Everyone, as they say, has an agenda.
And right now, for President Barack Obama, it’s healthcare.
In his most recent appeal to get young voters to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, the president appeared on an episode of the online talk show “Between Two Ferns” with comedian and host Zach Galifianakis. The parody show is known for its low-budget set and its celebrity guest appearances.
This unconventional appearance was not without significant risk. Had it backfired, the president would have made a mockery of the administration and the presidency itself. At a time when there are international crises on all fronts, the leader of the free world was taping an interview on a show usually reserved for the likes of Kim Kardashian and her ilk.
So, did it pay off?
Given a 40 percent uptick in traffic Tuesday to the Healthcare.gov website, equating to 890,000 visitors in a 24 hour window, it appears that it did. And while you can’t quantify how much more “relatable” the interview made the president, I can’t help but think this appearance - in addition to his recent guest spots on Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, and The Daily Show – has contributed to bringing his approval rating up six points from a career low of 42 percentage points in November.
Of course, the piece drew criticism from many. Reps. Randy Weber (R-Texas) and Adrian Smith (R-Neb.), who both inferred that the interview was a waste of time on Twitter, stated that the president should be focused on more pressing matters. While I agree that there are certainly more pertinent issues at hand (Hello, Ukraine), it’s obvious that this gamble paid off in full, and raises the question as to whether Republicans should also be considering new avenues of communications to reach a younger demographic.
Perhaps, between two ferns is exactly where they need to be.
A June 2013 Washington Post article noted that Obama was “hemorrhaging” support from young voters, citing national security revelations, a “lowsy [sic]” job market, and other issues involving the IRS, DOJ, and State Department, resulting in a revived distrust among millennials of their government.
While none of this means that young voters will automatically follow Republicans into the next election, it does mean that a window is opening. What Republicans need to do next is stop turning off younger voters by living up to a narrow-minded stereotype, and seek better avenues to explain why their own agenda is more beneficial for younger generations.
In this modern age of communication, we know it’s not always WHAT you say, but HOW and WHERE you say it. I would bet that more times than not, Republican positions go unheard because many young Americans are just not paying attention to the places in which most of their messages are being shared, such as Fox News and The Wall Street Journal.
As someone who grew up in an area dominated by Republican viewpoints (in blue-leaning New Jersey, no less), I can tell you with certainty that my peers are not spending their TV-time tuning into those programs. They are, however, tuned into ESPN, MTV, and all of the aforementioned late night talk shows. And yes, we spend an inordinate amount of time watching “Between Two Ferns” on FunnyOrDie.
That said, with the 2014 midterms around the corner and hopeful 2016 candidates kicking their campaigns into gear, it’s imperative that the GOP reconsider its own communications playbook and ask, “What is my agenda and can sitting between two ferns help get me there?”
If they want to win, they need to realize that the answer is yes.
Connelly is an account executive at LEVICK, a public relations firm, and regularly advises clients on how to position themselves in the wider political, communications, and public affairs arenas.