During the 2014 midterm elections, American citizens made history with the lowest voter turnout in nearly a century. Only 36.4% of registered voters cast a ballot. This week, with 435 House and 35 Senate seats up for election and a bevy of competitive state and city positions hanging in the balance, Americans showed up…en masse. In fact, post-election day analysis indicates that voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections is already higher than it has been in decades.
According to a November 7tharticle by Vox, early predictions pointed to the likelihood of high voter turnout. In fact, many voters reported feeling more compelled to vote this year, causing early voting to surge. The result? An estimated 36 million people voted early, including a sizable population of young (18-30) voters.
The natural question then is, why? Why was voter turnout this election monumentally greater than in years past? What motivated voters and more importantly, young voters – a cohort that has historically been less engaged – to be so present at the polls? Truthfully, the answer seems evasive to even the most knowledgeable industry pundits.
CGPR’s involvement with high profile brands offers a direct links to trends, the most obvious of which is how brands have intermingled themselves with politics. In doing so, they’ve (accidentally or purposefully) leveraged brand loyalty to encourage all Americans to get out and vote.
But, should brands be this involved in politics?
Regardless of whether or not you champion this strategy, brands have positioned themselves at the forefront of the election, and presumably will continue to be involved in elections to come. Here are a few highlights of how industry leaders opted to tackle voting leveraging social, advertising and public relations:
Go Vote, Dammit.
Regardless of how you vote, or what you vote for, what matters is that you get out and do it. Major brands used various strategies encouraging the use of your voice in the form of your vote. Levi Strauss & Co. used ads that creatively combined the company’s signature denim worn by men and women of different races, religions, ethnicities, and cultures, each casting their vote and closing with, “It’s your voice, it’s your vote, live in Levi’s.”
Social Gets in The Swing
On National Voter Registration Day, SnapChat introduced a feature targeting Americans aged eighteen or older that provided a direct registration link to TurboVote, which resulted in a whopping 400,000 young Americans registering directly through the app. SnapChat wasn’t alone in its registration efforts, however; as Twitter is used frequently by the media, press and POTUS, the social platform formulated its own hashtag-driven effort (#BeAVoter) to “help unify the conversation around this important, national call to action.”
Don’t Even Try to Give Me an Excuse.
After making the commitment and registering to vote comes the issue of finding time to cast a ballot. A 2014 Pew Research Center Study noted, “Those who don’t vote on Election Day often say scheduling conflicts—either work or school—kept them from the polls.” This year, companies opted to provide time off to vote. Patagonia, for example, closed offices on election day to ensure its employees had ample time to vote. Levi’s offered its corporate and retail store workers 3-5 hours off on Election Day. Uber provided free rides to and from polling stations, while its competitor Lyft offered half-priced rides to all voters in the US on election day and free rides to people in underserved communities.
The most striking narrative is how major brands rallied efforts to increase voter involvement but were careful not to suggest how individuals cast their vote. The question that remains is why are brands, notoriously neutral, now getting more deeply involved? The easy answer, it seems, is that our society demands it. According to research by the NPD group, “more consumers today than last year reported that a manufacturer’s or retailer’s position on current social, environmental, and political issues would affect their purchasing decisions over the holidays. Younger consumers, especially Generation Z consumers born after 1997, were particularly sensitive to a company’s stance on social and environmental issues—no small thing, considering this young age cohort will account for 40 percent of all consumers in 2020.” And, Generation Z isn’t alone: the Millennial generation is also finding room for bringing politics into their everyday lives.
Today’s brands are being forced, in some ways, to strongly consider having a voice in a way they historically have not, understanding that taking a political position may either alienate or cultivate customers. The times are changing; it may not be proper etiquette anymore to avoid politics in conversation given that more Americans are independently voicing opinions loudly and proudly. Should brands take the road not taken? Hmmm.
Felicia Hayden, an intern at CGPR, is a 2016 graduate of Salem State University. She holds dual degrees in both Psychology and English and finds writing her most prized creative outlet.