Challenge Accepted: Uncovering the Youth’s Political Voice

by Kellyn Harrison

I am a 19-year-old political science minor, and I voted for the first time last week. As a junkie for political science research, I have always been aware of my place in the election process. However, this year was different. It felt like I was standing in a room surrounded by people screaming at me; those people being older politicians, celebrities, advertisers, etc. Everyone demanding me to vote, but never looking at who I am. Politicians seeing me as a percentage, just a mindless number in their popular vote. 

“It’s difficult to mobilize people in a system that’s continuously telling them their political goals, and movements they want to see happening, are not viable.” – Grace Wells, 22, home state of Texas, currently studying in Chicago, Democratic.

Don’t get me wrong, I felt privileged to vote and I strongly advocate for people to do so in order to fight for the change we continuously demand. However, it is the execution of these campaigns that can make me numb towards the process. It is the same advertisements we had in 2016; only with heightened frequency, demand, and fear. Fear for how much power a little bubble on a scantron sheet can have. Especially in a time where we are demanding reforms in the health, economic, and human rights sector. My only question regarding this outreach is: Where is the voice of the youth? We stress how important educating and relying on the future of the youth is, but how is this being translated into our political campaigns? We can’t give up on the people who only just started to take that first step into the political world.

“Many young people can feel disengaged from politics. A Harvard survey found that only 16% of those aged 18 to 29 agreed with the statement that ‘elected officials who are part of the Baby Boomer generation care about people like me.’” – Helier Cheung of BBC News

Generally, politicians have used television to further their campaigns. By paying for advertisements on local television or partaking in interviews on shows like Face the Nation. Such platforms appeal to the older population who make time to watch television each night and wake up early on Sundays to watch shows like Sunday Morning. (Note: this point is made despite how much SNL still informs young voters on the election/campaign process. Even though I argue how SNL’s influence pales in comparison to social media.) Something out of style for young voters and professionals with busy schedules who would rather pay for streaming packages. Thus, showing a general decrease in cable news consumption. News platforms like ABC News shifting their attention to streaming recaps of their shows on social media, like Snapchat and Twitter, are the only references people have to low profile interviews analyzing the campaigns/election itself. Only recently have we seen politicians reaching out to voters on streaming platforms. However, the question is whether these advertisements are as transparent as they claim to be with a few federal laws regulating them. 

But, other than President Obama using Twitter in 2008 to reach out to young voters, this shows how slow politicians have been to reach out to their younger audience. Plus, this points out how unaware politicians are of what Gen Zers want from them or the small communities that are created on social media. Although, many argue how politicians are aware but refuse to reach out because of the uncertainty of how this demographic will perceive their political ideals. Nonetheless, when politicians do try to reach out, they do it in a cringing manner that doesn’t entirely hit home.

The only example I am going to provide is of Hillary Clinton using Pokemon Go to encourage her supporters to vote in the 2016 election. 

There are so many things I could say about how uncomfortable watching this is, but I am just going to state how important it is for older politicians to understand how off-center making references to pop culture phenomenon like this is. Especially for politicians who may not be as immersed in the phenomenon as young voters are. How are we supposed to feel connected to politicians when they make unrelated references to platforms they only know of because of Twitter trends and their younger peers. Especially when they already have the majority of young voters supporting them. Cringey references like this are not needed when they are a half-hearted attempt to further a campaign. It just falls flat and pushes young voters to feel even more disassociated from the voting process, politicians, and the political process itself. 

Reaching out to young voters based on pop culture trends is something Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is used to and does correctly. Ocasio-Cortez uses her knowledge in technology and relative association with Gen Zers to connect with them online by joining in their gaming communities. Thus, encouraging a growth in the demographic’s political activism. On May 7, it was announced Ocasio-Cortez had purchased a Nintendo Switch and the game Animal Crossings: New Horizons. That same day, Ocasio-Cortez opened her direct messages on Twitter and asked supporters to send their Dodo codes, so she could leave a note on their bulletin board. 

Other than the connection it created/strengthened between young voters and politicians, it also let people know someone in Congress was thinking of them during a scary time. At the peak of the pandemic, while everybody was home, it was nice to connect with someone who could make a difference when politicians tend to be seen as disassociated from the general public. 

Now, Ocasio-Cortez has teamed up with fellow Congresswoman Ilhan Omar to expand upon their connection to Gen Zers, by getting them involved in the election process through Twitch. On Tuesday, Oct. 20, Ocasio-Cortez and Omar played the recently revived game, Among Us, with a group of high profile streamers including JackSepticeye, Pokimane, HasanAbi, Disguised Toast, and DrLupo. 

The stream not only garnered a peak of 439,000 views, becoming the third most-watched stream for an individual gamer, but it successfully made a seemingly forgotten generation feel connected to at least two politicians representing our country. Setting an example of how our government should appeal to young voters despite how difficult replicating the same event will be for older politicians because of their different ages and interests. Ocasio-Cortez and Omar not only represent Gen Z because of their ages and policies (compared to their coworkers) but because of their representation of the minorities in our country. Diversity is a demanding value amongst Gen Z voters. Clinton only made a small reference to a video game many doubted her involvement in. Ocasio-Cortez and Omar physically played with/for young voters and have been for a while now. Thus, making the focus on relating to the streamers instead of solely on the politicians’ or their party’s platforms. It truly felt they wanted to get involved in Gen Z culture instead of pretending to understand. It didn’t feel like another fruitless ad screaming at me amongst the countless others. I just hope other politicians take note of this event and make an effort to think of ways they too, can properly reach out to young voters in an effort to urge more of us to vote for matters that will impact our lives for years to come. 

Here you can watch the Among Us Twitch stream with Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, along with many other high profile streamers. 

Sources: BBVABBC NewsFiveThirtyEightFordham Political ReviewJeremiah OwyangMozillaPew Research CenterThe Philadelphia CitizenThe Wall Street JournalTwitterU.S. Department of State

Images: TwitterYouTube

Featured Image: Blake Chapman

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