Could Miliband's cosy convo with Brand give him the keys to Number 10?

Young voters are becoming more politically engaged - Miliband’s move may be his smartest yet, says Helen Rose

Helen Rose is head of media agency the7stars’ Lightbox

David Cameron may have labelled Ed Miliband a ‘joke’ for his late night visit to media-hoover Russell Brand’s house, but the meeting could be Ed’s smartest move to date.

According to research conducted by Lightbox, the7stars’ newly-launched research and insight division, millennials could be the most valuable floating voters in this late stage of the election – and they are quite partial to Mr Brand.

In a study of more than 1,000 18-24-year-olds, Lightbox asked who the young voters would like to see as the leader of the country. David Cameron came out on top with the lion’s share of the vote but Russell Brand was voted second – ahead of Miliband in fourth. So perhaps Ed was wise to affiliate himself with Brand at this late stage in the campaign, especially as the research suggests there is everything to play for with 20% of 18-24 year-olds still undecided as to who they will vote for.

Perhaps contrary to popular belief, millennials are actually very politically engaged, with 78% planning to vote – a big step-up from the 65.1% of Britons who voted in 2010 – and only 5% saying they do not care about voting. Of those polled, Labour is the most popular choice with 29%, with the Conservatives coming second with only 14% of the vote, suggesting that the perception of party leaders does not correlate with the popularity of their parties.

Social media influence

The failure of UK party leaders to identify with their youth audience should be a cause for concern in the final days before the election. Miliband may have received a boost from the ongoing #Milifandom campaign, which has seen social media whipped into a frenzy by adoring teenage girls (and social media users around the world) sharing their admiration for the Labour Party leader.

Online endorsement is one of the most powerful ways to connect with young people with our research revealing that among 18-24 year-olds, Facebook is more likely to influence voters than newspapers.

Television remains the most influential media when it comes to deciding who gets the magic ‘X’. Social media has made serious inroads since the last election, proved as Facebook is named the second most influential media (14%), ahead of newspapers (13%), and Twitter is voted as more influential than radio and magazines. Meanwhile, 55% of all respondents would happily vote online if given the option, with Facebook (34%), Twitter (8%) and Whatsapp (7%) being the top three choices.

On this basis it seems as though the Tories had their fingers on the pulse as they pumped £100,000 a month into Facebook advertising. Despite leaving the party open to ridicule for trying to buy friends for Cameron, the advertising was likely to reach an influential audience. The Conservatives set out in the right direction, especially given that Cameron has come out of the study as the preferred leader among Britain’s young voters. However, considering Labour remains the most popular party among 18-24-year-olds, the overall message from the Conservatives seems to have fallen short of the mark.

Key issues

The study also asked respondents to choose from a list of policies that could sway them to vote for a certain political party. Higher minimum wage (70%) and scrapping tuition fees (50%) were the two most popular hypothetical policies, with the likes of reducing immigration (36%) and more action to tackle terrorism (35%) following, though the issue of terrorism came only 1% higher than having free Wi-Fi available everywhere.

The research suggests that policies aimed at improving the lives of young people, like Miliband’s recent pledge to abolish stamp duty for first-time buyers, saving them £5,000 on average, will play a big part in deciding the future leader of Britain.

As we are just days away from the election, positive media coverage is more vital than ever but while the red tops are ridiculing Mili-Brand, the team-up could perhaps be Ed’s trump card among young voters.

Helen Rose is head of media agency the7stars’ Lightbox

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