Make Voting Cool Again
Updated: Dec 19, 2020
A young couple leaves City Hall after casting their votes on October 26 (Photo: Boston Herald/Matt Stone)
It’s all the rage nowadays. Everyone is doing it. It’s super dope. The new fad? Voting. Social media in the run up to the 2020 election has inundated Gen Z voters with the command to send in their ballots. Doing one’s civic duty is cool now. When the history books review the results of this certifiably tempestuous election cycle, they will show that the kids came out to play. Youth voters, historically an unenthusiastic voting demographic, made a splash in the polls this year fueled by new voting attitudes coming from their screens.
Traditional voter outreach relies on more direct communication patterns than social media. Campaigns typically reach voters through phone banking, door-to-door canvassing, home mailers, and television advertisements. This might effectively pique the interest of older voters who reliably vote, but fresher methods are needed to access the political universe of the youth. All of these roads lead to social media--Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and TikTok. Celebrities, athletes, musicians, politicians, corporations, and the media have hammered home the importance of voting via social media to this younger generation. Their plea has not fallen upon deaf ears.
Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) gives a wave as he steps off a campaign bus in a pair of Nike sneakers (Photo: Vanity Fair)
Boston Students Get Out The Vote
Student organizations in Boston and New England have taken the lead in getting out the vote this election.
“This generation is uniquely capable and equipped to be creative and ingenuitive to use social media to our advantage,” Northeastern junior and President of Northeastern for Biden Jackson Hurley told the Review. College students in these organizations are using their tech savvy skills to push their peers to participate in the political process during a momentous election. Students post everything from information on how to register to the proper way to mail in an absentee ballot.
Social media companies themselves are also promoting civic consciousness. From banners reminding users to register to vote to warnings on posts flagged for election misinformation, tech platforms have taken a hands on approach to target young voters.
“I’ve seen a lot of concerted efforts from social media companies to drive out the vote on my feed,” Boston University senior Mika Astono told the Review. “I don't remember seeing that 4 years ago. It’s everywhere.”
Another way to make voting cool: make the politicians themselves relatable. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), who cruised to re-election on November 3, has enjoyed a cult following on social media known as the “the Markeyverse.” Markey fans, or “stans” as they are commonly known, use memes and Gen Z lingo to drum up support for the incumbent. Fan pages from “hotgirls4markey” to “gingers4markey” and even “sharkeys4markey” (yes, you read that right) post regularly to hype up Markey’s gregarious personality and progressive policies. Overall, his supporters push to make Markey look like a hip and cool candidate who any hip and cool young person should vote for.
The ringleader of these accounts, @Students4Markey, racked up over 4,000 followers on Instagram and Twitter. The account was started by two Markey field fellows, Reed College junior Matt O’Connell and University of Buffalo sophomore Shanaz Uddin. The pair had also run the Twitter account @Edsreplyguys, which replies to relevant Tweets with relevant Ed Markey memes for its 3,000 followers. Their goal was to create content to access young progressive voters to back Markey’s campaign during a tight primary race.
“When you see cool and fun content and an engaging community, you can get young people involved in organizing,” said O’Connell.
“Ed Markey is the guy for the energized youth progressive base, it’s because he listens to us,” said Uddin.
Both O’Connell and Uddin agreed that the Markeyverse felt as if it had become a significant part of the race, garnering national media attention and thousands of impressions. The memes have certainly worked their magic, as Markey overcame a double digit deficit to defeat challenger Representative Joe Kennedy (D-MA) in the September 1 primary and will now enjoy another six years in the Senate.
A voter in a Boston University walks out of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square, which has become a makeshift polling location (Photo: BPR/Justin Dynia)
The Kids of America
Youth leaders are trying to shape the voting attitudes of younger voters on a national level. The Biden campaign’s official Instagram account with 5.4 million followers is now being run by a 15-year-old supporter from California. Students for Trump boasts over a million followers on all social media platforms. Settle For Biden, a progressive organization created by former Sanders and Warren supporters, encourages young progressives not enthused by Biden’s moderate platform to vote anyways using its strong social media following of over 250,000.
These campaigns are directly utilizing the creative minds of the youth to directly influence their young peers through their preferred outlets of political communication. This represents a seismic shift in how voter outreach is conducted.
Increasingly, candidates are seeking to reach youth voters through means they prefer. On October 25, Joe Biden held a virtual concert that doubled as a fundraiser with A-list musicians and celebrities. That same week Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) teamed up with YouTubers and politicians to stream the popular game Among Us on Twitch in an effort to turn out the youth vote. Virtual communication may have supplanted face-to-face communication as the most effective way to impact the voting attitudes of Gen Z. It’s hard to say if these specific social media pushes will have a tangible effect on voting, but it certainly is hard to ignore.
Historically, the 18-34 demographic turns out far less than other demographics. In 2016, 50% of 18-34 voters cast their ballot, compared to the 55% of overall voter turnout. As of November 4, the ballots of 139 Americans have been counted, 10 million more than 2016. Youth voting in several swing states has already exceeded the 2016 margin of victory in that state’s presidential race. Polls from Axios and Survey Monkey show the 18-34 demographic favored Biden over Trump in 45 of 50 states. With key swing states that have flipped for Biden--such as Michigan and Wisconsin-- and contentious races elsewhere--Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia, and Pennsylvania-- the youth vote has been the decisive factor in Biden’s competitive edge in these states.
Do likes and retweets directly correlate with votes? Probably not. Regardless, as the youth click and scroll through their social media feeds, the message they sent the nation with their political organizing and higher voting turnout was loud and clear: the kids are alright, and they will vote.