Could Pokémon Go hold the answer to poor electoral turnout and political disengagement?
Brexit, political turmoil, and the voices of ordinary people, as ever, over-looked. If this is the new political reality no wonder so many people are immersing themselves in an augmented world.
Whether you view it as a worrying sign of our society’s dependency on technology or as an innovative way of encouraging people to get active and interact with others, it cannot be denied that Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm. Within only a few days of the app’s release, it had been downloaded by millions of people across the UK. These are levels of public engagement that political parties can only dream of. So it begs the question, can Pokémon Go (and indeed mobile apps more generally) be used to increase voter turnout?
Traditionally, the 18-24 year old age bracket has had the lowest voter turnout (only 43% at the 2015 General Election according to Ipsos MORI). Yet, ours is the age group who grew up with Pokémon cartoons on our TV screens, games on our Gameboy’s and cards in the playground. With scenes of hordes of grown men and women converging on public places, smart-phone in hand, it would only take a well-placed Vaporeaon in a polling booth to transform voter turnout in an instant! For less active gamers, the promise of sweets when they cast their ballot might tempt them away from their latest level of Candy Crush Saga. Either way, when it comes to engaging with technology, British politics has a lot of catching up to do.
Perhaps the success of Pokémon Go is simply a wave of ‘90s nostalgia in a time of austerity. If so, the political equivalent would be a young, charismatic leader of the Labour Party promising that ‘things could only get better’. However, at the moment there are those in the Labour Party would settle simply for an effective leader – young and charismatic or not – and many are turning to regional progressive parties, such as the Yorkshire Party (formerly Yorkshire First).
Whilst on the subject of local politics, perhaps it is time to revisit another idea from the late ‘90s – regional assemblies. In 2004, the North-East rejected a proposed assembly – primarily because it offered little more than a powerless talking shop amid another layer of bureaucracy. Like the early Pokémon games, the original offer is in serious need of an supdate and no amount of ‘Northern Powerhouse’ patches will be enough to create a meaningful solution which will look bland and outdated even compared to the monochrome Game Boy.
For Yorkshire devolution to work it is necessary to have not just ‘Powerhouse’ cities or talking shop ‘Assemblies’. What is needed is a true parliament, with powers similar to Scotland; a Yorkshire Parliament that removes superfluous layers of bureaucracy, not adds to them; a Yorkshire Parliament that works for and with the people of Yorkshire. And here, perhaps, might lie the answer to the voter turnout and public engagement problem that has dogged British politics for generations.
Note: First published in the 'Yorkshire Post - Increasing voter engagement in the age of Pokemon Go' on Thursday 28th July 2016.