EU Elections 2014: Apathy, Voter Turnout and Other Challenges


  • By Stephen M. Zorio

    What if you held an election and (almost) nobody cared?

    Over the course of three days in late May, voters in EU member states will have the opportunity to participate in the eighth European Parliamentary election. Based on the turnout the last time an election was held, most of the electorate will stay at home. Voter consensus toward EU elections can be summed up in one word: apathy.

    As the number of EU member states has expanded (from nine in 1979 to 28 presently), voter turnout has gone down. Alongside the very real challenge of covering an election spanning 28 countries with "countless different languages, media sources, polling agencies and other differences between states" is the fact that many voters see the EU as a "distant and abstract organisation" whose actions have little to no impact on their lives.

    In addition, some of the more sensational press coverage has made it difficult to have substantive conversations.

    We need less national stereotypes, less Brussels bashing and more journalism that focuses on real policy. -- Andreas Müllerleile, kosmopolito.org

    With that in mind, we interviewed writers and editors from OpenEuropeOneEuropekosmopolito.org and EUROPP and asked how they contend with apathy, what it means to cover such a disparate region, what role technology and social play and how coverage of EU elections might improve. We compiled the most compelling answers in the Scribble slideshow below.


    Q: What are the challenges specific to covering elections in the EU?

    (Image source: europarl.europa.eu)

    The European Elections will not be ‘European’ in any meaningful sense. They will resemble a collection of 28 national opinion polls. In the UK the election will be seen in the context of nation politics, the national economy and the Coalition’s policies. Europe ... will focus on the Conservative’s EU referendum pledge and UKIP’s [UK Independence Party] immigration rhetoric.In the regions, lack of awareness of local candidates, lack of specific issues and general apathy will hamper coverage. -- Christopher Howarth, senior political analyst, Open Europe



    by scientificallyblonde via Instagram
    The main challenges for us are the wide public apathy towards the EU and politics more widely, wide scepticism among Europeans regarding EU politics, getting MEPs [Member of the European Parliament] directly involved in the debate, writing articles that are of interest for a wide audience, yet also tackle region-specific challenges. A key challenge is to engage the public beyond the group of Europhiles who are likely to be interested and keep in touch with EU affairs -- Andreea Anastasiu -- OneEurope
    by christinadafnis via Instagram
    One of the main challenges ... is that there are countless different languages, media sources, polling agencies and other differences between states that have to be negotiated. The way around that, for us, is to commission experts from across Europe to write about individual national campaigns. While that might be relatively easy to arrange for large countries like France and Germany, however, it can be more of a challenge for the smaller states such as Malta and Luxembourg. -- Stuart Brown, European Politics and Policy Blog
    by eddyverbeek via Instagram

    Another 'problem' is the European Parliament itself -- it is quite different from national parliaments as it does not have ruling party/opposition divide and each dossier needs to find a majority, which can often take a few moths or even years. The EP is just one body in a complex system of governance (Commission, Council with all member states etc) and it is often difficult to report the role of the European Parliament (or even one MEP) in this process. -- Andreas Müllerleile, kosmopolito.org

    by eurocentrique via Instagram
    Q: Has technology helped to mitigate the challenges you face? 
    by evndebate via Instagram

    Technology definitely helps, but there is still a huge untapped potential -- both for covering the campaigns and for reporting the normal policy making process on the EU level. Traditional media reporting is still more influential than digital reporting. But reading news online -- and using websites in other languages -- made people (also journalists) more aware of what is happening in different parts of Europe. However, this has not translated into a more profound interest in what the European Parliament is doing. -- Andreas Müllerleile, kosmopolito.org

    by evndebate via Instagram

    It has to some extent; social media, viral and creative videos, infographics have all helped increase transparency, made it easier for citizens to connect with EU politicians, have offered a variety of platforms for citizens to voice both their support and concern/disaffection as regards EU elections. Social platforms have encouraged a more meaningful debate, however it remains to be seen whether this form of what some have called ‘clicktivism’ will lead to higher turnout in the upcoming European Parliament (EP) elections. -- Andreea Anastasiu -- OneEurope

    by swedenineu via Instagram
    I think the improvements in Google Translate make a big difference. It simply wouldn’t be possible to keep up to date with developments in every European country without being able to consult primary sources, and having the ability to translate national media sites across Europe is absolutely vital in that respect. While there are sites that do a very good job of covering major political developments, we still lack a genuinely ‘European’ media and Google Translate allows us to fill in that gap. -- Stuart Brown, European Politics and Policy Blog
    by tampere2015is via Instagram
    Not to any meaningful extent. A small minority of voters will use the internet to discover who the candidates are but it will remain a traditional election based on literature and national broadcasting and print media. -- Christopher Howarth, senior political analyst, Open Europe
    by eurocentrique via Instagram
    Q: How large a role do social networks play in your coverage?
    by eurocentrique via Instagram

    They play a huge role for me personally. I get most of my information via social networks. But the question is whether this has a bigger impact beyond the "bubble" of political hacks, journalists, consultants and think tankers. I doubt it has a huge impact on the wider political debates. Two reasons: EU focused debates online often seem either too geeky or too superficial -- people simply don't want to get engaged.  Second, I think social media is only important for those who are politically engaged already. I don’t think social media can reach and motivate people that haven't voted in previous elections or are simply not interested in politics. -- Andreas Müllerleile, kosmopolito.org 

    by smith5001 via Instagram
    It has to some extent; social media, viral and creative videos, infographics have all helped increase transparency, made it easier for citizens to connect with EU politicians, have offered a variety of platforms for citizens to voice both their support and concern/disaffection as regards EU elections. Social platforms have encouraged a more meaningful debate, however it remains to be seen whether this form of what some have called ‘clicktivism’ will lead to higher turnout in the upcoming European Parliament (EP) elections. -- Andreea Anastasiu -- OneEurope
    by r_hea via Instagram
    Social media is absolutely central to everything we do as an academic blog. Twitter is our main route for promoting new articles, and we rely very much on internet word of mouth, via retweets and shares on platforms like Facebook, to generate our traffic. Without social media I’m not sure it would be possible to run a site on our model, and it’s no surprise that the emergence of academic blogs has coincided with the rise of social media. --  Stuart Brown, European Politics and Policy Blog
    by location_baked via Instagram
    Q: What would you like to see more (or less) of when it comes to elections coverage?
    by evndebate via Instagram
    The main principle behind EUROPP is to provide coverage which is evidence based, rather than agenda driven. There’s nothing wrong with election coverage that takes a particular editorial ‘line’, but there’s certainly more space for academic coverage that lays out the facts behind an election. I think universities are in a great position to take a lead on that and we’d love to see other universities across Europe embrace academic blogging. -- -- Stuart Brown, European Politics and Policy Blog
    by olsney via Instagram
    European Parliament elections are notorious for the low turnout they attract, and their coverage in the media is far more limited than that of national elections. What we would like to see is a far higher profile for these elections, better engagement of the public and candidates, and a more meaningful public debate about the issues that matter to EU citizens. The public interest in EU elections is very low, and political parties themselves seem unwilling to send any of their high profile politicians to Strasbourg/Brussels. -- Andreea Anastasiu -- OneEurope
    by fridasimmel via Instagram
    More factual reporting of EU policies, their benefits, costs etc. Analysis of what the EU does, whether it should be acting on particular areas and if its policies could be reformed. Less reporting of national politics. -- Christopher Howarth, senior political analyst, Open Europe
    by latalein via Instagram
    We need more reporting on actual policy. Election coverage should focus on policy issues and how different parties and candidate see this issue. Too often we discuss European issues where the EU has no competence to do anything. This creates an expectation that can never be met.  The same can be said about the European Parliament. Some issues are very important - for example youth unemployment, troika politics, Greek bailouts, eurocrisis -  but the European Parliament can't do anything about it, it is the responsibility of the member states. To get this right is also the job of journalism.  We need less national stereotypes, less Brussels bashing and more journalism that focuses on real policy. -- Andreas Müllerleile, kosmopolito.org
    by s_vix via Instagram
     
     

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