Will ‘YouTubers’ Decide the 2016 Presidential Election?

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By Nicole Martineau, Publicist

 

In January, the White House announced that YouTube personalities, like education blogger Hank Green, YouTube comedian GloZell Green, and 19-year-old style and beauty vlogger Bethany Mota, were scheduled to interview President Barack Obama in the days following the State of the Union. According to The Hollywood Reporter, while Obama has been participating in Google+ Hangouts with the public, and on occasion YouTubers, for quite some time now, this is the first time the interviewers were flown to Washington, DC to interview the President in-person at the White House.

It was immediately clear that some members of the media were baffled by this new approach.

The most buzzed-about reaction came from CNN Senior White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta, who asked White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest the following during a daily briefing: 

Just noticing that these folks who are going to be conducting these interviews are not professional journalists, they’re people who post videos on YouTube, and I’m just curious, was ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’ or ‘David After Dentist’ not available?

For those unfamiliar with those titles, “Charlie Bit My Finger” and “David After Dentist” were two wildly popular videos on YouTube, arguably the first videos to ever go viral on the Internet.

While at the time this comment seemed like innocent humor, Acosta followed up on his remarks later in the day during a Twitter exchange with Hank Green. After once again being compared to Internet viral videos, Green fired back:

I think sometimes we need to think about how to involve people who are not reached by legacy media in the conversation. That’s all.

Still, Acosta insisted that his remarks were in good humor, tweeting to Green:

No sense of humor @hankgreen? Totally agree. Good luck.

Demeaning headlines soon followed, reading, “No joke: Obama turns to lingerie guru to help sell his State of the Union agenda,” and “YouTube Star Who Drinks Cereal from a Bathtub to Interview President Obama.

While these YouTube celebrities may not be considered professional journalists to most, and yes, they do review some peculiar products and engage in crazy viral challenges from time to time, they have access to something that the White House, and politicians in general, would like a piece of: young people. Specifically, millions of young people who will be old enough to vote in 2016 and, like Green stated, are not reached by legacy media.

According to Fast Company, YouTube reaches more U.S. adults aged 18 to 34 than any major cable network, a key demographic that Obama easily won in 2012 and Mitt Romney struggled to appeal to. According to Politico, when asked about the importance of millennial engagement during a conference call, Rock the Vote President Heather Smith had this to say:

I think we’ve now established a fairly decent pattern that this generation is different from their older brothers and sisters, and we can put those rumors of apathy to bed…this voting bloc can no longer be an afterthought to any party or campaign.

Mota, H. Green, and G. Green combined have over 14 million subscribers on YouTube in addition to large followings on other social media platforms. And they’re not the only ones. There are dozens of active YouTube creators with millions of subscribers in the 12-17 and 18-24 age groups.

So, what does this mean for the upcoming presidential election? This might very well be the start of a new trend, where presidential contenders will use live discussions with YouTubers and other popular online personalities to effectively reach young voters. The White House and advertisers have already caught on, and it’s only a matter of time until other political campaigns catch on as well.

 

State of the YOUnion: Click here to watch Hank Green, GloZell Green, and Bethany Mota interview President Obama on January 22, 2015.

 

Related: Beyond Book Trailers: 4 YouTube Strategies for Authors

 

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