AUSTIN, Texas — From a presidential town hall co-hosted by SXSW and CNN to appearances by everyone from Beto O'Rourke to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it seems like SXSW is becoming more political this year.
CNN and SXSW teamed up for the first time this year to host a Democratic town hall, featuring three presidential candidates: Maryland Representative John Delaney, Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard and Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
In addition to the town hall, which took place Sunday night, there have been appearances from many political figures, like Senator Elizabeth Warren and John Kasich.
This is big change from how SXSW started years ago – and that's largely because it now brings in the target audience many candidates are looking to reach.
KVUE sat down with an associate professor with UT’s Department of Government, Eric McDaniel. He said, with the recent increase in the number of young voters, SXSW is bringing in the young audience candidates need.
"Those candidates who know they have some cache with younger audiences are going to try to come and build upon that and also as a way to make connections and build their network,” McDaniel said. “I wouldn't be surprised if they're doing a lot of fundraisers, but also a lot of networking to try to get people to serve as volunteers, to get people to contribute.”
Also, the tech industry is now more political than it used to be, and candidates want to appeal to that audience too. Just think of Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, having to testify before Congress and talk about privacy concerns. Now, many of these candidates at SXSW can talk about how they plan to regulate the tech industry – an industry McDaniel said Democrats and Republicans are fighting to win over.
“If we look at the ways in which parties have taken shape over time, it's the coalitions that they build and it's the coalitions that they build with certain industries as opposed to others,” McDaniel said. “Right now, it looks like the Democratic party kind-of has the edge with the technology industry, but you may see that the Republican party, specifically with its focus on deregulation, may warm them over."
Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and Senator Amy Kloebuchar, along with many others, also attended SXSW this year.
Back in 2016, former president Barack Obama spoke at SXSW. McDaniel believes that started a trend and legitimized the impact of the festival, politically.
He expects to see the final round of presidential candidates at the festival next year.