In the run up to the General Election, Channel 4 have announced that for the duration of the 7th of May, the day on which the country goes to the polls, E4 will be shut down in an attempt to encourage the younger electorate to vote.
Initially this seems to be a particularly solipsistic suggestion, based on the belief that all of Britain’s young people religiously tune in to the channel, and will be left destitute and lost as to what to do when they find themselves bereft of it.
However, E4 is the most popular digital channel among 18-34 year olds, and could therefore have a considerable impact on the voting intentions of potentially apathetic young people.
The likelihood is that anyone who is not planning to vote, on seeing that the channel is not broadcasting, will simply change to another. Furthermore, with the date for registering to vote already gone, the turn off can only encourage those who have already bothered to register, and will leave those who are unable to vote mildly disgruntled at the lack of The Big Bang Theory gracing their screens. Perhaps the channel should have shut down on the 20th of April, the deadline for registering to vote.
However, in an age of infamously apathetic young people, any initiative that encourages them to head down to their nearest polling station seems positive.
In the 2010 election, only 51.8 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds turned out to vote. Almost half of the UK’s young electorate did not have their say in who would govern the country for the next five years. In comparison, 74.7 per cent of the 65+ age group used their vote.
Political parties pay close attention to turn out figures, and if it is clear that young people are less likely to vote, it makes sense that the parties’ manifestos will cater more readily towards the needs and desires of the older generation. This creates a vicious cycle, in which younger voters are less likely to participate if they don’t see their own demographic being represented in the policies of the major parties.
Additionally, Russell Brand did not help in encouraging younger voters to have their say. In October 2013, Brand expressed his distaste for the current establishment and called on the public not to vote in order to demonstrate these feelings. As young people are increasingly encouraged to stay at home, whether it is through feelings of apathy or a desire for a so called ‘revolution’, it is essential that we find new ways to mobilise young voters.
The shutdown of E4 may be an innovative new way of motivating 18-34 year olds to participate in the election. With just under half of the UK’s youngest voters not using their vote, it is crucial that more of an effort is made to educate and inform those who feel that voting is pointless. It is a brave move for Channel 4, but a smart one.
Russell Brand manages to convey his message so widely by using his YouTube channel to reach the largest number of people, particularly the young voters for whom YouTube is a new media source.Similarly, Channel 4 has recognised the best way to communicate with younger people, and will hopefully help to mobilise them on Election Day.
However, it doesn’t really matter if there’s no gigantic upswing in youth voting due to a lack of Brooklyn Nine Nine. If turning off E4 for a day causes just one young person to vote who previously wouldn’t have, then it will have succeeded.