Opinion | In 2020, Winning Over Young Voters Means Mastering Social Media

The COVID-19 pandemic gave this year’s presidential candidates the opportunity—and the time—to revamp their social media strategies and rally young voters. But did they miss their chance?

The impact of social media on American elections has been front-and-center in pundits’ minds since Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s historic 2018 primary upset, when, according to The New York Times, the then-28-year-old took on fellow Democrat Joseph Crowley for his spot in the House—and won. “The race was not close,” the Times reported curtly.

More tongue-in-cheek commentary from the Times: “The last time Mr. Crowley, 56, even had a primary challenger, in 2004, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was not old enough to vote.”

It didn’t take long for pundits and party leaders alike to take an interest in Ocasio-Cortez’s knack for digital campaigning. While the Times indicated that the now-congresswoman won support from progressives in her district by attacking Crowley’s “role in the leadership, and the fact that he was the head of the local Democratic Party machine,” numerous reports pointed to her social media prowess—and she has maintained a reputation for being something of a Twitter guru. NBC News reported in January 2019:

Less than three weeks after being sworn in as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez already has more Twitter followers than Speaker Nancy Pelosi, more interactions than Barack Obama, one of C-SPAN’s most-watched congressional floor speeches of all time and a ubiquitous nickname that doubles as her Twitter handle — “AOC.”

Indeed, many have taken notice of how naturally AOC interacts with supporters—and critics—online, and it’s quickly become a pillar of her success. “If Cory Booker is pretty good at Instagram as far as politicians go, the vibe’s still sometimes like your Bible study leader is giving you a college campus tour,” BuzzFeed’s Katherine Miller wrote in November 2018, according to NBC. “Ocasio-Cortez uses Instagram like the rest of us do—reflexively, incidentally.”

But it seems not everyone in Washington has AOC’s Instagram instincts.