Want the youth vote? Find it online
Recently, I attended a mayoral debate in Ottawa that got me thinking about ways in which the city of Toronto could galvanize its young voters to hit the polls.
Called “Debate 2.0 – Envisioning Ottawa's Future,” it was a 90-minute, web-enabled event that allowed viewers – particularly youth – to interact with candidates either in-person at the National Arts Centre or through online platforms.
Rosemary Thompson, the NAC's director of communications, described the debate as the first of its kind in Ottawa: “I think we're going to make a little bit of history tonight,” she said, adding that the event was unique for its interactivity.
Although there have been mayoral debates in Toronto with online interactivity (e.g. CP24's “Your Vote – Toronto's Race for Mayor” series), there haven't been any directed specifically towards youth (other than this debate at the University of Toronto, which did not incorporate online social media).
Toronto should take a page from Ottawa's playbook, and hold an interactive debate for youth every time the city has a municipal election. In fact, it should be a mandatory event during election time.
Let's face it: young people are spending increasing amounts of time in front of their computer screens, tweeting, Facebooking and YouTubing. So, getting our attention is not only about engaging us, but knowing how to engage us.
For instance, U.S. President Barack Obama recently participated in this debate leading up to the country's midterm elections, which encouraged young Americans to send in their greatest hopes and fears to the president over Twitter. Obama, it seems, knows the power of the internet, as his 2008 presidential campaign can attest. It not only got him inside the White House, but also resulted in a high youth voter turnout.
To engage youth, Toronto should harness this power too.