In early October, the College Republican National Committee released a video called "Say Yes to the Candidate," a hokey spoof on the TLC show Say Yes to the Dress. The White House began employing emojis Thursday as part of their pitch to young people on the importance of economic issues. That same day, Medium published a piece by President Barack Obama on its hip story platform created by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams — trumpeting how vital today's youth are to America's future.
The campaigns are cut from the same cloth as the White House's Flannel Pajamas Hipster, as well as that inexplicable BuzzFeed-style list of reasons (GIFs included) to sign up for the Affordable Care Act.
Like those efforts, the latest batch falls flat. They're akin to a parent who shows up to their child's high school dance wearing Jordans and attempts to sidle up to unsuspecting teens — embarrassing for everyone involved and usually the subject of ridicule.
Emojis and GIFs might reach some voters, but there's a very real possibility it will turn just as many off. The White House, for example, was roundly mocked for its latest effort:
That said, you can't fault them for trying. Voter turnout among young people is consistently low. In 2012, for example, the voting rate among 18- to 24-year-olds was just 38% compared with almost 70% for those 65 and older.
They're an incredibly valuable demographic to politicians. According to the Center for Research and Information on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, Mitt Romney would have won easily in 2012 had he split the youth vote with Obama. Instead, Obama received 67%, while Romney garnered just 30%.
Although voter participation among young people has been on the uptick compared with previous decades, there are valid reasons for concern for both Democrats and Republicans. Obama's approval rating amongst younger voters is just 43%, while the College Republican National Committee released a report in June 2013 calling the party's situation with young people "dismal."
But emojis aren't the way to go about it. It's particularly strange that the Democrats — who have traditionally had a stronghold on America's youth — are resorting to these kinds of infantilizing maneuvers. It's even more bizarre when you consider Obama's masterful use of social media and the Internet in 2008.
Both parties are trying to seduce young voters and both are failing in part because their efforts are so transparent. We're very much aware that both parties are vying for our votes, and that makes stunts like this and "Say Yes to the Candidate" insulting, not appealing.
If Democrats and Republicans really want to catch the attention of young people, they could start by taking us seriously instead of relying on memes as bait. Young people have enough to worry about thanks to our elected leaders — the least they could do is approach us with a campaign that reflects our generation's complexity and nuance.