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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Hip-hop mimes and breast jokes win Farage a valuable gen Z following

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Reform leader’s strategy to engage with young voters online pays off as he hits 776,000 TikTok followers

While Nigel Farage has written off many in generation X for being hopelessly woke and leftwing, he is much more interested in gen Z.

“Support is exploding among young gen Z 18-25 voters,” he told an audience in Runcorn in Cheshire on Thursday. “Something remarkable is happening out there. There’s an awakening in a younger generation who have had enough of being dictated to, have had enough of being lectured to, and they’re seeing through the BS they’re getting in schools and universities.”

Reform party backers are sometimes thought of as even older than Tory voters. But recent polling shows that Farage’s party is actually attracting more younger supporters than the Conservatives, with particular backing among men. According to the latest Survation survey, Reform was getting 12% of younger people’s vote compared with 2% of 18-to-24s opting for the Tories. The most recent YouGov poll has Reform on 15% with 18- to 24-year-olds and the Conservatives on 7%.

It suggests the party’s decision to target younger voters is deliberate and its strategy of engaging with them on social media appears to be paying off.

Farage has been appearing on a number of podcasts that appeal to young men – many of which appear to be hosted by rightwing controversialists with large social media followings. It is on one of these, the Strike It Big podcast, where Farage praised the “important voice” of self-proclaimed misogynist Andrew Tate in standing up for male culture, while acknowledging that the influencer had gone “over the top”.

Other recent guests on Strike It Big, which has 200,000 followers, include David Icke, the conspiracy theorist, and a “testosterone expert” called Jack Hopkins who advises on “how to get rich FAST & become a real man”.

The Reform leader’s short, punchy social media clips have also gained far more attention than many of his more strait-laced political rivals.

He is one of a small number of British politicians who have successfully and enthusiastically embraced TikTok – a platform eschewed by the Tories and Labour – as a way of reaching out to the young. With 776,000 followers on the platform, up almost 200,000 since the election was called, he is the most followed UK politician on TikTok by far, with Zarah Sultana the next at 446,000.

His following, boosted by his appearance last year on I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!, of more than 775,000 dwarfs that of Reform itself (188,000) and the Green party (41,000).

At the same time, he has recently taken to speaking with fondness for gen Z – a cohort born between 1997 and 2012 and for whom TikTok is often a preferred social media tool – whom he has sought to portray as self-starters who are more receptive to his brand of political views.

The TikTok output of Farage – not traditionally known as a hip-hop fan – also indicates a younger hand at work. Clips that have cut through include one of Farage mouthing the lyrics of Eminem’s song Without Me (7.6m views). Another which received 2.4m views featured Farage inspecting fruit on a walkabout and raising an eyebrow as he turns to the camera and says “lovely melons”.

Some of Farage’s close advisers behind his strategy include his long-term media aide Dan Jukes, a digital specialist who helped with the politician’s social media during his I’m a Celebrity appearance.

Others have included Michael Heaver, a former press aide to Farage and a Brexit party MEP, who has sought to create his own social media following on YouTube.

However, eyebrows have been raised within Reform circles about the involvement of a newer figure, Jack Anderton, who has been contracted to do digital work. Anderton, 23, is a prolific presence across X, TikTok and other platforms where he has sought to link immigration to the struggles faced by young British people.

His X posts included one in which he referred to millions of people living in Britain whom he said “hate our country”, adding: “They might, on paper, be British citizens but they are distinctly foreign.” A source close to Anderton said: “Jack was speaking in a personal capacity and is entitled to his opinion. He was referring to a large-scale pro-Palestinian march deliberately timed to coincide with Armistice Day.”

Labour will undoubtedly win the vote with younger people on 4 July, with all polling showing they are way ahead. But the main parties may come to reflect on Reform’s strategy on social media, and its small but growing appeal among this demographic, as once again Farage appears to be reaching sections of society that politicians have not always engaged with before.

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