Jenna Wadsworth, a candidate for North Carolina commissioner of agriculture, has turned to TikTok to reach out to voters. Photo courtesy of Jenna Wadsworth.
This year's election has been like no other.
Rallies have transformed into drive-ins and campaigning live on the internet. Candidates have had to adjust to using new technology and social media platforms in order to reach voters.
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Jenna Wadsworth, the Democratic candidate for North Carolina commissioner of agriculture, has done just that. Her growing Instagram and TikTok presences reflect this campaigning shift since the advent of COVID-19.
Wadsworth has over 2,400 followers on TikTok and Instagram and over 5,000 followers on Twitter, which she said has allowed her to reach more young voters in ways that would not otherwise be safe or logistically possible during a pandemic.
“I found that you can reach a whole different group of voters and in a compelling, a more interesting and kind of visually appealing way,” Wadsworth said. “You can really share your story and make people excited about this race.”
The uptick in young voters seems to be the key in elections this season, similar to Obama's 2008 campaign, Suzanne Globetti, a political science professor at UNC, said. Now, there are more platforms targeted at younger audiences.
“People thought that Obama's social media campaign was very successful — they did do very well among young people in 2008,” Globetti said.
Although social media use has significantly increased across all age groups since 2006, 90 percent of young voters ages 18 to 29 have some form of social media, according to data from the Pew Research Center. In contrast, 40 percent of voters above the age of 65 use social media.
Globetti said many candidates have noticed this uptick in social media usage among young voters and are utilizing it to their advantage.
For Wadsworth's campaign, she sees social media as a critical tool for outreach. She said she recently talked to a farmer in western North Carolina who was young but didn't know how to use Facebook to promote his business. This reaffirmed her belief that social media could benefit the farming industry — if people just knew how to use it.
"This is how we help raise the profile and awareness of what these small farmers are doing every day and allow them to be more economically successful and competitive moving forward," she said.
Wadsworth, who is running against Republican incumbent Steve Troxler, grew up in Johnston County where she helped her grandparents on their farm. Her background in agriculture motivated her to run for a seat on the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors in November of 2010 while still studying at North Carolina State University.
On the Board of Supervisors, Wadsworth fought for financial assistance for local farmers and improved education about the environment for K-12 students. Her background in family farming pushed her to focus on environmental protection for farmland.
Wadsworth’s win in 2010 made her the youngest woman to hold a public office in North Carolina. If she wins, she will be the only out member of the LGBTQ+ community to serve as a constitutional officer in the state.
She said in addition to Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, she's also turned to Zoom events to spread her platform.
"We try to post a number of them afterwards, so that way folks can watch or hear more about my platform or about specific issues," she said.
Austin Paschall, a UNC student, has noticed the influence social media can have as he prepared to vote this year.
“I would say social media is definitely an important platform in today’s age because, number one, everybody is on it, and number two, the young people that are on it as well,” Paschall said.
Wadsworth says that she is a part of a political scene that is changing in more areas than agriculture.
“I’m running to take an industry that’s largely been left in the past and move it into the future,” she said.
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