in order to get everyone under the age of 30 involved.
It takes time to get acquainted with the whole political landscape and the political game, especially now before an election it can be quite confusing for immigrants. I think strengthened social studies would be a great advantage. This could also ignite a genuine political interest and a sense of responsibility that the legitimacy of our form of government is dependent on people exercising their right to vote, says Alzaghari.
Political means of power
Social studies student Rafia Zaheer is the editor of Salam – the journal of the Muslim Student Society (MSS). She believes that an apolitical voting campaign can be more effective by showing that it actually matters what one votes for – and that politics is not just about the little things, which one can sometimes get the impression of. When it comes to minority youth, Zaheer emphasizes that they are like any other youth – and just as different.
- I also do not think there is any big difference between adults who sit on the couch on election day and young people who do the same. The key to increased voter turnout in the adult immigrant population lies, among other things, in producing election materials in their mother tongue. For young people, language is largely no challenge. The challenge is to convey that who you vote for says something about what you stand for. If you really have a commitment to something or someone, it should be expressed in the most important means of political power you have – namely the ballot paper, Zaheer emphasizes.