Trump seeks to court young male voters in new TikTok gambit

By Nathan Layne and James Oliphant

(Reuters) - Donald Trump plans to post a stream of short-form videos on TikTok targeting young men with messages on inflation and other economic issues, two campaign advisers told Reuters, giving the first glimpse of the Republican presidential candidate's strategy for the popular app as the 2024 race intensifies.

Trump joined TikTok on Saturday with an inaugural video from an Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial arts event. It underlined his campaign's effort to court young voters, particularly men who form the core of the UFC fan base.

The 13-second video, which features footage of him mingling with UFC fans, quickly amassed tens of millions of views, establishing Trump as a force on the Chinese-owned platform he once tried to ban as president. As of Wednesday, Trump's account had 5.5 million followers on the app, and 5.8 million likes.

As president, Trump tried to ban TikTok through an executive order, calling its owner, Chinese tech firm ByteDance, a national security threat, but the move was blocked by the courts. In April, Democratic President Joe Biden, who will face Trump in the Nov. 5 election, signed legislation that would outlaw TikTok in the U.S. unless ByteDance divests.

Trump has yet to post again on TikTok and his campaign has said little about how they planned to engage with the site's 170 million U.S. users, especially the young male cohort that polls suggest are warming to Trump.

Tony Fabrizio, a veteran Republican pollster who recently joined the Trump campaign as a senior adviser, said the core message would be economic, tapping into frustration among young people with the post-pandemic inflation surge that the Biden administration has struggled to rein in.

"These voters are a lot more economic sensitive. They're more likely to talk about inflation, they're more likely to say their personal finances have gotten worse," Fabrizio said in an interview.

Trump's embrace of TikTok marks a significant development in his campaign's social media strategy, which has centered around the often rant-filled messages he posts to Truth Social, the platform he launched and controls.

James Blair, political director for the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, said there would be "significant and growing activity" by Trump on TikTok, which is used by a majority of adults in the United States under 30.

"I think that you'll see TikTok as a launchpad for more syndicated short-form video content across all channels for us."

Unlike Trump, Biden does not have an individual TikTok account.

A spokesperson for the Biden re-election campaign, which has a TikTok account with 360,000 followers and 4.6 million likes, said young voters would ultimately be swayed by Biden's policies, including his stances on health care and gun control.

"Young voters want a president who is fighting for them, not one who shows up to UFC fights," Sarafina Chitika said, calling Trump's agenda "toxic with young voters."


Some, but not all, opinion polls suggest Trump, 77, is close with Biden, 81, among young voters. If they prove true in November it would mark a huge swing from 2020, when exit polls show Biden won voters aged 18-29 by 24 percentage points.

On top of inflation, concerns about Biden's age and his support of Israel in its war against Hamas have fueled the erosion of his youth advantage at a time when polls indicate his support among Hispanic and Black voters may also be slipping.

While still deeply unpopular with young women, Trump appears to be making inroads with young males, a trend some political experts have attributed to his efforts to cultivate a macho image while criticizing progressive views on political correctness and masculinity and attacking his opponents.

"The place where we made up the most ground is men under 35," Fabrizio said.

Roughly 60% of TikTok's regular U.S. news consumers are Democrats or Democrat-leaning, according to a 2023 study from the Pew Research Center – meaning that Trump may face a challenge using the platform to his advantage.

But there's also an opportunity to grow his support among some demographics: Nineteen percent of TikTok's news consumers are Black, and 30% are Hispanic, versus 14% and 19% of the general U.S. population, respectively. About 44% of news consumers on TikTok are between ages 18 and 29, according to Pew.

Future Majority, a Democratic firm that analyzes voter sentiment, conducted a survey of TikTok users in April and found a correlation between those who were heavy users of the platform and had negative feelings toward the Biden administration and its economic and foreign policies, particularly with regard to inflation and the war in Gaza.

The survey singled out young women, Latino women and Black men as disproportionate users of TikTok. Overall, the respondents held a more unfavorable view of Biden than Trump by a 57% to 53% margin. Trump was viewed more favorably by five percentage points.

TikTok is "affecting their view of Biden and their view of the country right now," Mark Riddle, president of Future Majority, told Reuters.

(reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; James Oliphant in Washington and Helen Coster in New York, editing by Ross Colvin and Alistair Bell)