AOC’s Twitch Stream — 4 Political Lessons

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s bold authenticity is the future of politics

Jesse Harris
Oct 21, 2020 · 6 min read
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Source: Steam and Wikimedia Commons

On the evening of October 20, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez streamed the game Among Us for about 3 hours on her Twitch channel to an audience of just under half a million people. She was joined by a variety of high-profile Twitch streamers and YouTubers, including Myth, Pokimane, Hasanabi, HBomberguy, and Corpse, as well as Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and her daughter Isra.

It was a delight. I watched the entire stream. There were some hilarious moments, surprising twists, and just the right amount of politics.

AOC’s stream simply a masterclass in reaching out to young voters. Though this was her first attempt diving into Twitch electioneering, there is a lot that can be learned from AOC’s stream.

Aside: What is Among Us?

The specifics of the game aren’t necessary to understand this article, but it is worth explaining for the sake of clarity. Among Us is a computer game that is based on finding the two “imposters” that are among a crew of 10 astronauts. The imposters are trying to kill the crew members before they are discovered, and the crew is trying to figure out who the imposters are while completing tasks around the map. The core of the game is good guys trying to deduce who the bad guys are, and the bad guys trying to trick the good guys.

If you have played party games like Mafia, Werewolf, or Resistance, it is in a similar genre. If you would like a more fulsome explainer, check out this recent article in the New York Times.

Authenticity

AOC’s political superpower is authenticity. She has a presence and a confidence that is out of this world. If you didn’t know who AOC was, it would be difficult to tell the difference between her stream and a regular Twitch streamer. She talked naturally, told jokes, laughed, and was clearly having fun. It was incredibly charming.

Authenticity is underrated. When most politicians are speaking, part of my brain is trying to find the holes in their argument. What are they trying to hide? What is their real motivation? With AOC, I genuinely believe she says what she thinks is true. She is trustworthy, believable, and she understands real people. Almost any politician who has been in D.C. for any period of time sounds like a robot. AOC is obviously still a freshman, but I am optimistic that she will maintain the connection to everyday folks longer than some of her colleagues.

The lesson here is not for other random members of Congress to set up a Twitch account. I don’t think Dianne Feinstein or Don Young would not improve their authenticity by streaming video games. Rather, the Among Us stream worked because AOC is an authentic person.

Breaking out of the bubble

It may seem weird to make a big deal out of gaming with a few YouTubers. If that is your response, then you clearly don’t understand video gaming culture. Myth has 7 million followers on Twitch, 7.2 million followers on Instagram, 4.6 million subscribers on YouTube, and 2.3 million followers on Twitter. Pokimane has 6 million followers on Twitch, 5.8 million subscribers on YouTube, 5.3 million followers on Instagram, and 2.5 million followers on Twitter. These are real celebrities within the certain demographics. AOC was able to reach an audience of millions with only a few hours of her time. Very high impact stuff!

What is more important than how many people were reached, was the kinds of people she reached. Imagine if AOC had done a video game live stream with the group from Crooked Media (a pro-Democrat podcasting company known for Pod Save America). While that would probably be a useful event, the net effect would be much smaller, even if the viewership numbers were similar. In that case, the audience is likely to already be politically engaged. By collaborating with these streamers, AOC was able to reach viewers that are far less politically involved. She made politics look cool, and that is valuable both in this election and as a long-term investment.

It is also worth highlighting a fascinating difference between AOC and another extremely authentic character in American politics. Say what you want about Trump, there is no question that he’s authentic. He says what is on his mind, and finds ways to connect with his audience. That being said, he can’t break out of his bubble. He is comfortable delivering rants at rallies, or interviews with right-wing media, but political independents aren’t going to tune in to that nonsense. As soon as he steps out of his bubble it becomes obvious that Trump is arrogant, power-hungry, and delusional. AOC’s ability to effortlessly jump into the real world is remarkable.

Political messages don’t need to be complicated

For a stream ostensible focused on getting out the vote, there was less political content than I expected. There were a few conversations about voting plans scattered through the stream, but they were pretty tight. But that was fine! There might be some advantages to fitting in a bit more content, but I expect this wouldn’t make much difference.

As a political junkie, it is hard to step back and think about what kind of content would motivate a non-voter, but I strongly suspect that AOC’s friendly presence was a useful push. Sophisticated campaign strategy and messaging isn’t always the answer. If this were an effort to encourage volunteering or donations then it would be better to have a more impactful message, but given the goal, I don’t think more intensity would be helpful.

One particularly memorable moment was related to healthcare. It came up in conversation that HBomberguy couldn’t vote in the U.S. election because he was British. AOC asked him what it was like to not have to pay for healthcare. Like, literally, what is it like to be in a hospital and not have to pay. Pokimane (who is Canadian) explained how it was the most surprising part of living in America. After the exchange was over, AOC observed that people in the U.S. treat universal healthcare as a fantasy, but it is real in places like the U.K. and Canada.

This whole interaction — 100% unscripted and candid — took five or ten minutes. It is completely stuck in my head. Obviously, this message isn’t anything new — universal healthcare enthusiasts have been making this exact point for decades — but the clarity with which AOC made this pitch drove the idea home. Democrats are sometimes allergic to speaking about policies in clean terms. In some cases, a bolder program may be more politically effective given the simplicity of the messaging.

Don’t be afraid of looking stupid

If there was one true surprise from the stream it was AOC’s comfort with making mistakes. Among Us is a hard game, especially when you are playing against professional streamers who have already logged many hours. She made a few clear mistakes, particularly as she was starting. But it was fine! She figured things out, got into a groove, and accepted that she wasn’t going to play perfectly.

This may seem obvious, but it is wild to see an internationally recognized politician just make mistakes like a normal person. I’m so used to watching Trump, who is incapable of admitting any flaw or shortcoming. While Biden is more humble, he also wouldn’t put himself in a position to look stupid. Most politicians are terrified of making mistakes. AOC and Ilhan Omar put themselves in a potentially vulnerable position, and they dove in! That type of confidence is very rare.

This boldness partly explains why AOC is so politically impactful, despite the fact she is a freshman Congresswoman. AOC had an idea, and she put it into action, even though there were risks involved. Don’t overthink it. No one knows how “Congresswoman streams on Twitch” polls. There are no focus groups or 538 model to validate her approach. But AOC thought up a plan and carried it out. While this approach is risky, it does offer tremendous opportunities. There is actually a parallel to the Green New Deal, which AOC was instrumental in mainstreaming. Don’t just respond to what everyone else is doing — shape public opinion! If you start with a good idea and put forward an authentic and simple vision, people respond.

AOC is one of the most talented politicians of our time. Hundreds of thousands of people watched this stream, and many more will watch the recordings when they are made available. Not only that, this kind of “stunt” is a great way to drive the conversation. Even kids who are 12–16 and know nothing about politics will hear about the Congresswoman who streamed Among Us. That kind of clout and cultural impact is priceless.

Plus, if AOC ever does decide to get out of politics, we know she has a great back-up career lined-up.

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Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse.

Jesse Harris

Written by

Scientist / Writer / Environmentalist ~ I would love to work with you. Learn more about me: https://jesse-harris.ca/

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

Jesse Harris

Written by

Scientist / Writer / Environmentalist ~ I would love to work with you. Learn more about me: https://jesse-harris.ca/

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

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