Voting app feeds the politics of “me”

JFK quoteA new app aimed at getting young people to vote, looks likely to reinforce the idea that politics is all about what the government will do for me. Canterbury University student Hannah Duder designed the app which matches parties with users and encourages them to vote. It is potentially a great idea to get disengaged young people involved in the political process. Approx. 40% of 18 to 24 year old didn’t vote at the last election.

However the way the app has been configured raises questions about the political culture we want to encourage among young people. The program begins by asking personal information questions to create a user profile (e.g. the user’s age, occupation, home ownership etc). It then uses that profile to generate questions about policies that might affect the user. Duder says this is a vital part of the app because,

”I don’t want a student for example to be asked questions about policies on tax breaks for farmers.” (Stuff 25.06.14)

This sounds sensible enough, but it assumes that voters are only interested in policies which impact them. In doing so it feeds the politics of the lowest common denominator – the politics of me. This might be how our cynical media commentators like to explain all political action but surely from our young people we can look for more.

Indeed we all need to stop seeing democracy as a means for individuals or groups to express or represent their own interests. Rather we should see our democratic system as as a way in which we can contribute to the common good – to what is best for our nation.

As a President Kennedy said to young Americans – Ask not what your country can do for you; but rather what can you do for your country. His words inspired a whole generation to be engaged in serving both their country and the world beyond. No app was required.

Ewen McQueen
June 2014

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