During the first conference organised by the Centre of the Analysis of the Radical Right in London last May, Cas Mudde in his wonderful plenary drew our attention to the relationship between the Radical Right and younger generations.
VOX, the far-right Spanish political party, seems to have very close bonds with some sectors of Spanish youth, and well aware of it, has a lot of strategies to reinforce them.
It may seem unusual that a political force which has been accused of being ‘stuck in the past’ keeps such a strong link with younger generations. Theoretically, left parties should be more attractive to the young since anti-establishment rebellion and idealism are features inherently associated with the earlier stages of life. That was the case of the socio-political movement of “Los indignados or the 15-M movement” that gave birth to the far left party Podemos, made up mostly by thousands of supporters under 35.
Despite still being chronologically in its infancy – VOX was “born” in December 2013 – the far-right Spanish party stands head and shoulders among other political forces in the country by being the undeniable master in dealing with marketing strategies that reinforce links with their youngest voters.
Those strategies are both online and offline. If we follow the social media theorist Nathan Jurgenson and his strong critique of digital dualism, online and offline worlds are not different dimensions and cannot be distinguished one from the other since both are intertwined. Extrapolating this tenet to the world of politics, the online behaviour of a party has offline consequences (i.e. in election results) – hence the extreme importance of its Internet persona.
Online, VOX have skilfully used all the potential social media platforms and applications available to connect with their cubs. Their frenzied activity on Twitter, for instance, via the individual accounts of their leaders or through the party’s accounts (@vox_es, @vox_noticias, @voxjovenes, among many others – including separate accounts for their activities in the parliament and in the congress) is endless. I would like to specially highlight their dynamic activity on Instagram since it is the social platform in Spain that has manifestly increased its popularity in recent years, in 2018 being declared the preferred social media platform among Spanish teenagers, with 60% of the users from 14-17 years old.
VOX is the absolute king in the Spanish political Instagram kingdom. In February 2019, it had more than 120,000 followers and in July of the same year (350,000). That represents way more followers than the two major left parties, the socialist party (73,8000) and Podemos (175,000) taken together. VOX overwhelmingly posts videos. There is hardly any sign of photos but rather they prefer moving images: videos of their political leaders taking part in public meetings, criticizing their political opponents, celebrating the different historic-traditional dates or festivals or encouraging students to study for their university entrance exams (“for the future of Spain”) just to mention a few of their uses. In other words, VOX knows how important the youth is for their political goals so they cherish and pamper their junior supporters. VOX knows how important the youth is for their political goals so they cherish and pamper their junior supporters.
Beers for Spain
Probably, the most outstanding youth movement associated to VOX is “Cañas por España” (Beers for Spain) that started off as regular informal meetings of young people who wanted to have a beer with the politicians and journalists with whom they share the same approach to life once a month.
The name of the movement itself is quite resonant with meaning. They are using two words containing the letter “ñ”, the most distinctively Spanish orthographical symbol, frequently selected when speakers want to show their patriotism. Add to this the choice of the word “caña” (slang for beer) with its informal, approachable ambience – all at the same time without losing sight of the spirit of the whole activity (“por España”, for Spain). Members of the movement don’t want to be recognised as the “cubs of VOX” in line with the approach of the Popular Party with its “new generations”. Instead what started with shared political concerns, as an informal meeting of friends with politicians “to have some beers and approach the politicians the youngsters admire” has begun to grow organically to the point where they now have delegates in 27 provinces, more than 18.000 followers on Twitter and more than 22,000 on Instagram. To be part of this volunteer movement, you don’t have to pay any fees just “prioritise study, be a good son or daughter and be committed to the best for Spain”
In an interview (that you will naturally find on Instagram) made with leader Santiago Abascal, last April, he stated that the reasons why the youngest generations of voters support VOX is because they need a future but also to find their roots, their identity and to feel a “patriotism” (the word repeated most often in the whole interview) that nobody before Vox has offered them. He claims young people do not want to be identified with any ideology but just with “normal (sic) things” that prevent them from doing anything crazy. Abascal’s discourse is again rooted in that appeal to ‘common sense and sensibleness’ that we can see feature in all far right European parties nowadays.
So, it seems that VOX will enjoy the support of hundreds of thousands of young prospective voters in the near-term. The public meetings held in the last political campaigns showed that plenty of those voters were just teenagers who have not even reached the legal age to vote. Leaving aside sociological and psychological reasons no doubt underlying all this, what it is indisputable is the effort the far right party invests in getting to communicate with young people. Maybe, this is an area the other political forces should work on.
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