At the beginning of my experience in the Iowa Caucus Project, I expected to see a lot of candidates but only met them sometimes. Presidential candidates are people you often see on a screen nowadays, not physically. In Iowa, that was different. I am proud to have physically seen candidates and watched them interact with voters. This makes candidates real. I know they are human beings living their lives outside of being a presidential candidate, but seeing them yourself makes them more “real.” While face-to-face interaction is still important, young voters undeniably spend much time on social media.
At the beginning of Vektoberfest, an event for presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, I had no idea what to expect. I had only met one candidate before this, and it was brief. I wanted to know if speaking to or even being near him was possible. I assumed he would be talking and meeting a few voters onstage but not necessarily in the crowd. I was pleasantly surprised when Ramaswamy showed up at the event and immediately started interacting with the Iowans at his event. Other staffers and I spotted him at the beginning of his rounds through the venue. He had barely walked in, and other staffers and I were already taking the opportunity to speak to him personally and meet him.
As we walked up, another staffer and I realized BeReal had just “gone off.” BeReal is a popular app amongst college students. At some point during the day, everyone receives a notification simultaneously. You never know when this notification will come. This is to take a picture using your front and back camera to show what you are doing at that moment. With social media being increasingly “fake,” you never truly see real life. BeReal combats this issue by making it fun and interesting to show what you are doing at one exact moment. After you receive the notification to “BeReal,” you have two minutes to take your picture. This ensures that you are truly doing something real.
Luckily for me and other staffers who enjoy using BeReal, we received our notification right as we were about to meet Vivek Ramaswamy. We immediately knew what we had to do. Ask Vivek Ramaswamy to be included in our BeReal photo. While Ramaswamy has been outspoken on social media outlets, such as his stance on TikTok, a short video app, he happily posed for multiple BeReals. He seemed somewhat familiar with the app and seemed happy that young voters were inviting him to be involved in something they were interested in.
Looking back, it is interesting to observe Ramaswamy’s willingness to participate in social media to attract young voters. Recently, Ramaswamy has joined the popular TikTok app despite calling it “digital fentanyl.” As a student residing in Iowa, I have found many of Vivek Ramaswamy’s TikTok videos as the Iowa Caucuses are looming. The app has what is called a “for you” page. It tailors videos based on your engagement. I will admit that my tailored videos include various political videos. This combines cute dog videos, shopping suggestions, and travel ideas. However, I have been subject to some of Ramaswamy’s TikTok videos, which take place specifically in Iowa.
If you know anything about Iowa, you are either a Cyclones or a Hawkeyes fan. In the above TikTok video, Ramaswamy puts on an Iowa Hawkeyes T-shirt. This is a strategy to connect with Iowa voters to support a team in the state. Since Ramaswamy also posted it as a video on TikTok, he is reaching a wider audience. I saw this video while sitting in my Des Moines, Iowa, living room. Although it took place in Iowa City, social media allows a larger audience to be reached. Furthermore, it can show a candidate's commitment to a whole state. Even if you were not at the event, you still received the same message through social media.
Overall, Ramaswamy exemplified an attempt to connect with young voters and how social media aids in this goal. Iowans are used to seeing commercials or ads supporting candidates as the Caucuses get nearer. However, young voters have now seen new forms of social media start to focus on political candidates as well. As a young voter, I am easiest to reach at times through social media. Vivek Ramaswamy is clearly beginning to take advantage of the role of social media.