Mike Berland

Sep 23, 2020

6 min read
Graphic by K8 Strassman

5 Reasons Why Momentum for Civic Engagement is on the Rise

August 30, 2020

With the election growing closer, we’re decoding why the momentum for civic engagement among brands, businesses and organizations is UP while momentum for voting is DOWN.

Momentum for corporate civic engagement is up because businesses and organizations recognize they have a unique relationship with voters, whether it is their consumers or their employees and an opportunity to help make the process easier for them to vote.

By contrast, momentum for voting is down. There are many reasons why Americans haven’t voted in the past. And this year COVID disruptions add another layer of confusion and chaos to the voter process:

  • Increased confusion over “how it works” (voter registration, getting mail in ballots, how to vote safely in person)
  • Fear of safety at voter polls, particularly for older voters and for the poll workers
  • Concerns about voting by mail and potential voter fraud

Ultimately, momentum for voting is down primarily because of the negative swirl surrounding the process.

The Decode

The MFactor for Civic Engagement among brands, businesses and corporations has increased from 1 to 11since the start of August. Velocity up from 2 to 48. Brands, businesses and organizations are stepping up and evolving their civic engagement efforts from “performative” statements to action oriented initiatives that can lead to tangible change.

Decode_M Proprietary MFactor Data | Graphic by K8 Strassman
Decode_M Proprietary MFactor Data | Graphic by K8 Strassman
  • DISRUPTION: Tech companies and social platforms are stepping up to disrupt the confusing process and logistics surrounding voting. A study by Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE), a nonpartisan, independent research organization focused on youth civic engagement in the US, found that many young eligible voters are interested and politically active but don’t know where to get the right information or how to register to vote. Snapchat recognized that one of the primary places students register to vote is no longer as readily accessible: college campuses. So they partnered with TurboVote to introduce the “Voter Registration Mini Tool” featured in the main menu on Snapchat to meet younger voters where they already are. Snapchat is also planning a “Before You Vote” mini for November’s election with BallotReady to let users know where and how to vote and what voting by mail / early voting options may be available in their states. The mini also will provide tools to fill out ballots and locate users’ polling locations.
  • INNOVATION: Voter facilities are notorious for being crowded, indoor locations — school gyms, libraries, firehouses, etc. Voting in small, crowded locations causes heightened concerns this year as people worry about how they’ll be able to vote safely. The NBA is one of the first organizations to offer their resources as an innovative solution. On Friday, the organization announced that they will convert all of their franchise-owned-and-operated arenas into voting facilities for November 3rd. This is particularly innovative because compared to most old-school voting facilities, these arenas will allow for plenty of space and ample hand washing stations for voters and poll workers. We expect other companies will join them in innovating to create safer alternatives for voting facilities.
  • POLARIZATION: Criticism about people, companies and brands engaging through performative actions (i.e. actions for show) is an ever present tension. Levi’s addresses this tension head on in its message to young voters. In their latest #VoteAboutIt campaign, they speak directly to the 70 million young eligible voters, urging them to go beyond protesting, talking about it and posting about it on social media. And rather than glossing over or ignoring Election Day “woes” and frustrations, Levi’s PSA addresses them with a clear and simple message: there will be voter suppression, long lines, pressure to get back to the office, etc… “Vote anyway”.
  • STICKY: The MFactor for “time off to vote” surged from 10 in May to 58 in August, reflecting the 700+ companies that have joined the “Time to Vote” movement, pledging to give their workers time off to vote in November’s presidential election. Patagonia, one of the founding companies of this “Time to Vote” coalition, will close its stores, offices and distribution centers for Election Day. Levi’s, co-founder of “Time to Vote”, is offering five hours of paid time off for all employees to vote on Election Day along with five hours of paid time off each month for workers to volunteer for voter engagement efforts. Ben & Jerry’s is making Election Day an official day off for headquarters and their two manufacturing facilities in Vermont. Coca-Cola, Twitter, Cisco and Uber are also giving employees the day off. Lyft, MTV and Sweet Green have also joined the movement. Creating a nonpartisan movement like “Time to Vote” makes it easy and appealing for companies to rally around. And offering time off to vote this year likely means it will stick for years to come.
Decode_M Proprietary MFactor Data | Graphic by K8 Strassman
  • SOCIAL IMPACT: Voting is a common right across all American citizens over 18. Regardless of political views, voting should be a unifying experience. This year the topic of voting has become unusually divisive as we discuss and debate the process and how we will vote. Streetwear retailer KITH leaned into their ability to unify their community. In a bi-partisan tone, Kith announced they closed their flagship stores on August 28th to host voter registration hubs where their staff helped facilitate the process. Their message reminded followers and consumers that no matter your political ideology, the act of voting “is the most powerful act we can do collectively to implement change.”

In just 4 months, MFactor for “voting” dropped from 59 in June to 47 this week.

Decode_M Proprietary MFactor Data | Graphic by K8 Strassman

Why? Similar to years past voters feel:

  • Distrust in the political process
  • Lack of strong support toward either candidate or party
  • A sense that their vote doesn’t matter or won’t make a difference
  • Frustration with the inconvenience of it all: registering to vote, getting to the voter polls or figuring out how to vote by mail

COVID makes voting even messier. Voters are increasingly more distracted and fixated on the tension around the process: safety concerns about in-person polling and skepticism about USPS mail-in voting and voter fraud. The real challenge has barely even broken through: the lack of process in place to hand count the unprecedented amount of mail-in ballots. The extra time that it’ll take to count mail in ballots means we may not even have final results on election night.

The process on how to vote has become such a divisive topic, creating the negative swirl that’s causing the downward trend in momentum.

The Takeaway:

With civic engagement gaining momentum and movements like a day off to vote (which has been talked about for years) finally gaining traction, it is clear that now is the time to identify the most effective and authentic way to lean into civic engagement to resonate with and inspire your consumers and employees.