The virtual Democratic National Convention this week missed the mark on representing non-white voters.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez addressed the lack of representation at the convention in an Instagram story on Friday night. In response to a question sticker asking about her thoughts on the convention, Ocasio-Cortez noted that as a young, progressive Latina, the DNC’s virtual rally wasn’t targeted to her.
“The target audience for this convention was white moderates who aren’t sure who they’re voting for in November,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote in response after giving “major, major props” to the unprecedented virtual convention’s organizers. “Do I agree on centering the programming around that audience? Not necessarily! I think we could have done more to rally turnout enthusiasm from our party’s base.”
Ocasio-Cortez also expressed disappointment in the lack of representation for Latino and Muslim voters, who are crucial in swing states. She noted that Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who were elected into office with historic voter turnout, showed how significant the Muslim vote is. The DNC also missed out on giving progressive Latinos like Julián Castro a platform to galvanize viewers into voting.
While the DNC was underlined with an urgency to vote Trump out of office, it failed to prioritize younger voters, who are already less likely to turn up to the polls in November. The convention was a feat, considering it involved coordinating content recorded around the country, but it was also panned as a stilted, dry video conference. While putting together events that adhere to social distancing recommendations is difficult, the countless virtual festivals that have emerged since the pandemic shut down the country is proof that online events don’t have to feel like dated telethons.
The DNC was livestreamed on a variety of different platforms, including Twitch, but missed out on using social media to its full advantage. In a culture dominated by content creation, why not use every tool possible? Centering the programming around older white moderates plays it safe, but fails to reach out to younger voters. And, like Ocasio-Cortez noted, BIPOC voters who reside in swing states.
Politicians have successfully used social media in the past — when the pandemic began spreading in early March, both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders canceled their physical rallies in favor of virtual ones. Biden, who was formally nominated as the Democratic presidential candidate this week, held a rally marred by technical issues. Sanders, who had been guesting on podcasts, speaking on Facebook Live, and reposting supporter content on TikTok, held a rally that went more smoothly. As Makena Kelly wrote for The Verge, “candidates across the country will need a new kind of online strategy to carry them to victory” as social distancing continues.
That strategy extends beyond just queueing up pre-recorded musical performances to keep viewers engaged. The DNC barely promoted itself on social media, leaving possible voters out of the loop. Rather than using tools like Instagram Stories, Facebook Live, or even the Twitch chat to engage voters, the convention was much like watching broadcast television.
As social interactions increasingly take place online amid the pandemic, politicians have a unique opportunity to engage with their voters and constituents on a more personal level than they had before. The week-long convention was brimming with chances to bring politics to social media, whether highlighting speakers on Instagram stories or posting short clips on TikTok.
But like Ocasio-Cortez wrote in her Instagram story, “not every disagreement is a fight.” The DNC was not designed for those who are already online and engaged with politics. But it also failed to reach those who are online and may have some distance from the presidential race. The 2020 DNC was a technical feat, but it also shows that there’s room for political strategy to better adapt to our country’s changing social culture.