Daggy KRudd has the skillz to grab the youth vote
July 26, 2013
The PM has young people atwitter with his ability to connect on social media.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd visiting Aquinas College in Ringwood. Photo: Pat Scala
A few weeks ago, before Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister, he started following me on Twitter. I felt a brief thrill. Maybe he was trying to poach my allegiance from Julia Gillard, but I was nonetheless flattered by someone famous following me. I may only have a measly 11 followers, but the big KRudd was one of them.
Once Rudd was reinstated as Prime Minister, I suspected his decision to follow me was indicative of his pursuit of the youth vote ahead of the election. (I’m 20 years old, and this is evident in my Twitter profile picture). But it’s not quite that simple.
Yes, Rudd is trying to grab the youth vote, but it’s the way he’s going about it that really sets him apart.
Rudd’s Twitter account now has almost 1.3 million followers. Julia Gillard’s 413,000 followers and Tony Abbott’s 142,000 are barely comparable. He has jumped on the Obama bandwagon: capture and hold the attention of youth through social media. Rudd, however, has tailored this tactic specifically for himself.
He brands himself as a daggy uncle figure, trying to be cool by dabbling in social media. His self-deprecation is sort of endearing. Who doesn’t like a joke at someone else’s expense? Particularly when that someone’s become a bit of a celeb.
He recently delved into photo/video app Instagram, posting a snap of himself sporting a shaving cut. This photo, much discussed on social media, represents something more significant than a simple daily shaving update. Rather, it’s one of Rudd’s frequent attempts to position himself as human, like the rest of us, prone to mistakes. Just as Australian men nick themselves shaving, so does their PM. He’s just a regular guy.
But how is this directed particularly towards young people? The majority of Instagram users are aged 18-29. Ambitious young networkers like to be reminded that the powerful are just ordinary people with whom they have some way to connect. They like a prime minister who, in one tweet, can effectively communicate a policy and in the next, playfully ask ”which way to look” in a ”selfie”.
We’re told young people are notoriously hard to engage. A select minority do avidly follow federal politics, but most don’t care much about what politicians have to say. I don’t want to tune in to the radio, or turn on question time to hear a prime minister spout dull political rhetoric. The dry, wooden jargon of high-level pollies instantly repels young voters.
Unless, of course, the politics are done differently.
Rudd appeals to young people because he promotes his ideas on their level, using their medium: he regularly posted photos while promoting the new disability plan and launching the first DisabilityCare site. Policy details communicated through Instagram – who’d have imagined?
Rudd is also the only Australian politician realistically trying to grasp the elusive and short-spanned attention of young Aussies. I remember his television interview on Rove in 2009. I appreciated his decision to appear on Rove. It seemed as though he was breaking rank from political uptightness and rigidity to chat directly to me and my peers. We didn’t feel ignored.
Even before we start talking about policy, Rudd’s combined social media skills, popular culture presence and oratory sophistication already give him a leg up. And because Rudd twice replaced prime ministers who were largely perceived as wooden communicators, he successfully lightened the political atmosphere.
But does Rudd have policies that resonate with young people and contribute to his youth appeal? Yes, his backflip on gay marriage was a good idea. He tweeted us his new stance and even if we don’t actually know whether he’ll do anything about it, we are aware of his support on a meaningful issue.
I recently witnessed a protest in which a KRudd imitator stood fist-pumping behind a banner advocating gay marriage. Ridiculously, this was a situation in which I could imagine the PM perhaps participating. This pro-marriage equality stance, and his clear personal enthusiasm, is helpful in harnessing youth votes.
He’s also a futurist who has made it abundantly clear, through speech if not action, that climate change and a sustainable future are important to him. Apparently, he too cares about our future.
Young people learn about climate change at school. It’s a looming peril we’ve grown up with,its inevitability is basically hard-wired into our systems. Rudd takes this seriously and realisesit’s an issue that matters. He may not have perfect policy solutions and he may even havebackflipped on climate change promises, but at least he acknowledges it as ”the greatest moral challenge of our time”.
Call me idealistic, but my friends and I haven’t given up hope that there’s a solution. We want to continue to live in a clean world and see something done soon to make certain this happens. Rudd is progressive, he’s known to move fast and this reassures us, particularly in a political environment notorious for being slow-paced.
Gone are the days of the glorious leader on a pedestal. Youth today want a leader who can keep up with them, not vice versa. An inclusive leader who may even retweet, or favourite, their suggestions.
Yet, most of all, they want someone, whether it’s Rudd or someone else, who’ll climb down off the podium and give them a quick high-five.
Isaac Johanson is studying international studies at RMIT.