Gen Z’s Favorite New Politican

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A standout in Congress, and not just because of her signature red. She’s shaken it up, become a Twitter sensation in the process and crept into Gen Z’s hearts. Drumroll please… it’s AOC.  

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, better known as AOC, first made headlines in 2018 when she won the Democratic Party’s primary election for New York’s 14th congressional district. She defeated Joe Crowley, a 10-term incumbent, to take the seat. She then went on to defeat Republican opponent Anthony Pappas in the general election, cinching her spot in the House of Representatives. 

AOC was just 29 years old when she took office, making her the youngest woman ever to serve in Congress. Moreover, she was relatable: graduating cum laude from Boston University, but still working as a waitress and bartender before running. Talk about a working woman to the core!

Immediately, AOC stood out. During her confirmation, she wore an all-white suit as a sign of female solidarity. “I wore all-white today to honor the women who paved the path before me, and for all the women yet to come…” she explained, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the mothers of the movement.” Her signature look – a blazer, a popping red lip and hoop earrings – made waves too. AOC’s tweet following the confirmation indicated that she found inspiration in Sonia Sotomayor who, at her own confirmation hearing, was advised to wear neutral-colored nail polish. “She kept her red. Next time someone tells Bronx girls to take off their hoops, they can just say they’re dressing like a Congresswoman.” 

AOC knows how to start a conversation, and she does it in a true millennial and Gen Z fashion: through social media. If her 5.2 million followers on Instagram don’t impress you, try her 7.9 million followers on Twitter, making her the most followed person out of any member of the House. This month alone, AOC made headlines by deciding to play a new, fan-favorite, online game, called Among Us, and stream it live, to encourage people to vote. Joined by some of the gaming communities’ top stars, she very quickly became one of the Twitch platform’s biggest broadcasters: her steam peaked at at 435,000 viewers. Indeed, CNN writes that “It’s no exaggeration to say that, aside from former President Barack Obama (120.8 million Twitter followers), there is no current member of the Democratic Party with more ability to influence the national conversation than AOC.”

While some older members of both the Democratic and Republican parties may mock her social media presence, remarking that social media isn’t real life, they should be wary. New York Times columnist Charlie Wazel argues that this oversimplified view misses the key point: AOC is not just a politician. She is a movement, “driven forward to unimaginable heights for a freshman member of Congress by ardent fans who consume anything and everything she says and does. She represents the future of how politicians will build support and then use that support to accomplish their political and policy goals.”

What exactly are her policy goals? And what do they show about Gen Z’s beliefs?

Ocasio-Cortez is a member Democratic Socialists of America. That’s right, socialist. This word has been known to send panic waves through the United States – but what about how Gen Z feels? AOC advocates a progressive platform that includes Medicare for All, a federal jobs guarantee, the Green New Deal and abolishing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Democratic socialism has come more into the mainstream with politicians like Bernie Sanders, and young people are responding. In December, the New York Times reported that Sanders was by far the most recognizable presidential candidate for Gen Z. His policies are gaining traction: In a 2019 VICE poll of Gen Z, six in ten predicted that the wealth gap would worsen in the next decade; 20% believed the United States would pivot to socialism by that point; and 57% identified socialism as an economic solution that would help combat violence against marginalized people. Instead of a “Red Scare”, we’re talking “Red is Rad”: AOC is turning socialism into a movement that Gen Z wants to follow.

What can this generational shift be attributed to? Potentially: Gen Z wants to believe in socialism because of the way it sees the world. In the VICE poll, 86% of Gen Z said they think the future will be characterized by worsening climate disasters; 68% said they believe economic problems will grow more pronounced; and 63% said they expect to see more global conflicts in their lifetimes. Essentially, the problem can be that we no longer have faith in the antiquated methods of the adults. The majority of Gen Z respondents said they had “zero trust” in the country’s leadership. AOC offers a change: Stephanie Mudge, an associate professor of sociology at University of California, Davis who focuses on leftist politics, writes that “Socialism says: ‘We have a whole generation of people who have debt before they even hit the labor market—let’s cancel that.’” Gen Z wants Ocasio-Cortez to keep rising in the ranks, and maybe even run for President, with the hashtag #AOC2024 garnering 110.9 million views on TikTok. While AOC has never confirmed this, and would likely have trouble swaying other generations to vote for her, suffice to stay – with Gen Z having her back, she’ll be sticking around. 

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