Like many others, I spend a large part of my day on different news websites and social media platforms. Although I think I’m good at looking for motives behind a writer’s or publisher’s words, it’s still difficult for me to understand the purpose of every text. Media literacy, especially the ability to be critical and interpret, is needed in our mediatised society where social media plays an important role as a platform for public debate.
Right before elections, the importance of media literacy is emphasised. Those who understand what they read and see in its context and recognise the correctness and inaccuracy of the content and the intentions of the writer will be able to make their voting decisions with greater certainty. They won’t let the motives of others influence their own.
Gallup polls measuring support for the political parties have a significant impact on both public debate and the way of thinking of an individual voter. When reading the Gallup polls, we should remember that they are primarily forecasts and that actual votes are only cast in the elections. So, these polls measure support for the parties with a very small sample in a fleeting moment.
The think tank Alkio’s survey of support for the parties among young people, published in October last year, is an excellent example of selective communication of results. 19% of the young people who took part in the survey would have voted for the Finns Party if the parliamentary elections had been held at the time of the survey. However, the results show that around one quarter of those who took part in the survey were either unable to tell which party they would have voted on or would have abstained from voting altogether. For the Finns Party, the results clearly showed that their party is the most popular among young people.
A small comment by the writer: Selective communication of results, as in the example above, is seen across the political spectrum. So, if you interpreted what I wrote above as an attack on an individual party, I would suggest that you put Twitter down and think about the big picture.
Publishing poll results right before elections is a very responsible task because the polls both reflect and create public opinion. That’s why discussing the polls in the media and communicating their results requires sensitivity and an understanding of the reality described in the polls. In addition, when describing the entire population with a sample of 1,000 people, both the pollster and the receiving audience need to understand the stages of the research process.
We need to have enough know-how of society and its activities in order to understand society and operate in it. It’s also worrying that, according to a study carried out by the Finnish National Agency for Education in 2010, more than 80% of comprehensive school teachers feel that they are not competent democracy educators. Education mainly helps young people understand structures, but not how they can take part in and influence society in their everyday lives or what role they play as voters and influencers. Young people’s alienation from politics and decision-making is especially evident in election years. In the 2017 municipal elections, only about one in three eligible voters under 26 years of age voted.
That’s why the position of both democracy education and media literacy should be strengthened at all levels of education in the Finnish education system. Although the importance of democracy education is emphasised in the comprehensive school, the universities must also, under the Universities Act, “educate students to serve their country and humanity at large”. However, education as a solution presents a practical problem when it comes to the upcoming municipal elections: the results achieved by education can be seen in the long term, whereas the municipal elections are only a few months away.
As short-term advice, I suggest that you look at the news and debate on the elections with a sufficiently critical eye. The polls on support for the parties don’t determine which candidate you should vote for. Ask. Discuss. Put your thoughts into words. If anything is unclear, find out about it. Use voting advice applications and encourage those around you to do the same. Start discussing the municipal elections and, above all, help someone who knows less about the elections.