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Episode 40: AOC is Sus ft. Noah Smith and Joe Deshotel

Imad Khan November 21, 2020 16


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Washington Post regular contributor Noah Smith and VoteMAP’s Joe Deshotel jump on the show to talk AOC’s Twitch stream prior to the election.

Transcript:

SPEAKERS: Imad Khan, Joe Deshotel, Noah Smith

Imad Khan  00:02

What’s up everybody, This is FTW with Imad Khan. I’m your host Imad Khan. And joining me today on this AOC is Sus edition is regular contributor to The Washington Post is Noah Smith.

Noah Smith  00:11

Hey Imad, thanks for having me on

Imad Khan  00:13

and vice president of Vote Map. Joe Deshotel will also be joining us.

Joe Deshotel  00:17

Hi, Imad. Thanks for having me on.

Imad Khan  00:18

Last week, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put out a call on Twitter to get out the vote by streaming Among Us on Twitch immediately twitches top stars like Imane “Pokimane” Anys and Benjamin “Dr. Lupo” Lupo responded to her request. The next day, she was joined by Representative Ilhan Omar in a stream that peaked at over 435,000 viewers, the third largest in twitch history. But given that Anys, Lupo and others were also streaming to their audiences, when combined, the total could make it the largest in Twitch history, beating out Ninja and Drake’s fortnight stream from a few years back. So let’s start with Joe. This is the first time at least from what I can recall of twitch being used by a politician in this way, as somebody who has worked at the democratic party down in Texas, why is the gamer vote worth pursuing?

Joe Deshotel  01:00

Primarily, because if you look at the numbers, it’s mostly skews younger, and young people have traditionally not really shown up at the polls, but when they do, it tends to benefit the Democratic Party, both on idealistic, you know, issue based concerns. And I think that that is what folks are going for here. And we’re seeing youth turnout skyrocket during early voting across the country really, in record numbers. And it’s basically the data is telling democrats that if they get young people out to vote that Joe Biden will win.

Imad Khan  01:33

And Noah, as somebody who poured on the stream for The Washington Post and also tuned in, you know, by your account was the stream of success, I guess, not just on the number side, but as an actual, like entertainment piece of material that could push up the vote?

Noah Smith  01:45

Sure. So there’s obviously different ways, as you alluded to have assessing the success or not of the stream, I think that by any metric, it should be perceived as a success, looking at just that stream alone was the fourth most viewed stream of all time on Twitch. And then like you said, if you include the other concurrent streams that may well have passed the the Ninja/Drake one so. So in terms of, you know, just getting people to watch Yes, I think also, there’s an important consideration here of looking at what this represents what it means as sort of like a bellwether, you know, in terms of politicians, engaging younger voters on Twitch, specifically the gaming community, specifically, it’s not the first time. Former President Obama was the first to engage in this way he put in game ads, as early as 2008. So you know, the voters being able to younger voters, and understanding that they are playing video games increasingly as their primary source of entertainment. You know, that that’s been something that’s growing, but you know, it always helps when there’s some event like this, that people can sort of point to, I make a parallel to maybe Worlds, like League of Legends Worlds. Where you can have something that like, okay, the communities growing, things are building, and then boom, somebody sells out Staples Center, somebody sells out Madison Square Garden. And that’s something that helps people who are not part of the endemic community to understand really, what’s what’s going on here. And so, as far as those two things, absolutely success as far as what it was intended to do, which is to get people to the polls, we don’t know yet. There is good evidence to suggest that events like this do have a measurable impact and getting folks to register to vote, but actually getting them then to take that next step to vote. There’s their scant evidence to show that that correlation, and in fact, there’s some to suggest that it’s actually less effective than, than other things. For instance, the most effective way to get people to vote is by appeals from their peers, from their friends, is the one thing and then the other thing is you will notice if you saw the stream, is because AOC kept referring back to it is making a plan to vote. So they find that when somebody actually make comes up with a plan, as opposed saying, Yeah, I’m going to go vote, you know, figure it out on the day when somebody actually says, Okay, I’m going to drive there at 8:30am with my two friends, they’re far more likely to do it. So as I said, the first two things metrics and as far as like, from a social standpoint, absolutely. As far as getting people to vote remains to be seen.

Joe Deshotel  04:11

Hey, Imad, do you mind letting me jump in here real quick, because I think he made Noah made two really good points here. But I think we should take that to the next step about what this was all about in the first place. So absolutely. people making a plan to vote increases their likelihood of voting. The whole idea of this AOC stream was to promote iwillvote.com and what she was saying and and you were talking about the sheer numbers and volume of people hearing hearing the seeing this while she was on I literally right before we started recording this was watching State of the Union with Jake Tapper and she was on and they actually talked about this, her appearance on Twitch. And she said that this was the second I think largest ever or maybe the largest ever driver of traffic to iwillvote.com for people to actually go and make a plan to register to vote. So I think in that sense, we’re, it’s about as close as we can get to seeing it working and driving people to the polls. The other thing is that you mentioned Noah was peer influence. And I’d say that, you know, AOC, being really one of the youngest members of Congress ever is doing that and she is a peer, this is why she’s appeared on Twitch. And I do think it’s gonna probably have that effect, other people seeing it and participating. And then,

Noah Smith  05:29

So it’s important to make the distinction while she’s appear age wise, she’s a celebrity. And so they’ve done this, for instance, with rock the boat, there’s, I think, since 1990. So two decades of research, and I forgot exactly the exact studies but spoke to a couple professors who I mean, this is their field. And so they show that the same age is not something that’s significant, it’s people in their lives. So even parents, for instance, if someone’s parents tried to influence them to vote, it doesn’t work quite as effectively as just regular people in their own lives. And so, while AOC is somebody who’s really shown mastery of all of these social networks, and coming in authentically, being able to use the right terminology, being able to, you know, do shout outs, I think is similar that that her audience is the same as Donald Trump in the sense that while they have obviously very different communication techniques, Donald Trump comes off as authentic to his base, you know, he’s doesn’t come off as a scripted politician. And so that’s appealing for folks on the right, and then AOC is appealing for folks on the left, but at least the reporting that we did, it shows again, that like, somebody who is the same age, but a celebrity and and AOC, is definitely seen as a celebrity, is less effective than, than peers in somebody’s life. So, I mean, I’m glad that came up, because it’s an important distinction. Again, just based on the past, who knows what’s going to happen now? I mean, everything is sort of unprecedented. And in 2020. So yeah, remains to be seen.

Imad Khan  06:53

Yeah. Noah, I want to get your thoughts on something really quick. So you did bring up this point of, you know, AOC being a celebrity. And whenever there have been celebrities that do this kind of Rock the Vote efforts, like when Kim Kardashian urges people to vote, and then it comes out that hh, she didn’t actually vote, I guess there’s a lot of eye rolling that goes on. And, you know, to what extent do a bunch of movie stars and musicians can really influence you know, the political spectrum. But I think there’s a difference with streamers, right? I mean, people view Kim Kardashian for example, from a distance through a television screen, while people can more directly engage with Twitch streamers, you know, actually commenting on their Twitch chats, and you know, having this communication engagement. if a Twitch streamer like a Pokimane, or Dr. Lupo are urging people to go out and vote, I mean, do you feel that would be more effective than just another celebrity?

Noah Smith  07:39

I do. And I think that’s also a good point. It’s an important distinction that comes up with Twitch as compared to other social networks, number one, and just in terms of celebrity culture in general. So obviously, your listeners will know that, you know, distinguishing point looking at Twitch and stars on Twitch compared to like a movie star or an NBA star is that is that feeling of accessibility? Right? So you’re watching the stream there. It’s interactive, that can respond to comments, you’re there, you’re with him for a long time. And so there is that that sense of familiarity that does sort of, and we see it in esports all the time, right? Where there’s this expectation that you’re not just going to be able to go to the match and see it like going to the Lakers game and watching LeBron do his thing. But you then get to meet and talk and interact with those people just because of the grassroots nature of esports. And because of video game community. So I do think that that there is an increased sense of closeness there. Again, just based on the reporting that I’ve done for the past few years where the audience is there do do feel a greater connection. And so will that translate then to getting folks out to vote? Again, if we don’t know if I had to guess I do think I do think it could be more effective with that specific case in particular.

Imad Khan  08:42

And Joe, you know, as somebody who has worked in the Democratic Party down in Texas, I think the thing that surprised me about the stream was the timing of it. I felt that it came a little late. I mean, voting has already started. voter registration for a lot of places is already ended. If you were I guess AOC’s campaign manager, would you have pushed this stream to maybe before? early early voting deadlines?

Joe Deshotel  09:03

The voting deadline is November 3, it varies widely across the US. And so in Texas, yeah, it’s like a month out because we don’t want people to vote. So you have to be registered a month before, but I actually don’t think it was a big mistake, because early voting is well underway. And I think that we you know, given what Noah saying and the research, we need to hit people when the door is open, that they can walk through not a month before, because then there’s time to forget to change your mind for that, you know, sort of Top of Mind information to get to the back of your mind and go away. And I think that is part of the reason why the the voter registration deadlines are so early, because it ends before most people even start really thinking about voting. So we want to make sure that if we’re doing something to make sure people go and get out to vote that we’re doing it when the polls are open, and there’s still plenty of time. And if we look at what’s actually happening right now, you know, more than 3 million And people have already voted, young people have already voted, and half a million of them live in Texas. So something is working. Now, we don’t know if it’s this kind of stuff. But I do think this is helping. I would love to see an exit poll after the election of young people. I would like to see what was more effective. Between AOC on Twitch and Donald Trump threatening to take down TikTok. You know, I mean, I think that, that made a lot of news, and I think it might have made even more news had he actually done it, I think it would have, you know, seeped into the sort of ether of young people that this guy is really not on your side, and is coming after you your platforms and and the way you communicate with your friends. So I do think things like that matter. And I’d be kind of curious here, what Noah thinks about people like Claudia Conway, who’s been trending on Twitter multiple times, it was almost like every week for a month, she was trending, talking about her mom right up until her mom had to quit, essentially, the White House, but bringing that information in a different way to a different audience on a different type of platform. And I’m wondering what kind of effect that is having on young people? So I don’t have an answer there. But I would be interested to see in some kind of exit polling, what is what is driving and what is behind the exponential growth of youth turnout this election?

Imad Khan  11:20

Hmm. And Noah, you know, I want to ask you this question. Is it at all surprising to you that the Republican Party isn’t really pursuing the gamer vote at all, or even to the extent that the Democratic Party is considering that there’s this contingency of video game players that are very active online, but are also very right wing, whether they be on certain subreddits? or certain parts of the internet, like 4chan.

Noah Smith  11:43

Yeah. So there’s a couple points also on on the last comment. So there’s actually case studies and examples of times when it has been effective. And when the democrats have been able to turn out voters that reported on this in my story. Congress member Harder in in Northern California was able to triple the youth vote. In his election, he was 32 years old, when he was elected, he brought it up, I got the figures in front of me from 15, about 15,000 to 47,000, from the last congressional midterm election to his. So when I asked him about this about how is he effective in doing it, so he looked at Snapchat. So for him, it was Snapchat, it was other forms of social media. And it was, again, trying to talk with an authentic message that resonated not the scripted sort of, like, Usual Suspects wave of conducting campaigns, number one, number two, I think that the answer to this question also lies in the candidates themselves. So you know, you could look at President Obama’s campaigns and say, Oh, he’s, you know, this mastery of technology and social media and this, that, and that’s all true, right. And they’re in great innovations there. But at the end of the day, was when people came out, they wanted to support him. And so I think that, you know, looking at the message, looking at the candidate, you know, it’s something where you’re saying Hollywood content is king. So you can dress it up, you can put it on Ott, you can put it on your phone, you can do this, you can put the apps in it, but at the end of the day, it comes down to the storyline, and it comes down, I think I would argue to the candidates themselves. So I just wanted to add that and then as far as from the Republican side, um, so a couple things. One, they are pursuing it. So the young Republicans, the what was explained to me, or at least what their argument was, is that basically, they’re doing it but they’re doing it in a more grassroots way. I don’t know that they have anybody that would be able to do something that is, you know, similar to what AOC just did, it’s a different tactics that would be required as a result of that. But they do feel that they’re that they can be competitive there for a few reasons. Certainly, in certain sub genre sub communities of gaming of you know, the 3D printing community, the cryptocurrency community, that’s a more libertarian friendly, mainstream ideas that are accepted there, and more common. And then as far as, am I surprised about it, you know that they’re not doing this not really, because as was alluded to, I think somebody mentioned here, pew did a study that said that actually the most democratic supporting generation are millennials at 59%. So given that, unless you want to really target and get into the weeds with these sorts of things, I’m not sure that it necessarily behooves them to target these specific communities. If that’s the case, if they’re targeting, you know, a group where 59% of folks don’t support them, then you’re sort of into this, this ball game of trying to convince people which is not really doesn’t really seem to be what this election is about. Nor does seem to be what Trump President Trump was trying to do in the last election, in terms of trying to convince people It seems to just be about going to the base hitting the base hard, giving them red meat and and getting the core to turnout and it it worked for less time than it appears that’s what’s going on this time as well.

Imad Khan  14:43

Seven in 10 voters and 2000 were part of the boomer generation. While that has started to fall quite precipitously, now boomers, they’re still technically the largest voting bloc at 28% of the potential electorate, while millennials account for 27% and Gen Z is The smallest set one in 10. But that is, you know, 10% of the voting population, but combined millennials and Gen Z, you’re at 37%. So they do make up the largest potential voting bloc. And of course, Joe, you alluded to this earlier, the most difficult thing Bernie Sanders even ran into this during the primaries was, it’s just so difficult to get young people out to vote, meeting them where they are, where the average gamer is, you know, in their early 30s, meeting them on Twitch meeting them in video games, you know, I don’t know, it hasn’t really maybe worked in the past so much. But do you think that shift is happening in 2020 now, Joe?

Joe Deshotel  15:25

we are seeing it, as Noah pointed out, as far back as 2008, Obama was in in gaming and and trying to find those audiences and, and really inspire them in any way. And I think that that is one of the differences with Democrats and with young people is, you know, everything is changing. And people don’t necessarily just look for that label that they can go with, everybody is about a la cart, everything is about convenience. People don’t want to tie their self and identity to a large group anymore. And, and so I think that is a difficulty of the Democratic Party, everybody wants to have their own opinion, and their own way of doing things. So it’s going to be very difficult to fit all of that diversity under one banner. And I think that’s always been a problem for the Democrats, as opposed to the Republican Party. Just look at the latest 2018 class of Congress, the new members on the Democratic side, young, diverse in color, in age, and gender, and just not the case with the Republicans. And so as the country becomes more diverse, I think we’ve got to be as Democrats, of course, more, you know, creative and how we find audiences, and then how we make the connection to both our platform and how it affects people in their daily lives, and also the action of civic participation and actually making that connection as this is what you believe this is what we believe. And then this is how we get it done. And I do think that that is that’s the trick. That’s the hard part. And if we ever figured that out, we’d be in a pretty good shape for at least a generation, I think.

Imad Khan  17:21

Hmm, yeah. I mean, we’re looking at i was i was reading a report over in Florida, where, you know, while Democrats have this early surge in early voting, it seems that a lot of that is being kind of slowly chipped away at by large republican voter turnout, kind of mid into the early voting cycle. It’s cutting into that, especially the the mail in total. So I guess, yeah, like each party’s having their own kind of pow wows and trying to figure out how to allocate their money effectively. And I think it’s because the Biden campaign, they do have a lot more money than the Trump campaign. They’re essentially trying to build a coalition similar to that of the Obama campaign back in 2008, which was a massive coalition and even in 2012, because it seems that that’s kind of what the Democrats will need, given our electoral college system to take back the presidency like you. They just need massive, massive, massive numbers. And with that, thank you so much for jumping on Noah and Joe.

Noah Smith  18:13

No, thank you. It is a great time. Thanks so much.

Joe Deshotel  18:16

Yeah, thanks for having us.

Imad Khan  18:17

And that was FTW with Imad Khan. If you like the show, please rate, subscribe and share full transcripts of the show as well as links to our Patreon can be found at ftwimadkhan. To follow Noah and all the work he’s doing at the Washington Post. You can find him at @vildehaya on Twitter. That’s V I L D E H A Y A. To follow Joe and everything that’s going on with voting down in Texas., follow him @joethepleb on Twitter, and be sure to subscribe to his podcast Left in Texas. To follow me in my writing or read the New York Times The Washington Post and elsewhere find me at him @imad on Twitter. And Ron Lyons is our audio producer. With that. We’ll catch you guys next week.

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