Young French voters and how they stay informed

PARIS -- Part II of a series exploring French voices in an election year. In Part II: Twitter, online news, and how to stay informed in a digital age.
Written by Bryan Pirolli, Correspondent (Paris)

PARIS – The 2012 French presidential election will be the first where candidates have actively used Twitter. With over 200 French politicians now using the micro-blogging tool, Twitter could become the most effective way to reach young French voters.  But are they listening?

This January, socialist party candidate Francois Hollande became the most followed French politician on Twitter this January, with over 141,000 followers.  Meanwhile the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy has over 20,500 followers while the extremely conservative Marine Le Pen has culled over 33,000 followers.  With Twitter slowly becoming more widespread in France, and candidates experimenting with social media, how are young voters responding to these new uses of communication?  SmartPlanet asked its panel of French students to discuss where they seek information for the upcoming election.

Some students like Coralie Hseih, 23, and Marine Bucher, 24, said they follow the election news via Twitter.  Most students responded that they get their news from digital sources, be it social media or websites.

Fewer students follow candidates directly on Twitter.  Nina Miletti, 25, said she follows the socialist candidate’s tweets in addition to other forms of media since she is keenly interested in how Hollande uses social media. “I wanted to know what he would be able to tweet to keep me up to date on his campaign,” she said.

Melanie Lallet, 23, said she uses online news portals like Yahoo to diversify where she finds her news.  ”I try to read articles in traditional newspapers like Liberation, Le Figaro, L’Express, or Le Point, but also other sources of communication like online citizen journalism sites like Slate,” she said.

Most students, however, responded that they still seek their information in part from traditional sources like television and newspapers – even if they are online versions.  Dailies like Le Monde and Le Figaro remain trustworthy sources alongside television news programs..

In the end, the students are not at all convinced that all of these communication possibilities lead to a more informed youth.  Miletti questioned whether or not more information means more political awareness.  “There are certainly more ways to directly be informed, by following a candidate’s Twitter, for example, but that doesn’t necessarily deal with the reality of the campaign or their politics,” she said.

Hseih also said that the various outlets aren’t stimulating young voters.  “I think that we have great tools to be informed but we aren’t sufficiently active and invested,” she said.

Bucher agreed that, unlike the Obama campaign that directly involved younger generations in the US, the French campaigns don’t inspire much among newer voters.  “The feeling that I have today is that French politics are much more daunting than they are encouraging positive changes,” she said.

Next, we’ll explore how young voters adhere to certain politicians, and how they identify themselves in a multi-party system.

Photo: L'Express

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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