In an attempt to appeal to younger voters, Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy recently joined TikTok and gained an endorsement from popular YouTuber turned boxer, Jake Paul. Ramaswamy’s move is a rare effort from a Republican to engage with Gen Z and young millennials, who have historically supported Democrats. However, the Republican party has struggled to effectively engage young voters on social media platforms, while Democratic politicians like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. John Fetterman have successfully utilized social media to build their fan base.
Republican candidates, including Vivek Ramaswamy, are struggling to effectively engage with young voters on social media platforms like TikTok. The party’s lack of digital fluency and inability to connect with Gen Z and young millennials could put them at a disadvantage in future elections.
A Lack of Digital Fluency
Unlike Ramaswamy, most Republican candidates have neglected to embrace the digital fluency required to connect with the youth vote on platforms like TikTok. As the 2024 election approaches, there is a concern that Republican candidates may once again fall behind in mobilizing young voters on social media. While Ramaswamy stands out as one of the few Republicans to engage with TikTok, his Silicon Valley background and millennial upbringing might not be enough to win Gen Z’s support. His videos on the platform have gained significant views, but they have also been flooded with sex jokes and criticism.
The Importance of Authenticity
Annie Wu Henry, a digital strategist, pointed out that younger voters value raw authenticity online. They are drawn to platforms like TikTok and Twitch, where content creators can be themselves without the filters of traditional politics. This authenticity is often lacking in older politicians and particularly in the Republican party, which goes against the culture and expectations of young people.
The Challenges of TikTok Strategy
Ramaswamy’s TikTok strategy seems puzzling, considering his previous statements about TikTok being a threat to national security. His first videos on the platform portray him as a candidate who cares about America’s youth, but his comments section is filled with criticism and trolling. While TikTok engagement can be high, Democrats are still leading the way in terms of digital strategy and dominating the Republican party.
The Influence of Platform Culture
Politicians must understand the culture of the platform they are using to effectively engage with users. Democratic politicians like Ocasio-Cortez have successfully leveraged popular streamers and embraced platform culture, gaining nationwide popularity. On the other hand, Republican politicians have struggled to establish a rapport with young voters and have not taken advantage of platforms like X (previously known as Twitter) the way far-right influencers have.
The Power of Authenticity
Candidates need to be content creators as much as politicians in today’s digital landscape. Authenticity is highly valued online, and candidates who can genuinely connect with voters have an advantage. Gen Z voters, in particular, are resistant to forced pandering and are quick to shut down inauthentic attempts at connecting with youth culture. Therefore, candidates need to find ways to be genuine and relatable without relying solely on youth culture references.
The Rise of Influencer Strategies
Instead of relying solely on politicians to engage with young voters, some campaigns are focusing on mobilizing influencers who already have engaged audiences. This “influencer army” strategy can be effective in reaching viewers who might not typically be politically engaged. However, it is important to ensure that these influencers authentically believe in the political cause they are promoting.
The Uphill Battle for Republicans
Republican politicians, including Ramaswamy, face an uphill battle in connecting with young voters. Their policies often go against the interests of younger generations, making it difficult to win their support even with effective communication strategies. Additionally, the Republican party has been outpaced by Democrats in terms of digital fluency and utilizing social media to reach voters. Unless the party is able to adapt and engage with young voters online, they may continue to struggle in future elections.