In an unprecedented election year, characterized by a pandemic and uncommonly high tension between the presidential candidates, two congresswomen just put on a master class in modern politics — and they did it by hanging out and playing video games.
U.S. Congress Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) set the fifth-highest record for viewers on Twitch while streaming a popular murder mystery video game called Among Us on Oct. 20. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), joined her.
AOC and Omar proved that there’s merit to changing the way politicians connect with their base. The two representatives managed to encourage youth to vote with surprising poise in a forum that’s shown its willingness to slap on an all-encompassing “cringe” label the moment it detects the slightest hint of disingenuity.
“I’m so excited by this upcoming election,” AOC said during her stream. “We can overwhelm the polls, and we can get things back on track.”
This year’s House of Representatives election is more important than usual. With so much uncertainty around the election, there is a small chance that a contingent House election could decide the presidency. All the more reason to pay attention to the congresswoman who’s rewriting the book on motivating the most politically apathetic age demographic — the youth.
More than 400,000 viewers tuned in to watch AOC play video games with a handful of popular Twitch streamers, where the gameplay was periodically interrupted with earnest pleas for the viewers to get out and vote.
“Of course, we are here to vote Blue, that’s (why) I’m here, to let you all know,” Ocasio-Cortez said at the start of her livestream.
Politicians are going to streaming sites like Twitch to cut through the chaff of social media and meet their base where they find their recreation. It’s a hit-or-miss move that varies wildly based on the perceived authenticity of the attempt — nothing rankles me more than politicians trying to cache in on a demographic with half-hearted and disingenuous attempts to ingratiate themselves into a community to which they don’t belong.
As an example of what works, look at New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Ardern appeared on a livestream on the platform in September, ahead of her landslide re-election on Oct. 17. She appeared on the channel of a beloved New Zealand streamer called Broxh. Ardern got some free publicity and came across in a positive light.
Other politicians have been slower to react in meeting their base online. By now, social media is inundated with politics. Joe Biden’s campaign created a virtual field office in the popular game Animal Crossing: New Horizons this election. President Donald Trump has also been continuously livestreaming his rallies on Twitch. Barring his minor mishap when his account was banned for “hateful conduct,” his use of the streaming site has been fairly successful, with 146,000 followers on the platform. Right now, AOC is sitting at 703,000 followers.
Despite being the heavy favourite for re-election in New York’s 14th congressional district, Republicans have dumped $10 million into her opponent John Cummings. Beyond her new-fangled style of politics, there are more simplistic reasons that conservatives are afraid of the congresswoman. Ocasio-Cortez is also a rambunctious leftist opponent who’s not afraid to return fire in the occasional Twitter duels or vote against party lines.
“The traditional methods we have to reach out to voters aren’t going to work this year,” Rep. Josh Harder (D-Calif.) told the Washington Post. “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.”
Like Ocasio-Cortez, Harder is young, Democratic and a gamer. Harder won a hotly contested California district in 2018, in part because of a reliance on new media. Young voter turnout in his district (voters under age 34) more than tripled compared with the previous midterm election, rising from 15,566 to 47,353.
All this boils down to the fact that, by appealing to ordinarily apathetic youth and, specifically, youth gamers, representatives like AOC and Harder are paving the way for the politics of the future.
Of course, a higher youth voting turnout in the 2020 elections will mostly likely be attributed to the inflammatory first term of Trump, but the significance of young politicians relying on new media like Twitch shouldn’t be ignored.
The end result is that in 10 years, “yeah, that’s a politician I could have a beer with,” could just as often be replaced with “yeah, that’s a politician I could game with.”