Research Assessment #4

Date: October 7, 2016

Subject: The Social Media Question


In the primaries for the 2016 presidential election, it became clear that Twitter was going to be an incredibly influential and necessary outlet for candidates, despite very few of them understanding online slang. One would believe that to appeal to millennials online, candidates must assimilate among millennials. However, as voters were encouraged to “Pokémon go out to the polls,” this past election season has seemed to prove otherwise.

I believe that as millennials establish a political presence that is far more liberal than their parents, it should have been no surprise that the younger voters would gravitate to the candidate of a new paradigm. As President Obama channeled millennials in his cries for change, people believed that he was the candidate of change. However, it is hard to distance Hillary Clinton from her long political career. Despite older generations believing that social media has given millennials uniform and basic opinions, the demographic has managed to look past the obvious traits of a candidate. On the surface, Clinton was the clear change candidate in the primary, as she was running to be the first woman nominated for the presidency by a major party, in contrast to Sanders, the older white man. This was not the deciding factor for the majority of millennials, though. As Sanders tweeted almost radically progressive stances on issues that were not being discussed in the mainstream televised media, such as affordable college, flocks of millennials viewed him as the candidate of change.

When examining the policy ideas held by both Sanders and Clinton at the beginning of the primaries, compared to the policy ideas held by Clinton at the time she accepted the Democratic nomination, I find it difficult to ignore the shift in Clinton’s policy approach. When she first announced her candidacy, I believe that the democratic party’s base struggled to find a reason why she would not be the clear nominee. As an experienced politician, Clinton had connections with other prominent politicians for endorsements, she had a relatively moderate platform, and wanted to uphold the policies that championed the Obama Administration. What gained her endorsements from some of the more progressive senators, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, though? Throughout the primary, her once moderate positions clearly shifted to mirror those of Warren and Sanders.

As millennials now contribute to a large portion of possible voters, they have presented candidates with many challenges. In my opinion, this year’s presidential primary candidates not only faced having to appeal to the political ideologies of millennials, but they also needed to persuade younger voters that it was important to vote. While Clinton seemed to have little qualms in modifying her stances in order to accomplish the latter challenge, I personally believe that changing her platform to closely resemble that of her primary opponent has portrayed a great insincerity to millennial voters. While they may support her beliefs, they do not believe that she will push them during her presidential administration. Leaving them to ask themselves, “why bother voting?”

Along with this, her social media went through a great change as well. ‘TheDemocrats’, the Twitter handle for the Democratic National Committee on Twitter, who reportedly supported Clinton throughout the party and embody the party establishment that millennials wished to ignore, spent the spring of 2016 tweeting information on voter registration. They contributed many sophisticated responses to stances held by GOP candidates. Currently, their Twitter account still responds negatively to the GOP, but instead, their approach has changed. Instead of simply denouncing a claim from GOP leaders, they have begun posting a quote from a republican with an accompanying reaction GIF.

The intentions behind their social media shift, I believe, is arguably more significant than Clinton’s shift in progressiveness. As a millennial, I speak for the majority of my generation when I say it is hilarious to watch companies and businesses try to use viral images and jokes to appeal to the demographic. At the same time, it can also be viewed as pathetic. Instead of buying the product advertised, the campaigns are mocked. I see this trend plaguing TheDemocrats on Twitter. Sanders’ most popular tweets are not sad attempts to fit in with the younger voters, instead they are bold stances on affordable college, racial unity, and climate change. He approached millennials as he would any other voter demographic and spoke to them without condescending. While I do credit his platform as the main reason for the excitement of his supporters, I believe that his symbiotic presence on social media greatly fueled his youth support. Whereas, the establishment’s attempts to embrace viral jokes as a means of voter outreach only serve to alienate millennials even further.

Social media marked the major differences between the candidates of the democratic primary this year, and also clearly influenced the approach Clinton took to excite millennials in the general election. Given this observation, I hope to further my research on how elected officials are approaching policies in regards to the interests of millennials. I believe that understanding voter outreach is essential to understanding policy efforts. In addition, to fully understand the current policies in Congress, I want to also examine how all politicians approach appealing to the millennial vote.

MLA Citations:

Kelsh, Chaz. “How Social Media Influences Millennials’ Political Views – Journalist’s

Resource.” Journalists Resource. HARVARD Kennedy School, 17 May 2016. Web. 07

Oct. 2016.

Carr, Nicholas, Indira A.R. Lakshmana, Edward B. Foley, and Matt Latimer. “How Social Media

Is Ruining Politics.” POLITICO Magazine. N.p., 02 Sept. 2015. Web. 07 Oct. 2016.