Politicians don't have to tweet their way to millennial popularity

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, is laying the groundwork for a potential presidential bid.

Story highlights

  • Some presidential hopefuls are boosting their tech appeal to attract young voters
  • But familiarity with technology is no guarantee for support among millennials
  • A new poll shows that some of the most tech-savvy politicians are low in 2016 support
Politicians with their eyes on the White House are making their tech-savvy knowledge a key part of their appeal.
The marketing tactic is aimed at younger voters, a demographic that's most familiar with the constantly-changing world of social media and digital consumption. And, conveniently, it's a group of voters that's growing.
But a new poll of millennials, released Thursday by Fusion, indicates that the politicians most fluent with the iPhone generation aren't exactly the most popular within that group.
Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul, for example, doesn't reach double digits in the survey, which in part measures millennial support for the potential 2016 Republican field.
Perhaps more than any other Republican, Paul has sought to align himself with the latest social media trends and the tech world. He famously joined SnapChat earlier this year and he's made himself the top crusader against the NSA's domestic spying programs. He pulls out his cell phone in nearly every speech and holds it up in the air, declaring: "What you do on your cell phone is none of their damn business."
On Wednesday, he sat side by side with Google CEO Eric Schmidt on a panel at a Vanity Fair summit in San Francisco. Paul disagreed with the notion that smaller teacher-student ratios are more beneficial for students, arguing instead that technology could be used to make educating more efficient.
"I think we should go a million to one," Paul said.
He frequently speaks at colleges, and his political rise is in part rooted in his father's national profile. Former Rep. Ron Paul, who ran for president three times, found a solid following among young people who previously weren't engaged in politics.
Yet in the new poll, Paul garners only 9% support among millennials. Rep. Paul Ryan takes the top spot with 17%, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 11%, neither of whom are known as social media gurus.
GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas frequently ends his speeches urging people to sign up for his text message updates and has talked about engaging with commenters on his Facebook page. He comes in at 8%.
On the Democratic side, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has long been making a big push for more widespread access to wireless internet, and recently told CNN's Peter Hamby that "WiFi is a human right."
In the millennial poll, he comes in at 2% against other potential Democratic presidential candidates.
It's worth mentioning that this early on, 2016 polls are largely based on name recognition. The Democratic millennial poll falls in line with other surveys measuring all age groups, and the Republican survey isn't that far off, either.
It makes sense why politicians want to sharpen their digital acumen. According to the poll, 53% of young people say their primary source of news is their smartphone or tablet. Asked specifically about political news, another 53% say they get it either online or through social media, while 30% say they get it from watching TV.
But the survey is also an indication that branding oneself as the technology candidate doesn't necessarily guarantee a prime spot in the polls among young people.
And as the popularity for Hillary Clinton shows, social media adeptness isn't a must-have on a lot of young peoples' list: She sweeps the field with 58% support in the poll.
While the former secretary of state has been cast as a pro with a Blackberry—thanks to this 2011 meme—she has spent more than two decades within the confines of Secret Service protection. It's a bubble that critics argue has kept her out-of-touch with mainstream culture. (She said in January she hasn't driven a car since 1996.)
But since leaving the State Department last year, she and her aides have intentionally tried to depict her as more social media friendly. She has a Twitter account that at times offers witty input, and she occasionally talks about broader issues involving technology.
President Barack Obama--whose White House essentially came of age during the rise of Twitter, Instagram, and a host of other platforms--holds a townhall with millennial Thursday in Los Angeles.
And while his team has harnessed those tools and the digital space unlike any presidential hopeful, his standing among young people is split.
According to the new poll, 49% are very or somewhat satisfied with the president, while 49% are very or somewhat disappointed.