When Democratic Dashboard began in 2015, located at the London School of Economics, those creating the project looked out on a country facing a damaging lack of youth involvement in politics. Pertinently, this was reflected in the 2010 election when the turnout of voters aged 18-24 was 52 per cent, showing an imbalance of power, with older generations numerically bearing more weight at elections.
Inspired by this desperately low youth engagement, coupled with a realisation of its importance, Democratic Dashboard was launched.
Joshua Townsley of Democratic Dashboard argues that younger voters ‘matter because it’s our future that is at stake If younger people want their voices to be heard, then we have to stand up and be counted’.
Coming to the website, the most obvious visual is a large search box for you to insert your postcode. From there the website details, in understandable graphics and statistics, the composition of the local council and who your local MP is, whilst revealing information on votes usually dismissed and forgotten, such as those for your Police Commissioner.
The main focus is clear: the Dashboard aims to increase engagement by localising a political world, that is too often caught up in the thrills of Westminster drama, albeit irrelevant to local council budgets and education levels.
When responding to questions over whether more information is the way to get younger people involved, at a time of easy access and plentiful statistics, Townsley argued that ‘most people do not know who represents them … a situation not helped by the complicated nature of elections in this country’.
Interestingly, he went on to argue that the virtue of the Dashboard lies not in its ability to supply more information, but rather in ‘providing relevant information quickly’.
Joshua Townsley cites the top election day Google searches of ‘Who should I vote for?’ and ‘Where do I vote?’ as evidence for the need of his website.
However, this is only one part of the jigsaw puzzle to increasing the younger electorate, and in turn rebalancing the power during elections to match the UK’s population. The website provides neutral information. For instance, election results, and a valuable polling station finder for election day; but votes are made up of emotion and partisan campaigning too. A younger voter needs to be motivated to go and vote. They need to feel the passion that enables people to seek change and support a party at the ballot box. For this to happen, politicians not only need to harness social media to help deliver their message; but also, alter their message and seek to engage with younger voters and the issues they care about.
The conundrum to achieving this however, is that politicians won’t listen to younger voters that don’t vote; whilst younger people won’t vote unless they are being heard. The 2017 election showed the power in numbers younger voters may bring to the ballot box, and for this to happen a two-pronged strategy should take place. Political parties should realise the potential of sites like Democracy Dashboard in helping to increase youth engagement, as well as their own role in promoting participation. Surprisingly, many politicians remain reluctant when it comes to adopting such a strategy, despite its likelihood of success.
Since 2015 Democracy Dashboard has had over a million users, around 60 per cent of which are under the age of 35. The Dashboard admirably succeeds in locating and placing its jigsaw piece — informing the younger electorate about the foundations of elections. It is now up to the politicians to place their piece, in a jigsaw game with the potential to create a dramatically reformed picture of the UK, representing younger groups who have previously been the jigsaw piece discarded under the carpet. Whoever finds it, will find themselves in Government for years to come.
To find out more about Democracy Dashboard, click here: www.democraticdashboard.com