Capturing younger voters with social media a tricky proposition

Young people do want to play a role in the outcome of the May 2 federal election, says the president of the Student’s Association of Red Deer College.

Steven Kwasny

Steven Kwasny

Young people do want to play a role in the outcome of the May 2 federal election, says the president of the Student’s Association of Red Deer College.

But he warned that candidates should steer clear of Twitter in Red Deer.

“(Twitter) is looked at as kind of a fad and kind of lame,” said Steven Kwasny on Monday as federal parties look to social media to capture younger votes.

“The Twitter community is quite small, especially among high school and college students. Facebook is a little bit bigger (in Red Deer).”

“There’s no one size fits all solution for how you engage people through social media. It’s tricky.”

Kwasny said young people want change. Someone who can stand up against the status quo. Their top concerns are education and the environment and they want some “out-of-the-box thinking” on these issues.

Young people are waiting to be engaged in the political process and social media, if done effectively, can do that, he said, citing Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s successful campaign last fall.

“You hear all the time that young people aren’t political. I don’t believe that. I just think nobody is targeting them. Young people are harder to engage just because there’s a new set of 18 to 20 year olds every election.”

Brenda Corney, chairperson of Friends of Medicare, Red Deer Chapter, said voters need to know what will happen when the federal government’s health-care accord expires in 2014. The accord deals with health-care funding transfers to provinces.

“This is 2011. The next government, whoever they are, is going to make that decision,” Corney said.

“I think it’s extremely important that each party make clear their position on what the funding arrangements would be if they were elected, in concise, accountable terms.”

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives say the Conservative-dominated Senate should decide funding instead of debating it in Parliament.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which has about 800 members in the Red Deer region, is waiting to see if party platforms support small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Richard Truscott, CFIB Alberta director of provincial affairs, said the Conservative’s budget tabled last week had encouraging signs.

The budget had helpful measures, including an EI tax credit targeted at small employers, which was recommended by the federation that has about 800 members in the Red Deer region.

“The government seems to be making good progress on reducing red tape, including implementing a number of our recommendations regarding the Canada Revenue Agency,” Truscott said.

Viggo Nielsen, president of Central Alberta Council on Aging, said he wasn’t impressed by Harper’s “almost budget” that would only have given $600 more a year to the poorest single seniors and $840 to couples.

“It didn’t address education and health care at all,” Nielsen said.

“We still don’t know what they’re going to pay for the aircraft fighters. We don’t know what it’s going to cost for new prisons or if we even need them.”

Friends of Medicare and Central Alberta Council on Aging want to organize a candidates forum so voters can ask questions and get the information they want instead relying on radio and television sound bites, he said.

“It’s just a bunch of mudslinging and we’re pretty concerned about that. You don’t get to know the issues,” Nielsen said.

Kwasny agreed that nothing beats face to face communication and worried that parties won’t provide substance using social media.

“If (social media) is moderated and if people feel like it’s just rhetoric, if they are just throwing out words, then you’re not going to engage them the same way.”