Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez yelped when she made her first kill. She was streaming herself playing “Among Us,” a whodunnit-style, space-themed video game in which players are divided into either covert, murderous “imposters” or crew members. Ocasio-Cortez, often referred to as AOC, was streaming the game on Twitch, a live platform largely featuring people watching others play video games. She was also joined by some of Twitch’s top stars, such as Imane “Pokimane” Anys, Hasan "HasanAbi" Piker, and Benjamin “DrLupo” Lupo, among others. At one point, more than 430,000 viewers were watching the stream, making it the third largest in Twitch history.
Ocasio-Cortez panicked as she accidentally reported finding a dead body — the very one she had just killed — potentially blowing her cover. While the Democrat from New York wasn’t a master manipulator in the game, her deadly sneak attacks were for a good cause.
The stream was all part of a get-out-the-vote effort by Ocasio-Cortez, who was joined by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who directed viewers to go to IWillVote.com. In an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s "State of the Union," Ocasio-Cortez said that “we were the highest driver to IWillVote.com ever.”
Of the hundreds of thousands of viewers who tuned in, or the 5.4 million who checked out the VOD afterward, it’s unclear how many were eligible voters. What we do know is that the average age of a Twitch viewer is 21 and a plurality of the site’s traffic comes from the United States. By reaching out when voters are young, not only can the Democrats potentially pump up voting numbers this election, they could be helping to create a new generation of lifelong Democratic voters.
From a get out the vote perspective, 400,000 people is nothing to sneeze at.
From a get-out-the-vote perspective, 400,000 people is nothing to sneeze at. In a presidential election with 21,000 fewer voting locations, Republican efforts to delegitimize mail-in ballots through bureaucratic creativities, and court system that is already making counting votes harder, a winner might be decided by the margins in certain swing states. A worst case scenario would be a tightly contested swing state going to the Supreme Court, echoing the chaos of the 2000 Bush v. Gore election. And with a 6-3 Republican majority, thanks to the last-minute nomination of conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Democrats have a lot to fear.
But demographics have changed significantly since 2000. According to Pew Research, the baby boomer generation is far less influential than it was in elections past. Back in 2000, boomers represented 7 in 10 eligible voters, which was cut to about half in 2012. In 2020, boomers account for 4 in 10 eligible voters.
While boomers are still the largest voting bloc, at 28 percent, millennials are a close second. And millennials coupled with a politically active and socially aware Gen Z collectively usurp boomers. Remember, the average age of Twitch streamers is 21. Meanwhile, according to the Electronic Software Association, 65 percent of Americans play video games, whether it be on their smartphones, computers or dedicated gaming consoles, with the average age of female gamers being 34 and male gamers 32.
Historically, activating young voters has been a problem for both parties. During the primary season, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hoped that increased millennial turnout would help him win the Democratic nomination, only to watch his coalition fall short.
But it seems that with the pandemic and frustration with the White House’s response, this may be changing. Younger Americans are voting early in record numbers. In Texas, early voters under 30 are showing up in much larger numbers than they did four years ago.
Given these shifts, it makes sense that both parties would want to meet gamers where they live. The “Among Us” stream is not the first time liberals have tried to court the gamer vote. In 2008, the Obama campaign rented out billboards in two racing games, “Burnout Paradise” and “Need for Speed: Carbon.” And former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign has created in-game signs and merchandise that users can download in “Animal Crossing.” But for Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Omar, this was more than an ad buy. It was putting themselves on camera in a way that was both intimate and pretense-breaking.
“It's important for them to interact in a way that is authentic,” Ed Espinoza, executive director of Progress Texas, a media company, said in a phone interview. “If you go in, it's just going to backfire. If you actually know something about the community, and you have something to contribute, something to say, and you care about the issues they care about, then the community is going to respond.”
Decades ago, cultural trends like rock music were dismissed by parents of the 1950s and '60s. But when those children went on to become voting adults, they brought their passions with them. In 2016, Trump did quite well with voters 65 and older — which is probably why recent Trump rallies are backdropped by rock anthems like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” and disco hits like The Village People’s “YMCA.” The nostalgia may not be working; his support with older generations is slipping in the polls.
On the other end of the age spectrum, the right has had an ongoing young voter problem. Since 2004, voters 18 to 29 have been voting for Democrats by double-digit margins.
If the Democrats do take the presidency, House and Senate this year, Republicans will work hard to overturn that majority in the 2022 midterms. It's up to Democrats to engage young voters now, and make them consistent voters for life — even if that means streaming video games on Twitch.