For The Birmingham Times
Reaching out to young voters on platforms like Twitter, Tiktok, and the streaming service Twitch made a difference in the historic victories for the Democrats in the Georgia Senate races, according to political observers.
On January 5, Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff defeated Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler to hand the Democrats the Senate Majority.
The Ossoff and Warnock campaigns invested heavily in youth turnout in the Georgia Senate runoffs, according to Birmingham-area Ossoff campaign alum Rylen Dempsey.
“[We] made intentional efforts to reach out to young people through partnerships with the high school, college, and Young Democrats of Georgia,” said Dempsey, also noting that the Ossoff campaign hosted phone banks targeting young voters. Both candidates made visible attempts to reach out to young voters through humor on platforms like Twitter, Tiktok, and the streaming service Twitch. Ossoff and Warnock played UNO on Twitch. Warnock even posted an UNO meme making fun of Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue for insider trading: https://t.co/H4UBlp2OPr” / Twitter . Jon Ossoff’s Tiktok account posted a hilarious video the day before the election that has amassed more than 4.5 million views: Jon Ossoff (@jon) Official TikTok | Watch Jon Ossoff’s Newest TikTok Videos
These tweets, streams and Tiktoks seem like fun and games, but they are serious and intentional efforts to rally youth turnout in a tight runoff election. Both campaigns enlisted young people to appeal to young people.
Also, celebrity endorsements rolled in from around the nation, and on Twitter, Warnock emphasized an endorsement from singer Billie Eilish, who is very popular among young people. “As you all know, there is a very important election in your state [Georgia] right now, and the outcome will greatly impact the future of our country,” said Eilish in her endorsement of Ossoff and Warnock. This video has tens of thousands of views, essentially acting as a free campaign advertisement on Twitter. Eilish is the 10th most popular artist in the world, according to Spotify, who, has about 50 million monthly listeners on the platform.
In 2018, Scott Lucas, a UK-based political science scholar, foresaw the impact young voters could have in a Presidential election, “If I’m looking at 2020, if you get an increase in voter participation among 18-24s like we had yesterday and it keeps going, everything shifts in US politics,” he predicted. Additionally, he asserted artists like Taylor Swift, who also has around 50 million listeners according to Spotify, could be important in the effort to turn out young voters.
Engaging the youth can work, according to CIRCLE, a political research department at Tufts University, which writes that youth turnout in 2020 was “likely the highest in decades” and “much higher than 2016.” In November, Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of CIRCLE, noted “It is clear that a culture and expectation of political participation has started to emerge among young people that includes being engaged on issues, registering to vote, voting and encouraging others to do so, and creating and sharing voting and issue-related content for social media.”
Kawashima-Ginsberg’s analysis suggests young voters are active and engaged on social media, opening doors for outreach from candidates.
The 2020 election cycle demonstrated that when young people turn out to vote, Democrats can win. When candidates pay attention to issues that the often elusive demographic cares about, they turn out to vote.
A New Deal
The impact of the youth vote has recent history. Joe Kennedy III, a young Congressman from Massachusetts’ fourth district, of the famed Kennedy political dynasty, was hailed by many as the future of the Democratic party when he was elected to Congress in 2012. He is young, charismatic, and he delivered the rebuttal to the first State of the Union address given by Donald Trump in 2018. So, when he announced he would challenge incumbent Senator Ed Markey in the Democratic primary election for Massachusetts’ Senate seat in 2020, he immediately became the front-runner. The first poll of the campaign, conducted by Change Research, showed Kennedy leading Markey by 17 percentage points. But, after a long campaign, Markey cruised to a comfortable 10-point victory.
So, what happened?
Markey co-sponsored the Green New Deal in the Senate in 2019 alongside Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York cementing himself as a favorite among young voters across the country. He leveraged this support and progressive energy into an unorthodox, digital-focused campaign that placed 400 youth activists in leadership positions and invested in social media and youth voter outreach. On election night, Markey said “This campaign has always been about the young people in this country. You are our future. Thank you for believing in me because I believe in you,” affirming his belief in young voters. In a September primary election, turnout was key, and a young, progressive and very online coalition showed up to hand a member of the Kennedy family their-first defeat in Massachusetts since future president John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in the 1946 midterms.