Opinion

Companies: Get Ready to Ramp Up Voter Engagement in 2020

Ever since the midterm elections, there’s been a loud, partisan debate around voting and the policies that affect our most important civic duty. But there is one thing we can all agree on: For democracy to be effective, full participation of eligible voters is necessary in our elections.

Last year, massive mobilization efforts prompted record voter participation rates. But this wasn’t just the work of traditional — and often partisan — get-out-the vote organizations getting folks to the polls. For the first time, hundreds of large U.S. companies also stepped up. Familiar brands such as Walmart, Patagonia, Tyson Foods and Gap dedicated themselves to getting more citizens to the ballot box.

Corporations with a strong consumer base have a great opportunity to engage their audiences in our democratic process. Their platforms are huge and people pay attention when they act. Such enormous reach guarantees positive change when many brands pitch in. Together, they can demystify the process and help make Election Day a celebrated part of our culture, not a chore. Brands remind us when Valentine’s Day, Halloween and the Super Bowl are upon us — why not Election Day as well?

Every vote counts, and so does every voter. Corporate efforts in 2018 included registering voters, offering rides to the polls, and giving employees time off to vote. By having skin in the game, these companies demonstrated a commitment to making America more inclusive and representative.

Significantly, the mobilization efforts at these companies were nonpartisan. Across the board, companies made it clear their efforts were about strengthening our democracy, not about advocating for a particular side of the aisle. They prioritized voters taking full advantage of their rights, rather than promoting candidates. The message was clear: Vote for whomever you please; just please vote.

Customers want to see companies use their voices. Over the past few years we have seen the rise of “belief-driven buyers” — customers who desire and expect positive social initiatives by the businesses that are a daily part of their lives. According to a 2018 survey by Edelman, two-thirds of consumers now identify as belief-driven buyers, and 65 percent say they would actively abstain from engaging with a brand that stays silent on an important issue. Another recent survey by Global Strategy Group found a whopping 81 percent of Americans prefer to buy from brands that support democracy efforts.

Even though there is hard evidence that employees and consumers appreciate companies that are with the times, corporate civic engagement initiatives also need to come from a genuine place of concern for our democracy. Companies may not see windfall profits from these efforts immediately, just like they can’t expect overnight success with a product. But that doesn’t mean employees and consumers aren’t paying attention. Brand loyalty and trust is earned through authenticity, and when it comes to voter engagement, authenticity means encouraging civic engagement in a way that is consistent with company values.

In practice, companies in 2018 offered voters an alternative to the hyper-partisanship we so often see in our elections, putting the focus on nonpartisan efforts that sought to give everyone a voice, no matter our political stance. Democracy is strongest when we all participate, and our democracy welcomes companies to participate, as well. By encouraging our brands to engage, we can encourage as many people as possible to exercise the awesome power of choosing who represents us at all levels of government, fortifying the democratic ideals that define our country.

 

Liesl Hickey is a Republican strategist and partner at Ascent Media. Ashley Spillane is the adviser to the Civic Responsibility Project and the former president of Rock the Vote.

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