A president’s first 100 days in office can be weighed by many measures. Legislation and executive orders. Proclamations and policies. Joe Biden’s can be gauged by one more important metric: advocacy.
Biden’s first 100 days was one of the most active periods for advocacy in the last 10 years, as a massive change in political philosophy and an equally large pandemic relief bill drove millions of people to take action on thousands of campaigns, according to Phone2Action data.
The period did not set an all-time record. That was done last year when roughly 52,000 people took action every day during the period after COVID-19 was declared a national emergency. But it does mean that the advocacy boom that began with the pandemic has continued in 2021, a fact that has major implications for organizations that conduct grassroots campaigns.
There are few signs of fatigue when it comes to advocacy requests, and many organizations have been campaigning actively without fear of burdening their supporters. The American Heart Association and its affiliates ran hundreds of campaigns in Biden’s first 100 days. Airbnb by itself has run more than 120.
Perhaps more important, the number of new supporters joining these campaigns continues to increase, meaning this is a good time for organizations to think about list growth. Almost 3.1 million people joined campaigns for the first time during Biden’s first 100 days, a three-fold increase over the 1 million posted during the Trump administration’s start in 2016 and the 2.6 million generated in the months around last year’s election.
“The boom that began last year is still going strong because important issues are still on the table,” said Jeb Ory, CEO of Phone2Action. “People are willing to take action to help shape America’s recovery and to have a voice on issues like education, immigration and climate change. Smart organizations are engaging them.”
Advocacy By the Numbers
Advocacy during Biden’s first 100 days was way up over the same period in the Trump administration.
Both Trump and Biden started their presidencies with a great deal of activity and both had Congress under their own party’s control. Trump signed 24 executive orders, 20 presidential proclamations and 28 bills. Biden signed 42 executive orders, reversed 62 of Trump’s orders and approved 11 bills.
But there was one major difference. Unlike Trump, Biden started his presidency in the middle of a national crisis. Like Franklin D. Roosevelt after the Great Depression, Harry Truman after World War II and Barack Obama amid the Great Recession, Biden’s administration had immediate priorities. It had to address America’s pandemic recovery—and that crisis spurred major legislation.
Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion federal recovery bill, on March 11, just 50 days into Biden’s term. That, the start of state legislative sessions nationwide and debate over other important issues like police reform and environmental policy led to some impressive advocacy numbers:
- Campaigns. More than 6,000 campaigns were created by companies, associations and nonprofits on the Phone2Action platform during Biden’s first 100 days, more than twice the 2,500 campaigns created during Trump’s first 100 days in 2016.
- Advocates. More than 4.1 million advocates took action on advocacy campaigns, almost four times more than the 1.1 million that got active in 2016. The total in Biden’s first 100 days was also higher than the 3.9 million who mobilized in the months surrounding last year’s presidential election.
- Actions. Advocates took more than 10.3 million actions versus 2.9 million actions in 2016, a three-fold gain. The number of actions also beat the 6.9 million actions taken around the election last year.
- Acquisition. New advocates, meaning those who took action with an organization for the first time, totalled 3.1 million in Biden’s first 100 days, a three-fold gain over the 1 million in 2016. The number also topped the 2.6 million new advocates who joined campaigns around the election.
Takeaways for Government Relations
The numbers are more than just statistics. They contain cues for how public affairs and government relations professionals can adjust their programs to make the most of the current environment in the year ahead. Here are some of the trends that the experts at Phone2Action, who work with advocacy programs every day, see in the numbers:
- There is very little advocacy fatigue. The numbers show that Americans are still willing to take action even a year after the pandemic struck, launching the biggest advocacy boom in a decade. Last year, the pandemic, the killing of George Floyd and a divisive election kept people active. This year, a massive recovery bill and the promise of movement on major issues like police reform have done the same. While it is always prudent to weigh how much your organization is asking of supporters, you may be more free to engage because advocates continue to join campaigns and take action.
- Organizations are campaigning frequently. Companies, associations and nonprofits are not hesitating to launch large numbers of campaigns. The 10 most active organizations and their affiliates launched at least 965 campaigns in Biden’s first 100 days. Obviously, this requires careful planning and list segmentation. All the rules of smart advocacy still apply. But organizations seem less hesitant to run campaigns because audiences are responding.
- There is room for many issues. The organizations that mobilized during Biden’s first 100 days represent a broad range of interests, from healthcare and environmental issues to energy policy and gun control. This was not a monolith. Organizations of all stripes found their audience and their voice, which is likely to continue this year as new issues like infrastructure spending come to the forefront. Your organization’s primary issue may not be at the center of the national conversation. But there is almost certainly an audience that cares passionately and you can reach them.
- You can grow your list. This is a good time to sign up new advocates. Acquisitions were up overall in Biden’s first 100 days at almost 3.1 million. Campaigns specifically designed to attract new supporters did well, attracting almost 2.3 million signups. That’s more than the 186,000 in Trump’s first 100 days and the 2 million around the election. Perhaps most important, many different types of campaigns attracted new supporters. The data shows that the average campaign saw 350 new advocates join. That’s a striking number. Organizations that want to see list growth should act on it now.
- Don’t forget petitions. Petition campaigns have always been an efficient way to attract new supporters. Phone2Action’s 2020 State of Advocacy report, which tracked activity between January and June of last year, found that campaigns asking people to sign petitions on average drew 182 percent more new advocates than campaigns asking people to contact lawmakers. Petition campaigns have been both popular and strong this year as well. The roughly 737,000 signatures obtained by organizations during Biden’s first 100 days is almost nine times higher than the 83,000 seen during Trump’s first 100 days.
Of course, the heavy pace seen in the first quarter will not last forever. This year’s summer doldrum and next year’s midterm election will likely slow down Congress. Many states will close their legislative sessions later this year. The overall effect may well be to lower the level of advocacy activity. Whether America’s appetite for activism will endure is unclear. What is clear is that now is a good time to get your program active.
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