Social media’s role in Massachusetts’s midterm elections and youth voter engagement

Photo Credit: Unsplash / Jeremy Bezanger

By Amanda Cappelli
Boston University Statehouse Program

Massachusetts political campaigns are using social media this midterm season as a tool to improve voter engagement among young Americans, who consistently hold the lowest voter turnout, according to a United States Elections Project report.

Voting-age population data collected and organized by the United States Elections Project based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, November Voting and Registration Supplement.

Hiba Senhaj, a project manager for the progressive consulting firm Field First, says that social media is an opportunity to make politics more accessible for more groups. She says that in previous generations, folks often got involved in politics through family connections.

“Social media definitely democratizes democracy,” she says. “I think social media is so important because it bridges the gaps and divides in so many communities.”

Amanda Orlando, manager of the Geoff Diehl for Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign, says that social media is vital for all campaigns, but traditional news media does not provide Republican campaigns equal coverage.

“One of the benefits of social media is that you’re able to get your message directly to people without the filter of the media,” she says. “So for that reason, it’s important to Republican campaigns. Because we don’t get any help from the mainstream media, ever, and Democrats do.”

However, the Pew Research Center found that 64% of Americans “say social media have a mostly negative effect on the way things are going in the U.S. today,” in 2020. 

Senhaj and Orlando say that Twitter and Facebook are primary social media outlets to connect with voters and get messaging across. However, they also say that door-to-door physical campaigning is the most effective in gaining votes.

“I just don’t think that social media has gotten to a point where it’s as effective as fielding. But they go hand in hand. It’s so important, how you grow a field program, and you can utilize social media and vice versa,” Senhaj says.

“You have to balance it,” says Orlando. “That’s what a good campaign does.”

Elections, especially those with thin margins, can be won or lost based on youth voter turnout.

Rhode Island Republican House candidate Allan Fung was 8 points ahead of his Democratic opponent Seth Magaziner, according to the Oct. 11 Suffolk University/ Boston Globe poll, in the traditionally blue state. Fung has around 2,000 more followers than Magaziner on Twitter and about 6,000 more on Facebook.

Courtesy of Amanda Cappelli
Courtesy of Amanda Cappelli

Jake Simmer, 21, a Hopkinton resident and registered Republican plans to vote by mail in the midterms. He says he gets some of his political information from TikTok but says he prefers “normal conversation” when discussing political differences.

Abby Klar, a 21-year-old registered Democrat and Newton resident, voted early in this year’s midterm election. She says she does not pay much attention to paid advertisements and prefers to listen to “normal people’s” messages online.

“I think all politicians have their own agendas,” she says. “A lot of the times, they’re voting for reasons other than what they think is the best thing for their community, even though that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s just harder to trust politicians in general.”

However, Klar says that the more messaging she sees online on an issue, the more “concerned” she feels about it and its impact.

Democratic Sen. Ed Markey was elected to Congress long before social media but has a significant online presence. The “Markeyverse” was credited with helping him defeat a much younger Joe Kennedy in the 2020 Democratic U.S. Senate primary.

“Young people are our nation’s fiercest advocates for confronting climate change and tackling the issues that matter most,” he said in a statement. “When we come together on platforms like Twitter, TikTok, and Twitch, it is as part of a broader community, fighting for our values, while having fun online.”

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