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Social Media Website Connects Students with Political Officials

Ulection, a social networking website created last spring,
is working to connect millennials with their political candidates.
Photo provided by Michael Henne.

Photo credit: Michael Henne

Ulection, a social networking website created last spring,
is working to connect millennials with their political candidates.
Photo provided by Michael Henne.
Written by: Communicator StaffSeptember 01, 2016

By: Megan Foy

America’s voter turnout for national, state and local elections has been consistently low, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center study. In the 2012 presidential election, only 53.6 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. The national voter turnout for the 2016 presidential primaries was 28.5 percent, which came close to breaking the 2008 record of 30.4 percent. According to the Secretary of State website, the Indiana primaries had a voter turnout of 38 percent.

Millennials have consistently had a lower voter turnout than any other age demographic. San Francisco State University graduate student Michael Henne hopes to attract more young voters to the polls with the social media website Ulection. Soft launched on May 11, the site promotes civic engagement in communities.

An important feature is the ability to share one’s profile with members of one’s community rather than a friends list. This allows individuals to interact with a broader audience when discussing important local, state and national issues; each post is organized by which issue it covers. The site is similar to Twitter in design and the ability to follow other members, but it does not have a character limit for posts.

Elected officials and candidates who are running for an election can also create profiles on the site. Politicians can share their views on various issues and public policies. Their constituents can also talk to them directly to share their concerns and opinions. There are currently no political officials or candidates from Indiana who are using Ulection as a way to connect with the public.

Current presidential election candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have demo accounts on the website, but as of yet they have not been verified. Henne asks that the citizens contact their representatives and candidates about their interest in seeing politicians use the site.

“Candidates are more likely to join if they are invited by people in their own community. If I’m inviting someone from Indiana to join, they might question why I am inviting them. They won’t be representing me, and I can’t vote for them,” Henne said.

Henne was given the idea of starting Ulection in September 2015 when candidates were campaigning for the primaries.

“(Bernie Sanders’) message about getting money out of politics was my motivation behind Ulection. Candidates can spread a message without spending money. They can reach voters organically by creating a post or sharing an interview,” Henne explained.

Starting in June, Henne began reaching out to communications and political science professors from the 3,000 campuses in his database with the goal of spreading Ulection to students across the nation. By informing students about the website, Henne hopes that millennials will take an interest in their local, state and federal politics.

“Millennials have grown up in an era of party politics that has been very negative. The government hasn’t necessarily been seen to be doing much good. The polarization is not something that is attractive to young people. They don’t want to get involved in party politics because it has been so polarized and not results oriented,” said professor Michael Wolf of IPFW’s Department of Political Science.

Henne stressed the importance of millennial interest in politics and Ulection because “they can sway the election if they turn out to vote. Younger voters are using technology and not paying attention to the commercials or to the mail that got sent to their houses.”

Henne will consider the site a success if more students use Ulection to interact with their political officials and discuss important issues. However, the primary measure of success for this site would be to see voters elect politicians that genuinely represent the people because of increased voter turnout because of the knowledge they have gained from the site.

Whether or not Ulection can actually improve millennial voter turnout can be debateable.

“It seems like the more you know (about politics), the more you’ll vote. Some of the research shows that when people engage and disagree and find out what others are thinking, it leads them to be ambivalent. So it can lead to some people being actually less likely to vote,” Wolf said.

In response to this potential outcome, Henne said, “I think people are more likely to vote when they know a candidate’s views because they at least will feel informed. Ulection also gives an equal platform to all parties so that we can learn about all candidates.”

The site is free of charge to join, but the organizers do accept donations. As of now, Ulection does not have a mobile app but the organizers are working on creating one.