When you sit down to play an online game, do you ever wonder if your opponent is a member of Congress? Some gamers recently found themselves playing with U.S. House Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar as they played games to get young voters to vote this November.
Congresswomen Ocasio-Cortez and Omar have made a unique and effective campaign to get out the vote that resonates with the audience it needs to.
Ocasio-Cortez streamed her perspective on the popular broadcasting site Twitch and garnered a massive peak viewership of 426,109 and over 1 million unique viewers. That figure doesn’t count the large number of viewers watching Omar’s livestream, or the streams of the various popular personalities they invited to play with them. This campaign achieved a massive reach, all without spending a penny.
Now compare that to another recent GOTV effort. At the beginning of October, the Republican National Committee started a massive $60 million digital GOTV campaign. Their goal is to get absentee and mail-in ballots submitted by sending out texts, emails and social media posts with persuasive messaging tactics. The campaign will keep track of if a person has requested a mail-in ballot, if they have received it and when it is filled out and sent in.
That GOTV campaign is expensive and, according to public relations professor Filippo Trevisan, untested. The RNC risks running a huge financial loss if the effort flops. Voters are already bombarded with messages in digital channels about voting, so messages from this campaign could easily be lost in the noise. Lastly, tracking where each voter is in the process can be seen as an invasion of privacy.
People might complain that this GOTV effort is falling on deaf ears, as some viewers are too young to vote. However, it’s beneficial for them to understand the importance of voting sooner rather than later. The US census reported the 18–26 age demographic as the lowest turnout in the 2016 election, at only 46%.
Additionally, one could claim that playing video games has no political relevance. However, that’s the beauty in the situation: the congresswomen are doing an everyday activity. They are not standing upon a stage, surrounded by thousands of supporters and cameras. Playing a video game is a down-to-earth, human way to connect with voters.
The congresswomens’ approach is more organic. Engagement is done naturally through speaking and reaching a more specific audience. Instead of just the audience of “voters,” their approach specifically targets young voters. Millennial and Gen Z voters are expected to make up around 37% of the eligible voting population this year. The Twitch viewer demographic is a majority of these generations. Additionally, overall viewership on Twitch jumped up at the beginning of the pandemic.
Politicians need to follow Ocasio-Cortez and Omar’s lead and find new, creative ways to reach out to voters. Old ways of speaking to voters are making them grow numb from overexposure. Methods like ads and mail are outdated. While some politicians have tried to expand to new media, they fail because they lack understanding of the younger population. These congresswomen made the leap to the new generation of communication. Part of the reason they succeeded is that they are younger themselves. Women who were young voters themselves not long ago know what other young voters want firsthand.
Hopefully, the next time you play a video game, the thought of voting crosses your mind.
Benjamin Lavigne is a super-senior Media and Culture major. BL855185@wcupa.edu
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