The year was 1992. Color Me Badd was “All 4 Love” and Nirvana won an MTV Video Music Award for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It was also the year the network kicked off “Choose or Lose,” its youth voter campaign that ran for nearly two decades.
This year MTV is changing things up with its Power of 12 campaign. At its heart is the Fantasy Election game, a twist on fantasy football that uses data fed by organizations like Real Clear Politics, PolitiFact and the Center for Responsive Politics to rank politicians according to factors such as transparency, honesty, civility and engagement with constituents.
“The data exists already,” says Jason Rzepka, MTV’s vice president of public affairs. “We are just putting points against it.”
The idea is that while Millennials might not venture to a host of dry political sites to keep track of which politicians are disclosing funding sources and making false claims, they might pay attention if their Fantasy Election team loses points — especially if those points can lead to prizes like a trip for four to the Video Music Awards.
Players will also get points for participating in the political process, from checking in to televised debates with services like GetGlue to sharing political news from partners BuzzFeed and Politico. It’s a natural fit for share-happy Generation Y.
Playing the game is fairly easy. Every week you pick seven politicians, ideally switching out politicians who score poorly for those racking up points for telling the truth and generally being civil to rival politicians. In the end, the hope is that if you’re paying attention week-to-week during the “season,” you’ll pay attention on November 6 during the elections.
Why ditch MTV’s classic “Choose or Lose” motto? Because despite the fact that more young voters turned out in 2008 than for any election since 1992, young people in this country face grim job prospects with $1 trillion in student-loan debt. In other words, they chose and they lost, not exactly an empowering experience for a first-time voter.
Rzepka says that the current Power of 12 campaign is meant to show the 45 million young adults who are eligible to vote just how powerful their voting bloc is. Today, reaching young voters means concentrating your efforts online, especially when it comes to social media.
Forget town halls; politicians get points when they reach out to voters via Twitter and Facebook. When I stepped into MTV’s offices in Times Square, Rzepka told me MTV had already met with House republicans John Boehner and Eric Cantor. The company is also reaching out to celebrities in hopes that they’ll start teams of their own.
MTV’s plan is to have Democrats, Republicans and famous people on board before the Fantasy Election site goes live to the public on August 27. There isn’t much of a learning curve when it comes to playing; the seven-politician teams are either picked automatically or chosen by the player, which takes less than a minute.
More importantly, checking up on the progress of each of your “players” is easy, with all point gains and losses linking directly to what caused them — whether it’s a friendly hello to constituents on Twitter or a statement deemed “Pants on Fire” by PolitiFact.
Will it get young voters to turn out on Election Day? It’s doubtful that the “gamification” of politics is enough to counter the disillusionment of moving back in with your parents or staring down $100,000 in student-loan debt. Still, the days of simply prompting young people to vote from a rock concert are over; twenty-somethings expect everything to be online — and that includes political engagement.