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Youth Vote: Surveys and Social Media

I was lucky enough to have access to Innovative Research Group’s (IRG) polling data from their “Federal Election Study Guide: Inter-Generational Vote.” The online survey took place in Canada during April 8th- 13th 2011. The results are from the 831 youth respondents. Here, youth counts as someone aged 18-24. IRG notes that this survey is reliable with a random selected panel of respondents.

The actual results are more than 50 pages long and I will only speak to some of the questions and data. I was most struck with the questions or the wording of some of the questions. If I had more time, I would have liked to contact IRG and had a conversation. Any good survey is going to offer a random sampling from the population, so that the results are then generalizable to the larger population. My comments are mine alone and not my employer. Given that today is elections day, time is of the essence and I will merely speak to two statements that the survey made regarding social media and information.

The survey offers data about social media. Youth were queried: “I can learn most everything I need to know about politics from social media” and “To really follow politics, you need to watch the news and read the newspaper.” Now, both of these statements are problematic. The first statement needed to break down the term social media. Since youth were early adopters of social networking sites (SNS) like MySpace and Facebook, we need to acknowledge the ways in which the SNS are used by them. Additionally, we also know that youth have not been early adopters of Twitter, so that the question needed to be more focused.

The second statement is also an issue. Most youth do not subscribe to a hard copy of a newspaper, but rather are more apt to read their news online. The question should have been more specific about news and the means by which they actually read, listen or watch the news. If anything, these two statements do not really offer youth to answer fully how they consume information. I argue that these questions are more appropriate for their parents.

Now, it’s all too easy for me to tease apart questions after the fact, but that is part of what we do as informed people. And, add to this the fact that I am a political scientist, I should be looking closely at surveys about youth and elections prior to an election. I must give thanks to the reporter who shared the survey information with me: Josh De Haas. His article about the youth vote can be found here http://www2.macleans.ca/tag/youth-vote/

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