Setting Strategy for ‘The Overshadowed Election’
When historians write about this year’s election, it will be remembered as a turning point. The results will shape America’s racial climate, its economic recovery, and its role on the world stage.
The election may also go down as one of the most disrupted. The pandemic’s social distancing rules have made in-person voting impractical, forcing states to embrace mail-in ballots. Voting rules are changing all over the country.
The result is an election in which turnout models have been upended and the need for solid voting information has never been greater—all at a time when COVID-19 and nationwide protests over racial injustice have largely crowded out media coverage.
To help organizations adjust, Phone2Action’s latest webinar, The Overshadowed Election, Voter Turnout & The New Super Tuesday, invited experts from major companies, nonprofits and associations to explain their engagement strategies in a fast-changing environment.
Maxwell Zorick, senior director of social impact at MTV; Megan Hannigan, manager of government relations at PayPal; Rebecca Hinkhouse, an advocacy and engagement fellow at UNICEF USA; and David Ashinoff, director of political affairs at the Associated General Contractors of America, joined the panel.
Each described a different approach, but all agreed that now—with less than 150 days left—is the time to be planning and implementing strategy.
“Now is really a great time to lean in,” said Erik Rosedahl, Phone2Action’s head of alliances and stakeholder impact, who moderated the panel. “All of the studies and all of the polling show that voters are looking for credible information. They are looking for their organizations to lead.”
So what is the driving strategy at large organizations? Demographic changes are part of the answer.
This year’s election will be the first in which Millennials and Generation Z will represent a larger percentage of the voting population than older generations such as Baby Boomers. It’s a fact not lost on MTV, which is well known for its efforts encouraging young people to vote.
“This is a big opportunity for young people to show their political power,” said Zorick, noting that Gen Z by itself could make up 10 percent of the electorate. “The question will be, do they show up and do they really begin to flex that political power this year.”
Zorick said many campaigns ignore younger voters and that as many as 60 percent of Americans have never been asked to register. MTV is trying to change that.
“The campaign that we created is all about those first-time voters and trying to ensure that we can get them turned out,” he said. “We know that if we turn out someone when they are 18 and get them turned out for two or three elections, they become a lifelong voter.”
Companies Are Engaging
PayPal, which owns brands such as Venmo and Xoom, is planning a major push to promote civic engagement in this year’s election. In the last two cycles, the company focused election efforts internally. This year, they are focused on customers.
“This was an easy call for PayPal to get involved,” Hannigan said. “ It’s very inline with our company mission to democratize financial services and to be inclusive in everything that we do.”
The PayPal Votes program will include a variety of outreach, much of which will direct customers to its Civic Action Center, which allow people to register, obtain voting information and participate in other ways. The impact could be substantial. PayPal’s reach through all of its apps is about 150 million accounts—almost half the U.S. population.
“As a values-driven company … we would probably do this regardless of whether it was considered good for business,” Hannigan said. “The added bonus is that studies show it is exactly that.”
Civic Action Centers
Business is also important to the Associated General Contractors, which represents more than 27,000 construction firms nationwide.
“Whether we like it or not, elections have consequences,” Ashinoff said. “If we are able to get a large percentage of our membership informed, educated and to the polls to vote, that could certainly have a positive effect on our industry.”
The association has a sophisticated program to do so that includes information on particular candidates, endorsements in certain races, key election dates and reminders and a Civic Action Center that communicates in both English and Spanish.
“It gives employees of our member companies the opportunity to get information on how to register to vote, to vote early or by absentee; to see who’s on their ballot; to see who’s representing them as current elected officials; and to see what to do on Election Day and where to go,” he said. “That is incredibly important.”
UNICEF USA, which is focused on reaching young voters through its 900 clubs in high schools and colleges nationwide, has also made heavy use of a Civic Action Center. The nonprofit is engaging in an election for the first time this year.
“We all recognize it as a unique opportunity,” Hinkhouse said. “It’s just been a question of how do we execute it in a way that firmly remains nonpartisan. … For this first year, we’re really independently communicating with our constituents as a trusted voice for them.”
At UNICEF USA, that meant combining its Civic Action Center with text messaging, webinars, social media and other channels designed to reach its audience with important election-related information. It tailors messaging for different segments of that audience and is looking to improve its numbers.
“We’re going to explore tactics to increase conversion rates going into the fall,” Hinkhouse said.
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