OPINION: Elected officials should utilize social media to reach new voters

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Elle Love
SENIOR ONLINE REPORTER

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reached almost half a million viewers on her ‘Among Us’ Twitch stream in which she used the opportunity to encourage those viewers to vote. Photo courtesy of the City Beautiful Attractions Youtube account.

With the Internet becoming the fastest way for us to receive information and communicate safely during the pandemic, there are many social media websites and platforms that elected officials can use to personally reach out to a new generation of voters.

U.S Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) took her campaign to a creative level by making her debut on Twitch, playing the popular multiplayer game Among Us, developed in 2018 by InnerSloth.

The game slowly gained prevalence until 2020 when both House Representatives Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) joined to play among other top streamers, such as Omar’s daughter Isra Hirsi, Pokimane, the musician mxmtoon, and Hasan Piker, former Young Turks employee. The stream had over 435,000 people watching in total as a voting outreach effort to young people.

“If you are able to vote, we are here…. Make sure you have your voting plan,” she said to voters at the beginning of her Tuesday Twitch stream.

“If you can’t vote, if you’re under the age of 18 … if you don’t live in the United States or any other reason for not being able to vote, make sure you talk to someone that can vote and try to direct them to IWillVote.com and make sure they get their voting plan in place,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

This campaign strategy is a smart move to reach younger audiences especially for voters that will be eligible to vote in 2022. Among Us played on Twitch had an average of 207,000 viewers according to Statista.

Currently, the popular platform Twitch has an average of 7 million streamers in October 2020, according to the Twitch Tracker website. This strategy sealed Rep. Ocasio Cortez’s reelection as a Congresswoman along with her colleague Rep. Ilhan Omar.

However, when criticizing the ‘incompetency’ that cost some seats in the House including the inability to reach the youth, including people of color, Ocasio-Cortez was met with harsh criticism from other elected officials in the party.

Ocasio-Cortez said in a New York Times interview that “if you’re not spending $200,000 on Facebook with fundraising, persuasion, volunteer recruitment, get-out-the-vote week before the election, you are not firing on all cylinders. And not a single one of these campaigns were firing on all cylinders.”

She told the Times that Democratic candidates were “sitting ducks” while Republicans were more actively campaigning online and were vulnerable because “they weren’t even on the mediums where these messages were most potent.”

“Our party isn’t even online, not in a real way that exhibits competence,” Ocasio-Cortez said in the Times interview.

However, some moderate Democrats disagreed. House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jefferies (D-NY) said in a conference call, “Do we want to govern, or do we want to be Internet celebrities?” Other centrists in the Democratic Party had pinned the blame on Progressives from the lost Senate seats for supporting policies like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and movements like Black Lives Matter.

“I think it’s a useful conversation for us to have because the socialism message wasn’t healthful,” Jefferies said.

Although Jefferies and other centrist messages do not directly refer to the campaign efforts by Ocasio-Cortez, I agree that the creative efforts of reaching the next generation of voters through popular social media platforms is more effective than reaching across the aisle to turn Republicans into Democrats.

Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign efforts have been celebrated by other House colleagues including Rep. Josh Harder (D-Calif).

“The traditional methods we have to reach out to voters aren’t going to work this year,” said Rep. Harder in a Washington Post interview. “We’re going to have to be a lot more creative about reaching out to voters and part of that is going to be connecting to them virtually.”

Harder also established a consistent presence on social media, increasing the young voters (under age 34) in his district from 15,566 in 2014 to 47,353 voters in 2020, according to the statistic from Ballotpedia.

It’s important for elected officials, whether Republican or Democrat, to take advantage of these platforms and engage with the younger generation for future voters. Many participants in our polls would agree.

58% of participants say they are “more likely to vote for elected officials if they utilize social media to connect with their audience, according to the Gateway Instagram story polls. In the second poll, 85% of participants agreed that both Republicans and Democrats should utilize more digital media campaigns to reach their audience while 87% said they use social media to keep track of political issues.

When asking some of our participants about why elected officials should or shouldn’t use social media, there are plenty of positive reasons.

“Using social media will appeal to a larger variety of people, especially younger generations,” said one participant.

Another participant said social media is a cheaper alternative than taking out money for traditional political ads, while others said it can appeal and be accessible to a variety of young voters.

Others agree but advised that elected officials should take more caution.

“They can, and probably should, but I think many would benefit from thinking before they post,” said one of our participants.

“There needs to be caution because everything posted is immediately public knowledge,” said a different participant.

When asked ‘what are better ways for elected officials from all parties to reach younger voters’ in a poll, many participants suggested Q & As and weekly newsletters available on their websites, while one suggested to refrain from negative stances on issues or degrading other candidates.

“In 2020, it is important to engage with people with social media,” said another participant.

Ignoring future voters could cost the Democrats more seats in the midterms if they do not adapt to newer methods of digital campaigning. Whether it’s reaching them by playing a popular game with them or creating a super-cool astronaut snapchat filter like Retired NASA astronaut, now U.S. Senator-elect, Mark Kelly (D-AZ).

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