Youth voters comprise a significant voting bloc for political parties to target and engage. That’s particularly true in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and Pacific Island nations, where a large proportion of the population is under 35. In South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC) hoped to use technology to better connect with youth voters and encourage political engagement. The party felt that developing a mobile phone application could be an affordable and effective way for South African mobile phone users, especially youth voters, to learn about the party’s structure and policies, and gain information about upcoming elections.
When the party first developed the “MyANC” app, officials tested it in the Western Cape province of South Africa and reached more than 400,000 users, the majority of whom were between the ages of 17 and 25. MyANC aggregates content from the ANC’s various digital platforms into a mobile app where users can easily read party news, find voting information and view multimedia content. Providing this information through the MyANC app helped voters learn more about the ANC’s policy proposals and upcoming events, participate in opinion polls and sign up to volunteer. After a successful pilot test in which MyANC engaged large numbers of youth, access to the app was expanded, allowing national reach.
With the expanded release, MyANC became the centerpiece of the party’s digital identity, not just on the Mxit social platform, but also across popular social media platforms. One of MyANC’s unique characteristics reflects the party’s understanding of the importance of two-way communication between a party and its supporters. Not only does the MyANC app provide relevant information to voters, but it also acts as a feedback loop for the party by allowing citizens to respond to items, provide comments to the party and engage with party leadership. With more than 700,000 downloads, the ANC won an award from Mxit as the most popular political application on the network.
The MyANC app’s success stemmed largely from the party’s understanding of two specific political variables: the country’s large youth population and a high penetration of mobile phone usage. Recognizing the youth bulge’s significance within the South African electorate helped the ANC successfully limit forces that are often pervasive in traditional political parties, such as a resistance to change or a tendency to downplay youth leaders as inexperienced. Similarly, the party recognized different generational styles and exploited them. For example, political parties that try to recruit volunteers through phone banks may find that they recruit large numbers of elderly citizens, but have little success with younger volunteers; however, if the party tries to recruit through SMS messaging as well, they may experience greater success reaching young people. Understanding context, and how groups of voters or volunteers interact with ICTs, can help parties improve their outreach results.