Ask yourself what the 2020 election will bring. The biggest turnout ever? The most expensive races in history? The first time Millennials and GenZ realize their political strength? An opportunity to tell your story?
That’s exactly what we asked the panel at our latest webinar, How to Sharpen Your Advocacy in an Election Year, and those were the answers they gave. The panel then explored how organizations can take advantage of the 2020 election to make their voices heard and help shape issues such as immigration, healthcare, trade, energy, climate change and more.
“In all these areas, there’s a huge opportunity for you to get your message out, to frame your narrative and to stake your narrative onto the trains that are already moving,” said Chris Frates, a former CNN correspondent who founded the strategic communications firm Storyline. “The narratives that govern the first two years of the next president’s term and the next Congress are being established during this campaign.”
As Frates put it, “You really need to think about how to get in the game so you are not left out.”
‘Getting Their Attention’
Frates was joined on the panel by Matt Fitting, advocacy and engagement specialist at the American Nurses Association; Alex Niemczewski, the CEO of BallotReady; and Leann Paradise, senior associate for grassroots at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). Jason Langsner, a senior product manager at Phone2Action with 15 years of advocacy experience, moderated.
The panel discussed strategies on how organizations can mobilize members, interact with candidates and conduct effective advocacy in an election that is expected to draw as many as 156 million voters.
At the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Paradise said the organization works hard to get grassroots members involved early. “Engaging with candidates at this point in the cycle is really all about getting their attention so we can start building relationships and begin talking about issues,” she said.
Members of NRECA in many states invite House, Senate and even presidential candidates to see their facilities. They also conduct “intercepts” at candidate events, which Paradise said “can be really, really effective.”
In Iowa, for example, electric cooperative members wear bright green shirts at these meetings and always ask a simple question: “how will your energy plan provide affordable and reliable power to rural Iowa?” They then record the answer and use it to create materials, such as a voter guide.
“The candidates begin to recognize those green shirts and engage more readily with them as time goes on,” Paradise said.
‘The Game in Town’
Panel members say that, because record turnout is expected, next year’s election may offer advocacy organizations a very different experience than in years past.
“It’s going to be the game in town,” Frates said. “You have an audience that wants to be engaged … half the country is going to be tuned in. It’s a big difference from previous elections in that they actually want to hear from you.”
At the American Nurses Association, Fitting said that one in 40 voters is a registered nurse and that nurses poll well as an honest profession.
“That creates a real opportunity for us,” he said. “We want to make sure that our nurses are getting out to vote, but also that they are engaging with the campaigns to make sure that nursing issues are front and center.”
The goal, he said, is to “setting the stage so that folks are asking, whenever anything healthcare-related comes up, ‘what do nurses think about that?’”
Of course, the election is not just about federal candidates. There is plenty going on at the state and local level as well. State lawmakers will face voters in 44 states. Dozens of ballot initiatives will be decided. The number of local candidates will number in the thousands. As Niemczewski put it, “people know that voting in local elections matters a lot.”
“A lot of impactful decisions are made at that level,” she said. “We’ve seen that people are hungry for more information.”
Overall, the panel agreed that next year’s election will be like few others in recent history—and that it represents an opportunity for advocacy organizations “to make sure your folks are engaged and that you are doing everything you can to get a spotlight on your issues,” Fitting said.
“The 2020 election will be captivating,” he said. “It’s going to be tough to look away.”
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