Serious games often have the difficult job of taking something that is un-fun and trying to at least make it bearable. This can work wonders within so many fields such as education, art, mental illness, training, etc. and more companies and organizations are turning towards games to help accomplish this task. But politics? That’s a bit of a different story. This topic is so emotionally charged, overly complicated, irreparably dull, and feels like a waste of time for so many people, that to solve draw enough interest in the general population to become involved and vote on an important issue can seem like an impossible task. As evidence, America has had a steadily declining rate of voter turnout since the 60’s (source), and the reasons why are just as diverse and as complicated as any aspect of politics itself.
As a young American who has exercised his voting rights for the first time since being eligible for the past 6 years, I can assure you that getting people excited enough to want to participate in politics is an imposing job. Even though I participated in this most recent election, I still didn’t enjoy it. The reality is that it may take a lot of fundamental changes to American society if this country as a whole wants to make voting a bigger part of every citizen’s life, and if this is to be accomplished, it won’t be just one solution. But that doesn’t mean games can’t help.
So the challenge I’m looking to discuss solutions for is how to increase interest in state politics and increase the turnout rate for non-presidential ballots. It should target voters in Massachusetts and cost no more than a grant $75k for one year with the possibility of it being renewable for the up to two years. My first step, as well as the first step anyone looking to solve a problem, was to do research. That’s what this first blog on this topic is about: research.
There are so many areas to research, that I couldn’t say where the best spot would be to begin. Personally, I started with voter turnout rate. I discovered that during a presidential election year there is a massive increase in voter turnout rates compared to non-presidential years (2012 – source, 2014 – source, 2016 – source). This holds true across all states too (source). Next, I looked into why people don’t vote in the interim years and the results from sources like the Pew Research Center (source), BBC News (source), The Daily Dot (source), and The Economist (source) show that, like most political issues, it’s complicated. Still, the main takeaways I got from this are:
- Surges of information for a particular party increase that parties turnout
- Lack of information will stop people from participating
- People are lacking time to vote
- People can lack the money to vote
- Some people feel they have a smaller stake in society
There is still plenty more research that I need to accomplish, but thanks to a book from Josh Lerner titled Making Democracy Fun and an article by Heather Hansman (source), I’m starting to think so of these issues can best be addressed, not through a game, but through gamification.