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As election anxiety floods social media, so do the memes

“It’s a lot of young people very nervous about what’s happening and they’re trying to cope through jokes,” said first-time voter Riley Reed.
Protesters Demand Every Vote Be Counted
A woman holds a sign featuring The Count from Sesame Street during a rally in Boston on Wednesday.Jessica Rinaldi / Boston Globe via Getty Images

As the presidential election results stretched into Thursday, the internet turned to memes to cope with the ambiguity surrounding the next president of the United States.

With the national spotlight on states such as Nevada, Arizona and Pennsylvania, where a winner had not been declared as of Thursday morning, memes about them had begun to make their way onto social media streams.

And many meme makers and young voters said they relied on those memes to make them laugh when their anxiety about the future of the nation was at an all-time high.

“We all know that once someone reaches 270, people are going to get combative, so we have this period where we’re in limbo where we can try to just find humor in it all to deal with feeling anxious,” first-time voter Niamh Harrop, 20, a student at the University of Central Florida, said.

On social media, people joked about the candidates’ responses to the results, mocked states that were taking the longest to finish counting ballots and relied on traditional formats to joke about how certain states had flipped since the 2016 election.

Some memes, like those on TikTok, have been entirely unique to the election, while, in other cases, like those on Twitter, traditional meme formats have been used to express the turbulence of waiting for the results.

One example of a traditional meme format is the use of the “distracted boyfriend” to classify the election results. In one example, the “boyfriend” in “distracted boyfriend” is Michigan looking at Democratic nominee Joe Biden passing by, while President Donald Trump looks at the Michigan-boyfriend in disgust.

Another is the “woman yelling at cat” meme, which has been used to mock Trump’s tweets saying “stop the count.” In this example, Trump’s face is imposed on the yelling woman’s face, while in the frame in which the white cat would normally appear, Count von Count from “Sesame Street” appears.

Matt Schimkowitz, senior editor at Know Your Meme, said the post-Election Day internet feels like one big group chat, in which people are using memes to vent their anxieties about the future through humor.

“The internet has such a cynical and sarcastic sense of humor, things that would normally maybe be off-kilter in normal speech or wouldn’t seem as heightened in normal speech … so I think that a lot of people get out their frustration and anxiety and their general stress about not knowing what’s going on online,” he said.

On TikTok, the primary target of that anxiety has been Arizona and Nevada, where the national attention had turned Wednesday and Thursday as the world waited for the outcome of the election.

In one video, user @Nolan_Meister pretended to be all the states frantically tabulating vote counts intercut with him dancing in front of labels, some of which read, “Arizona,” and “Nevada,” and throwing mock ballots in the air. The video ends with @Nolan_Meister holding up a sign that says “We have no f-ing clue” under the label “Georgia.”

Other TikToks show “the solo ballot counter in Nevada knowing they’re the main character [right now]” slowly pretending counting ballots one-by-one while another video shows a person pretending to be a ballot counter inserting a “cha-cha” between every two ballots counted.

Some young voters said, whether it's coping with the coronavirus or waiting days for election results, dark humor is the main tool Gen Z uses to cope with ambiguity.

“All over TikTok, I’ve just seen a lot of really creative stuff especially with the results that were coming in yesterday,” first-time voter Riley Reed, 20, of Chicago, said of Wednesday’s additional results. “It’s a lot of young people very nervous about what’s happening and they’re trying to cope through jokes.”

Reed joined in on a trend using Johny Mercury's "Power of Three" chanting audio, in which users pretend to be “manifesting” election results.

“I don’t know why it’s become a thing for us but I think just like being on Instagram and Twitter, and, you know, TikTok now, too, people just use jokes to get through things,” she said.

But the election result memes were not exclusive to Gen Z and TikTok and Twitter had its fair share of viral posts.

On Twitter, Nevada and Arizona were also under the meme microscope. In one tweet, user Liz Jenkins posted a video of singer Brian McKnight’s “Back at One,” with the text, “Nevada counting ballots.”

People also posted fake election night maps showing fake blowouts for figures such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or former Maryland Rep. John Delaney.

But with a spotlight on Nevada and Arizona on Wednesday evening into Thursday, it appeared those results had taken the throne from the state that is traditionally most mocked during elections: Florida.

“Nevada and Arizona have attributes that are similar but I don’t think they’ve had the chance to have a ballot kerfuffle like Florida did in 2000,” Schimkowitz said. “Who knows? Maybe this year, we’ll anoint a new Florida.”