Josh Shapiro’s Campaign for Pennsylvania Governor Got a Boost From Daughter Sophia
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Author: Rachel Janfaza
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Teen Vogue

In Pennsylvania, attorney-general-turned-governor-elect Josh Shapiro, who defeated Republican state senator Doug Mastriano, ran one of the most robust youth-vote programs of any candidate in this election cycle. With the help of Students for Shapiro — the Gen Z-led operation supporting his campaign — Shapiro held a TikTok text bank with Gen Z for Change, leaned into BeReal, visited college campuses across the commonwealth, and went viral on TikTok, spoofing the Bama Rush trend, sharing his love for Uncrustables, and playing multiple rounds of “Slay or Nay.”

Students for Shapiro harnessed the power of nearly 1,000 members across 50 college campuses. The group had its own interface on the Shapiro campaign’s Team Josh PA mobile app, where Gen Z'ers could register to vote, make voting plans, and text fellow Gen Z'ers to encourage them to support the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. And on the campaign's social channels, about a dozen Gen Z content creators posted material such as Shapiro’s record on issues like student loan debt and his priorities for Pennsylvania that would most resonate with young people, namely protecting abortion rights and voting rights.

Young people backed Shapiro over Mastriano by stark margins, according to exit polling analysis from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts (CIRCLE). CIRCLE says that, per Edison’s exit polls, young people voted for Shapiro 71% to Mastriano’s 27%. 

Whether it was a savvy social media strategy or creative in-person events, the brainpower behind Students for Shapiro’s well-received youth outreach belonged to Shapiro’s daughter, Sophia. The 21-year-old junior at the University of Pittsburgh, and a social and political advocate in her own right, served as one of her dad’s best surrogates. Teen Vogue checked in with Sophia to learn more about her activism and the work she did to ensure Gen Z was represented on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania. 

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity. 

Sophia and Josh Shapiro on the campaign trail (Teen Vogue)

Teen Vogue: You were the brainpower behind Students for Shapiro. How did you get the initiative off the ground?

Sophia Shapiro: I was really encouraged by the campaign staff and my dad to take this idea of Students for Shapiro and run with it at University of Pittsburgh. We launched our chapter there in January. It was really successful, and we decided over the summer to take it and grow it statewide, even nationally, working with students at other universities who are from Pennsylvania to ensure that people are mailing their ballots back on time. It was really a team effort.

TV: What did the youth-driven programming of Students for Shapiro look like? How did you coordinate the chapters and events?

SS: Over the summer, we did outreach through social media, through different networks like College Dems, to reach students on their campuses and have them start chapters. That would look like Instagram posts on both the Students page and my dad's page. People would reach out, fill out a form, and then I would follow up and contact them and we would get them started. We gave them everything they needed: digital toolkits, reference documents, talking points, the support they needed, and put them into a community where there were people organizing already. 

We were able to grow to over 50 chapters, almost 1,000 members across Pennsylvania and beyond. We had events from “Tacos and Texting” to Penn State’s ice cream social. We had poster and sign drop off, tabling, voter registration — a huge, diverse group of events that looked different on every college campus. The greatest part about Students for Shapiro is that each campus tailored it to the people on their campus. 

TV: Students for Shapiro and the Shapiro campaign had pretty viral TikTok accounts — the Students for Shapiro account often featured you and your college roommate. Tell us a bit about your social media strategy. Were the student-led and official accounts in conversation with each other?

SS: I think the Students for Shapiro TikTok and our official TikTok account were very complementary to each other. We were both engaging young people from our platform as young people, but we also ensured that my dad and [Lieutenant Governor-elect] Austin [Davis] were engaging young people in a way that made sense on their platform. 

They participated in TikTok trending sounds and dances, and we participated in them as well, but we also did a lot of informational videos. We wanted to make sure that people were seeing content that was both about policy and really what the campaign is about, but then also to make it fun and light. We had a nice mix of trending, fun, entertaining videos and kind of direct-to-camera talking about what's going on in the world and why this election is so important. There was so much at stake.

A Students for Shapiro gathering (Teen Vogue)

TV: What were some of your favorite viral TikToks to do? 

SS: That’s a hard one. They were all really fun. I think the Bama rush one was probably my favorite to do just because I remember seeing my first Bama rush video on TikTok, and I was like, “Dad, I have a crazy idea, but I think this would be a really awesome video.” We did a “What's in your campaign bag?” instead of “What's in your rush bag?” 

I also think that the BeReal content toward the end of the campaign was really, really effective in engaging young people. We launched our BeReal on TikTok. We talked about it and used those trending BeReal sounds. Then we got my dad an actual BeReal account, and throughout that last week, on the bus tour, he would actually post on BeReal and students would react to it. It was an incredible way of having people directly connect with him and be able to react to his post and comment, and we would engage with them as well. 

TV: To shift the conversation a bit, you’re an activist in your own right. Can you walk us through how you got your start in activism and what your work looked like before the 2020 election?

SS: Going back to high school, I've always been kind of an outspoken person and someone who doesn't sit on the sidelines, so to speak. I was a member of our political action club, and we hosted the first bipartisan political action club conference at our high school. We brought speakers from both sides. It was really at a time of political polarization, as we see today, right after 2016. My co-president was a Republican, and we wanted to bring people together, so we hosted that conference. 

And then the Parkland shooting was, I think, where I started to step outside of my bubble and do work in the community and engage with people who I'd never met before, who were really just a few miles from my high school. After the Parkland shooting, my friend and I led the National School Walkout on our campus, where pretty much the entire school walked out. 

We had a ceremony, and that really led me to gun violence prevention activism in Philadelphia, working with different local organizations, meeting with bereavement groups for moms. That was a very powerful experience for me and helped open my eyes to everything going on, like I said, just a few miles away from where I grew up. That was probably my biggest start and leap into the activism world.

When I got to my college campus, I engaged in work with the College Dems to elect [President Joe] Biden. And I have always been an advocate for the Jewish people and standing up against anti-semitism on my college campus and in my community. That work is also something that is very important to me.

TV: Do you plan to take this activism into your dad's new administration or to continue to be an activist on the outside? How do you see your role developing?

SS: I think my role is still developing. My dad has always committed himself to reaching people where they are and making sure that everyone has a place in his campaign, and I think that could not be more true of his future administration. As he's developing his vision for the commonwealth, I know that young people's voices are a group that he absolutely wants to include in governing. And I would love to be a part of that. I think that we will kind of see where things go from here.

Josh Shapiro gives Sophia a hug on election night (Teen Vogue)

TV: You mentioned that your dad always wants to make sure young people's voices are represented. What are your hopes for your dad’s administration with regard to young people? What do you want to see him do for them?

SS: I definitely want to see him continue to engage young people through mediums and platforms that we are on. Touting the policy and progress that I see this administration making in the future to young people and ensuring they know that they have an advocate in the governor's office is so crucial, while also maintaining that relationship with all the people who helped [him] get in there — making sure that, if there is an issue that matters to Gen Z, they have a voice and they're being heard.

TV: What role did Students for Shapiro and other young Pennsylvania voters play in helping your dad win this election?

SS: As more data is coming in, we're seeing that young people turned out in [near] record numbers, and I think that speaks to a wider trend nationally that we saw where young people turned out. Young people were really upset after the Dobbs decision. Like my dad says, we've come into a world where maybe we have less rights than past generations had. This signals a new wave of young voters who are going to continue to turn out in record numbers and then continue to hold government accountable, make sure that they're working for us and that our futures are protected, and that the decisions being made in government today that will affect us 20, 50, 100 years down the line are being made with our futures in mind.

[Rachel Janfaza is a journalist covering Gen Z and its politics. Most recently, she started ‘The Up and Up,’ a newsletter focused on Gen Z’s political zeitgeist: how young Americans are organizing, mobilizing and participating in civic life and politics — or, how and why they’re not.

Previously, she was an associate writer on the CNN Politics team covering young voters, campaigns and breaking news. As the first writer for CNN Politics dedicated to the youth beat, Rachel wrote about the first members of Gen Z to launch campaigns for Congress, how TikTok became a political battleground and the youth mental health crisis following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Before joining CNN in 2020, she started writing about youth political culture for Teen Vogue and MTV News. Her reporting has explored youth activism around the world, from the fight against Brexit to global climate strikes, as well as initiatives to lower the voting age at the local level. And she wrote her senior thesis at Harvard College, titled “Post the Change You Wish To See: The Role of Social Media in Youth Led Social Movements from 2010-2020,” on the ways young leaders utilized social media in mass movements of the past decade.]

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