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Solace blog

15th April 2016

In, out or just not bothered? How the EU Referendum represents a missed opportunity for engagement

The forthcoming EU Referendum has been described as one of the biggest political decisions of the century. The last time Britain voted on the issue was in 1975 when the EU was known as the European Common Market. 41 years have passed since that date, and one might imagine that the mechanics of voting – the means by which voters are told when and where to vote – have changed during this time. In reality, very little has altered in four decades, with the poll card still the sole call to action.

To date, the importance of the in/out issue has not been reflected in the effort to drive the vote and investigate ways of improving voter engagement.

Much was made recently of the partisan publicity campaign devised by the Remain advocates. A reported £9m of taxpayers’ money was spent on this publicity drive – which took the form of a pamphlet delivered to 27 million homes in the UK. Leaving aside the thorny issue of tax-payers funding the communication, the document itself only served to emphasise the disconnect between decision-makers and the electorate. The one-message-fits-all pamphlet made no attempt at personalisation in order to speak to defined audiences. But why not? We know that the under 30s are the most unengaged sector of the eligible voting public. Why not tailor messaging to suit this group? Indeed – was any thought given to whether a hard-copy pamphlet was the most suitable vehicle for this digitally savvy age-group?

Of course, debate continues around different ways to vote and the security of postal and digital voting. What we do know is that the poll card and polling booth will not disappear overnight. Making the poll card itself more informative and engaging would seem to make perfect sense. This is a communication delivered to all eligible voters several weeks before the vote. The technology already exists to enable this card to do more – to carry messaging tailored to the recipient, to print links to web portals that explain the in/out option in more detail, to use colour to highlight

It seems the mechanics of voting have not changed since the UK was last asked to vote on Europe. Little wonder that large swathes of the electorate feel unengaged. It’s not even a case of radical re-design. Existing vehicles such as the poll card can be better used to drive understanding and turnout. It is too late for such changes to be implemented for the EU referendum. But can government and the authorities learn lessons in time for future votes? Watch this space.

By Ian Forster, Sales Director, Critiqom