Alcohol, scooter for rides, purchase of a mobile phone without the presence of a guardian. Young people are allowed to do a lot from the age of 16. the vote with the exception of elections for local government or a local parliament, is not included among them. But that changes from this year. In the upcoming European Parliament elections 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds will have the right to vote for the first time.

Germany as early as November 2022 decided to lower the minimum voting age for the European elections, after long discussions. Young people of this age can also vote this year in Belgium, Austria, Greece and Malta. In order to prepare young people for the European elections, many political institutions and educational institutions started information events, as the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which is affiliated with the Social Democratic Party (SPD), writes on its website. An understandable goal, because many young people are probably not sure who they can vote for and what impact the cross on the ballot will have on their lives.

“Real men are right handed”

For most young people, however, a completely different source of information seems to be important. This is the social video platform TikTok. There the right-wing populist and, in some cases, far-right AfD party, Alternative for Germany, has launched an aggressive youth election campaign. The leading candidate for the European elections, Maximilian Kra, is not only seen as a politician, but also as a dating expert for young men. “Real men are right-wing, real men have ideals, real men are patriotic, then they’ll get along with their girlfriend,” he says in a video that has now attracted millions of clicks. In other videos he warns that “your mom will be poor in her old age” or that “the German government hates you”. Messages resonate. Analysis by political adviser Johannes Hilje, which was made available to broadcaster ZDF, shows that the TikToks of the AfD parliamentary group achieved about ten times more views than those of the other parties. Added to this are the accounts of AfD MPs, local politicians and right-wing influencers who spread similar content.

“It’s really a mystery to me why the other parties do so little in comparison”says youth researcher Klaus Hurelmann in an interview with DW. “Because the new generation has grown up digitally, they communicate only in this channel and essentially perceive political information only through digital channels.” The fact that the AfD is so successful on TikTok is also due to the way the algorithms work. The more blatant the content, the more attention it attracts. It is not certain whether the other parties will be able to win the distance. Why many platforms “reward early adopters with reach,” writes socialmediawatchblog. This means whoever is first is likely to be featured as content more often than accounts with less exposure. “Their messages are nothing short of simplistic, sentimental, massively abbreviated and misleading. In other words, they fit perfectly with the working logic of social media.”socialmediawatchblog reports on the impact of the AfD videos.

Pandemic, climate crisis, deep insecurity

Klaus Hurelmann is not surprised that the AfD has so much appeal among young people. As he argues, young first-time voters are mostly one thing, deeply insecure. The pandemic with school closures and social contact bans has not yet left them, as a feeling. “It was a deep rift for young people to realize right after puberty, at the age of 12 or 13, that they could not be in control of their own lives.” says. The climate crisis, inflation, homelessness and old-age poverty scare many young people. “And that’s ideal for a party like the AfD,” Hurrelmann continues. “He knows how to criticize governments for failing to prevent these uncertainties and he knows how to promise.” One result of these promises was seen in the autumn elections in the state of Hessewhere the AfD came second among young voters aged 18 to 24 years.

A result that probably it is mainly due to young men. “If you look at the AfD, the case is very clear. It is a male-dominated party and it tends to be voted for and supported by men. And this also applies to younger men,” says youth researcher Hurrelman. The appeal of right-wing parties to young men is not only a German phenomenon.

Studies show that the men and women of the so-called Generation Z are becoming more and more politically distant from each other, worldwide. This means young men are becoming less politically motivated or more conservative, while young women are becoming more progressive, according to a Financial Times analysis. Hurrellman believes that in the European elections in early June the AfD has a good chance: “Young people are voters who vote based on specific issues. And here a party like the AfD has a good chance. Young people don’t pay so much attention to whether these issues really have anything to do with Europe…”