Ahead of the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, a liberal Gen-Z-led group has purchased a handful of domain names related to the top Republican primary candidates in an effort to extinguish support from young voters.
“Republicans are not investing in outreach to young people, and we know why,” Jessica Siles, deputy press secretary for Voters of Tomorrow, said in a statement to WIRED on Friday. “Their regressive, radical stances on abortion rights, guns, climate change, and other top issues are overwhelmingly unpopular with Gen Z. Since Trump and Haley won’t accurately inform young people of their views, we will.”
Voters for Tomorrow has bought up new domain names—GenZforTrump.org and GenZforHaley.org—in an effort to sway young voters in battleground states from backing Republicans in the 2024 election. The websites will redirect to another site, GenZvsFarRight.org, which the group says will outline how “out-of-touch” the GOP’s platform is with the needs of young voters. On the redirected site, the group outlines Trump and Haley’s records on the environment, LGBTQ+ rights, and gun safety, among other issues, without explicitly encouraging people to vote for Biden.
To reach them, the group is launching a digital ad campaign across Instagram and Snapchat, hoping to reach at least half a million users in battleground states where they say the youth vote could make a difference for Democrats. “Gen Z will determine our next president,” the ads say, as they ask users to visit the websites for more information on Trump and Haley. Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Arizona, and Florida are some of the states where these ads will run, and the group plans to spend as much as it takes to reach at least half a million voters, Jack Lobel, Voters of Tomorrow’s 19-year-old national press secretary, told WIRED on Friday.
For nearly a decade, domain trolling, or the act of buying up URLs related to an opposing candidate and redirecting them to unfavorable information, has become a popular digital media tactic for campaigns. In 2015, Senator Ted Cruz and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina had domains related to their GOP presidential campaigns swiped up by trolls before they were able to grab them. CarlyFiorina.org, at one point, displayed 30,000 sad-faced emojis to represent the workers she laid off at HP. In 2020, the Biden campaign bought KeepAmericaGreat.com, the Trump campaign’s reelection slogan, attacking Trump’s handling of the pandemic.
“P.S., If the GOP candidates had invested in young voter outreach efforts like we are, maybe we wouldn’t have acquired these website domains in the first place,” stated Voters of Tomorrow’s press release.
It’s impossible to know whether these domain trolls have the power to sway voter sentiment. But Voters of Tomorrow thinks they do. “Trump is the greatest threat to our generation, and we’re going to continue to expand that belief in our generation throughout this project because the stakes of the 2024 election are unprecedented,” Lobel said.
In 2020, young people came out to vote in record numbers and arguably helped turn the election in Biden’s favor. But a recent poll from the Harvard Kennedy School has shown that the same demographic appears less likely to vote in 2024 than in the prior presidential election, declining from 57 percent to 49 percent. The poll reported that a plurality of these voters distrust Biden and Trump to act on critical issues like climate change, gun violence, and health care, which could dampen their desire to vote in this year’s election. Those same voters said Trump was the better choice to address the current crisis in Gaza over Biden by 5 percentage points.
These numbers could spell trouble for Biden and the Democrats come November. Around 41 million Gen-Z voters will be eligible to vote for the first time in 2024, according to Tufts University. Of those voters, more than 8 million of them will be first-time voters, and could play an outsize role in electing the next president.
“Young voters have historically been left out of the political process, and that changed with the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Young voters realized their power. And since then, we’ve been showing up in droves to shape elections,” Lobel told WIRED. “Going into 2024, we have to build on that power.”