We Can Tell When You’re Faking It: Centering Youth Voices in Politics

Alysa Sides
Nov 9 · 4 min read

In the last few years, politicians and political parties alike have taken a special interest in mobilizing youth voters during election cycles. And by this, I mean they spend a small fraction of their time playing into what they think resonates with young people — the clip of Hillary Clinton saying “Pokemon-Go-to-the-Polls” literally still sits with me on restless nights. Now, I know it could be said that this is just a way for older people to try to relate to young people. However, any level of relatability dissolves when the issues that young people care about the most are abandoned or deprioritized from the candidate’s or party’s agenda. Then, it just turns into insincere, and borderline condescending, pandering for a demographic’s votes.

There is a lot to be said on how a politician or candidate attempts to engage with young people. Do they post content on platforms that young people predominantly populate? Does the content actually follow what is trending on the platform? Or, is it 6 months too late? Depending on the answers to those questions, it is easy to weed out which candidate or elected official has at LEAST one young person on their staff and not just a team of old (or old-er) people pretending they are immersed with what’s trending.

Look, I know it can be argued that the politician’s online presence is insignificant to how they perform in office. And I get it. But, at the end of the day, the two are synonymous. It is beyond time that we stop continuing to brush off the glaring disconnect that (potential) elected officials have with a good portion of who they are supposed to represent in office. You don’t see them making uninspired jokes about social security or healthcare initiatives to relate to older people. In fact, that definitely would not play well on their image. Why, then, is it acceptable for them to be world’s away from the issues young people care about most?

Two examples come to mind when I think of politicians who understand their youngest demographic of voters: AOC (duh) and the Kentucky Senate Democrats on Tik Tok (yeah, no, I’m not joking at all).

In October 2020, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez turned to Twitch to play Among Us (mind you, this was peak COVID-boredom, and the game was actually popular). During the stream, she had a host of different streamers that are popular on Twitch playing with her and, everyone combined, had more than 400,000 concurrent people watch their stream and she is still, to this day (I checked) in the top 25 streamers with the highest peak views on the platform. The most impressive aspect, though, came when she ever so casually switched between talking about healthcare policy and the importance of going out to vote in the election to a running commentary of the game at a moment’s notice. It came naturally to her because she wasn’t trying to put on a front to seem as ‘hip’ as possible. She engaged with young people about issues that directly affect them where they were.

On Tik Tok, the Kentucky Senate Democrats are doing something that I consider a rarity: making video content that is concurrent with what is trending AND is speaking on issues that young people care about.

This Tik Tok, made during the peak of the sound’s popularity, made me laugh so hard I nearly cried. It’s just slightly off of what the actual trend was, but still accurate enough that it’s still funny. On top of all of this, the policy being referred to (minimum wage) is one that young people feel very strongly about and directly impacts us.

Believing old people in or running for office cannot connect or relate to young people could not be further from the truth (look at Ed Markey’s 2020 campaign or ask every fourth person walking on a college campus what they think about Bernie Sanders). It’s possible. You just have to put in the work. Young people will not take someone or what they have to say seriously if their attempts to relate to us are disingenuous and performative. We can tell when candidates make empty promises when scrounging for support.

Here’s the bottom line: young people HAVE to be centered in any and all political agendas. Our voice is growing in numbers as each passing year brings even more eligible voters to age. We aren’t asking for a drastic shift in the hierarchy of policy. We are simply asking politicians to stop pretending to care about climate change or student debt to get us to vote for them, just to abandon those initiatives once they are in office. WE are the ones who will face (and are currently facing) the impact those issues have. WE deserve elected officials who will take action and follow through with their deeds.