Why AOC’s Twitch Takeover Signals a New Political Era

The children are the future

Key Takeaways

  • Twitch became the latest tech platform involved in the US general election as representatives AOC and Ilhan Omar streamed a popular game to get out the vote.
  • The successful stream raises questions about the efficacy of social media-based voter outreach.
  • Political strategies are on track to increasingly become accustomed to the realities of digital natives like Millennials and Gen Z.
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) passes through the National Statuary Hall
Alex Wong / Getty Images

Media savvy junior congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez set her sights on live streaming platform Twitch to get out the vote, but is it just partisan maneuvering?

On Tuesday evening, hundreds of thousands tuned in live to watch Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, joined by fellow Squad member Rep. Ilhan Omar, go toe-to-toe with some of Twitch’s brightest stars—Hasanbi, Pokimane, DisguisedToast and Valkyrae—in the popular, whodunit party game Among Us. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s stream, one of the platform’s largest to date, hit a peak of 435,000 concurrent viewers reigniting conversations about the influence of gaming and social media as tools for political outreach to the historically unreachable youths of America.

"AOC and Ilhan are bold and bring me hope. I love to see strong, leftist women of color demanding and creating change," politics and culture Twitch streamer Lumi Rue said in an email interview. "AOC feels much more connected to the upcoming generations: [She is] a gamer willing to put herself out there to potential criticism and hop on a stream to hang out with us. I felt more connected and energized while also being recognized as a worthy voting demographic to tap into."

Worlds Collide

Whether or not this popularity can drive actual votes remains to be seen. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez used time during the 3-hour long stream to suggest viewers go to Iwillvote.com, which is linked to the Democratic National Committee. There are no numbers on how many people signed up, but it was the primary driver for traffic on the website designed to help voters form a voting plan for the general election coming up on Nov. 3. The larger purpose of the stream, instead, was to reach disaffected youth.

"If you add up viewers across the various streams, more than half a million people are watching @AOC on Twitch—she’s hosting the biggest GOTV (get out the vote) rally of 2020," Amanda Litman, executive director of youth-focused candidate organization Run For Something tweeted.

And it seemed to work. The stream became an immediate hit while also enjoying the long-tail of meme culture as it stretched beyond Twitch to hit the trending page of Twitter with a slew of viral tweets. It now lives into perpetuity through TikTok as the youngest social media users have converted moments from the stream into bite-sized videos with millions of views and viral sounds with almost 3,000 personal TikTok posts. Videos tagged #AOC on TikTok alone have amassed over 400 million views

The congressperson’s ability to leverage social media to her benefit has long been a positive in her meteoric rise to relevance since her upset victory against long-time incumbent and Majority Whip Joseph Crowley in 2018. As the youngest member of Congress, she is seen as the starkest example of a generational divide that is likely to narrow as shifting demographics pour younger politicians into the pool of American politics.

Reaching the Youth

She has gained adoration and notoriety, depending on which side of the aisle you fall on, through her social media presence. She has nearly 10 million followers on Twitter alone, and has become the torchbearer of the progressive movement. As more and more young people join the political discussion via social media, the effects of this kind of youthful progressivism is likely to become the driving force behind party politics. Youth remain, as ever, stalwarts of left-wing politics.

Gen Z’s policy and cultural opinions from marijuana legalization, LGBTQ+ rights, racial justice and government intervention are easily to the left of all previous generations—even those Gen Zers who specifically identify as conservative, according to data published by Business Insider about the political beliefs of 13 to 18-year-olds.

The data also found 59 percent of this demographic get their news primarily from social media. It is a completely different landscape going forward. The primary digital destination? Instagram. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has long used her Instagram account to educate on the political process, hoping to reach those same voters she sought to connect with on Tuesday. She is playing the long-game, and understandably so.

"AOC and Ilhan are bold and bring me hope. I love to see strong, leftist women of color demanding and creating change."

Young people are infamously disengaged from the electoral process. In 2016, fewer than half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 voted. While participation among the youth was up 12 points in the 2018 midterm compared to 2014, their participation still pales in comparison to their older counterparts.  

"I don't feel I have much of a voice in electoral politics, and I'm absorbed in trying to find my place in this world after college. Suddenly I have all this to catch up on in electoral politics and I'm not certain it will matter much," Rue said. "But one thing is for certain: These policies affect us and we need to find a way to get involved in our futures as soon as possible."

The world of political campaigning is changing, and if the success of congresswomen like Ocasio-Cortez and Omar is indicative of anything, it is that meeting voters where they are at must go beyond stump speeches in Dayton, Ohio. It’s also about getting your hands a little dirty on a keyboard during a live stream to the delight of a couple hundred thousand onlookers.