MTV or GOTV: The Importance of Political Ads for Gen Z

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In a somewhat desperate attempt to increase youth turnout and support, 2016 Presidential nominee Hilary Clinton told young voters to “Pokémon go to the polls”. Young voters did decide to catch those Pokemon at the polls, yet they did not vote as much for Clinton as they did for Obama in 2012. According to NPR, only 55% of voters between 18 and 29 cast their ballot for Clinton, whereas Obama received 60% of their votes in 2012. In crucial swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, Clinton’s vote share from those between 18 and 29 was 15% lower than Obama’s share of that demographic in 2012. Because the 2016 election was decided by a handful of votes in a handful of states, this decrease could have cost Clinton the election. The takeaway: in 2020, Gen Z has the power to decide who becomes president. 

Connecting with such a diverse and important generation can be difficult for politicians. First, a disproportionate number of young voters are already disillusioned with our political system. A poll conducted in August 2020 found that, even though 5% of all registered voters said they did not plan to vote, this was true for 8% of those between the ages of 18 and 29. A 3% difference may not seem that large, but that is 60% higher than all other groups of voters. Therefore, reaching young voters and ensuring they receive a campaign’s intended message can be difficult. This is especially true due to the fact that often, these voters ignore political ads because of their disillusionment. Next, because social media and a lower amount of TV viewership causes younger voters to have a shorter attention span, ads have to be engaging. Otherwise, it is practically a guarantee that instead of actively absorbing a message from the ad, young voters will be scrolling through Instagram, Snapchat or playing a game on their phone.

Because of this reality, many campaigns continue to have difficulty connecting with these voters. For example, the Biden campaign recently released an ad titled, “Everybody Let’s Vote”. The ad is definitely exciting and fun. It features quick, flashy graphics and fast-paced music that hold Gen Z’s short attention span and albeit for a short period of time, excite people to vote. However, it fails to meet its goal of motivating certain younger voters to complete what they see as the hassle of voting. First, this ad gives no reason to vote for Biden. All it does is quickly flash issues like “climate change” and “student loans” on the screen. With so many other quickly-moving images, it’s easy to miss these phrases. The ad also does not explain what Biden will do to solve these problems. So, even if it’s a good political music video, the ad isn’t able to give younger viewers a specific reason to make the effort to vote.

Combining the engaging aspects of Biden’s “Everybody Let’s Vote” ad and more specific policy proposals could be a perfect formula to reach and motivate young voters. A wonderful example of an ad that connects with voters of all ages comes from Andrew Gillum’s campaign as the Democratic candidate for the Governor of Florida. This ad, called ”Chance,” engages viewers from the start with its deep, powerful music, and Gillum’s exciting and moving voiceover. The introduction doesn’t match that of a typical political advertisement, so it stands a better chance of engaging those who feel disillusioned by politics. As it continues, phrases flash across the screen, similarly to Biden’s aforementioned ad. to the Biden ad. However, these phrases relate to specific policies, such as “Healthcare for All” or “$1 Billion Dollars More for Education,” not just general topic areas like “Climate Change.” Thus, this ad gives viewers reasons to vote for Gillum. Additionally, unlike the Biden ad, viewers aren’t overwhelmed by images, and are able to absorb the policy proposals.

As demonstrated by the politically astute Hilary Clinton, gaining youth support presents many challenges. However, young voters, whose turnout may sway an election, are too important to be on the receiving end of unappealing ads. If campaigns create engaging and specific ads, then they can ensure the support of this decisive demographic.

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