The Power of Companies to Increase Voter Turnout
As a developed democracy, it is surprising to learn the United States consistently lags behind other developed democracies worldwide. In both presidential and midterm elections, an average of 40-60% of the voting eligible population participates as opposed other developed democracies. Today’s companies recognize the importance of corporate social responsibility programs as they see a benefit not only to their business, but also to their consumer bases and employees. Many companies have dedicated resources for these corporate social responsibility projects aimed at strengthening society and building goodwill among employees, consumers, and the public. More specifically, this case focuses on eight companies and their voter participation initiatives as they address the critical problem of lack of engagement in the United States. As the 26th out of 32nd developed nation in percentage of eligible voters who participate in elections, companies have found these initiatives successful in a number of ways. This case study, conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, provides an analysis and evaluation of the implementation of civic participation programs in eight companies aimed at increasing voter turnout.
The eight companies, Patagonia, Target, Gap Inc., Endeavor, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Snap Inc., Spotify and Twtter, interviewed for this case study credited their corporate civic responsibility programs as a way to boost employee-employer relations, increase brand awareness, or elevate brand reputation with elected officials. Based on the analysis these companies, civic responsibility initiatives have proven to provide benefits to democracy and for businesses. Programs that prioritized employee-focused initiatives received overwhelming positive employee feedback. Patagonia was able to close its doors on Election Day to allow their employees the opportunity to vote and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota utilized their strong civic engagement program, CitizenBlue, to educate and notify employees. Consumer-focused programs, utilized by Snap, Inc., Spotify, and Twitter, engaged their technology platforms to deliver election information to their users, counteract misinformation, and register voters from their consumer base.
When analyzing the tactics employed by all eight companies, several patterns were evident. First, although none of these initiatives had the explicit goal of producing a financial benefit, each company reported civic engagement to be beneficial to their brand. Second, CEO and staff support was found to be critical where money was not. All of the interviewed companies cited needed modest additional resources in order to run and implement a successful voter participation program, as they relied instead on existing full-time staff and small budget initiatives. Third, each company reported that early planning aided in implementation as none of the companies had a staffer dedicated to these initiatives full-time. Fourth, they all reported that some effort was better than no effort, as long as it was in line with the company’s brand, mission, or relevant to consumers and consistent with the company’s overall look. Knowing what resonates with their target audience was relayed as one of the most important aspects of constructing a successful voter participation program. Lastly, interviewed representatives from each company stressed the importance of working with peers and civic engagement experts to support their company’s efforts through the sharing of government relation efforts, social responsibility campaigns and leveraging nonprofit organizations for messaging advice or nonpartisan validation.
Based on the research gathered, the following actionable recommendations have been proposed:
- Educating companies about the importance and benefits of corporate social responsibility programs, civic engagement initiatives, and their impact on increasing voter participation
- Supporting and expanding current civic participation initiatives through collaboration with other corporations, third-party organizations and nonprofits
- Utilizing the results and lessons learned to encourage companies to increase voter turnout in areas with historically low voter turnout rates
The Issue: Low Voter Turnout in the United States
The United States consistently falls behind the vast majority of developed democratic nations with respect to voter turnout. On average, less than half of eligible voters exercise their right to vote in midterm elections and an estimated 50-60% of eligible voters participate in presidential elections according to the United States Election Project.1 The 2018 midterm election impressively hit a 100-year midterm election high with 50% of the voting eligible population casting a ballot. Although approximately half of the United States voting eligible population stayed at home during election day, it was still the highest turnout for a midterm election since 1914. Similarly, the 2016 presidential election saw a relatively high voter turnout accounting for about 60% of the voting eligible population, but this number still lies well below most other democracies.
According to a Pew Research Center study, the United States ranks 26th out of 32 developed democracies in percentage of eligible voters who participate in elections.2 Moreover, in almost every election, regardless of the candidate or the country’s current situation, 40-60% of adults do not participate in elections. Voter participation rates are much lower for those from traditionally underrepresented communities such as young, Black, Latino, Asian American, Pacific Islander and American Indian voters. The figure on the right illustrates the United States’ position among other developed democracies from the Pew Research Center.
The way in which the voting system operates in the United States may provide an explanation for why they rank much lower than comparable developed democracies. Low voter turnout can occur for a variety of reasons including the existence of voter registration requirements, complex voting rules and regulations, lack of time to vote, and low information. First, the United States, unlike other developed countries, does not automatically register citizens to vote upon turning 18 years old. Additionally, 31 of the 50 United States require voters to register to vote before the election in order to be eligible to participate. 90% of registered U.S. voters do not participate even in presidential elections. Secondly, complex voting rules regarding voter registration, identification requirements, registration deadlines, early voting procedures, absentee voting and language access pose a unique challenge to the U.S. voting eligible population. It can be quite difficult to navigate these complex rules and procedures, which is only compounded by the variance in state voting laws. A lack of hours in the day to vote creates another barrier to voting in the United States. In 2014, 35% of those who did not vote said that scheduling conflicts kept them from getting to the polls.3 Lastly, low voter turnout in the United States can also be attributed to a lack of information. An initiative from CIRCLE, at Tufts University, studied youth civic and political participation finding that young people often lack knowledge about how the government works and rarely understand why their vote matters. An additional survey from 2012, showed that 20% of the working-class youth believed they did not know enough to be able to vote.4 Given the difficult electoral environment for American voters, solving the low civic participation problem is not just the national, state, and local governments’ responsibility, but also the business community.
Today, hundreds of companies have dedicated resources for corporate social responsibility projects that strive to strengthen their local communities and society while simultaneously building goodwill among employees, consumers, and the public. The authors, Gross and Spillane, note that “in 2018, over 400 U.S. corporations encouraged their consumers and/or employees to engage in the midterm elections.”5 Businesses are quickly realizing that this new form of corporate social responsibility to foster civic engagement is quickly becoming a new norm for local and national businesses alike.
Why Promote Civic Engagement?
Corporate social responsibility is not a new concept to American businesses. In 1889, Andrew Carnegie, known for his immense success in the steel industry during the industrial revolution, introduced the idea that business leaders had a responsibility to solve social problems that the government may not be able to address in his infamous novel, The Gospel of Wealth. Carnegie’s message of corporate social responsibility has persisted for decades. Sandra L. Holmes, a management professor at the University of Texas – San Antonio sought out the examine the field of corporate social responsibility in 1976, where she named five key considerations for businesses in deciding whether or not a support a cause. Holmes identified these as a company’s ability to support the causes, the severity of the need, C-Suite interest, the potential publicity from support, and government influence.7
A number of studies have illustrated recent trends that consumers want brands to take a stand on political and social issues. A 2019 Global Strategy Group report,6 found that a majority of consumers expect companies to engage on political and social issues, 79% reported that they agree companies should take action, and 87% reported they believe companies that do choose to take action have the power to make a difference. Another report from Sprout Social, a social media management and optimization platform for brands and agencies, came to find similar results. Through their investigation, they found that about two-thirds of consumers, or about 66%, say that it is important for brands to take public stands on social and political issues. Additionally, an estimated 81% of all consumers reported they would prefer to buy from companies that support democracy. With greater data availability and continued research on consumers’ preferences, more and more studies are reporting similar findings that encourage companies to play a bigger role in civic engagement.
High-profile companies, such as the companies examined in “Civic Responsibility: The Power of Companies to Increase Voter Turnout,” are energetically engaging in civic responsibility programs. There are several benefits that come from these civic engagement programs that offer companies additional incentive to participate. These programs not only provide much-needed energy for increasing voter participation in the workforce and the consumer base of a company, but they also bolster brand awareness and reputation. As numerous studies have implied, consumers are expecting more from the places they shop, and this includes the political sphere. Moreover, consumers are more likely to favorably recognize brands if they are engaging in civic responsibility programs and initiatives. One survey that assessed consumer’s emotional reactions to brands taking a stand on political or social issues found that, “‘the chances of encouraging someone toward purchases are higher than pushing him or her away.’”8 In addition to increased brand awareness and consumer demand for civic responsibility, engaging in civic responsibility programs are extremely cost effective. More often than not, these programs require little to no additional staff, limited time commitments, and relatively small budgets. The benefits to these types of programs are not only good for business in building brand awareness and consumer trust, but they also can assist on the macro-level in driving increased voter turnout. Given the persistent problem of low civic participation and low voter turnout, companies have a unique opportunity to make promoting voting and civic participation a vital part of their portfolio of civic social responsibility initiatives.
In the eight interviews conducted for the case study, the authors, Ashley Spillane and Sofia Gross, found that companies encouraging voter participation do so because their senior leadership believes that the effort is good for American democracy and good for business. These businesses have come to discover that meeting consumer expectations engaging with political and social issues, raising brand awareness with new audiences and increasing employee satisfaction are just a few of the many benefits offered through participation in corporate civic engagement programs.
- A. Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center
The case study was conducted through the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Their purpose is “to encourage thoughtful and focused attention to the nature, principles, functioning, and continued innovation and adaptions essential to a living and effective democracy.”9 The Ash Center seeks to advance excellence and innovation in governance and public policy through research, education and public discussion. In 2001, the Ford Foundation announced a $50 million endowment gift to Harvard Kennedy School to permanently support activities focused on innovation and best practice. In 2008, the Harvard Kennedy School linked innovative governance to the world’s major social challenges by realigning its mission to focus on the study, teaching, and dissemination of solutions to real-world problems facing democratic governance. This has allowed the Ash Center not only access to the considerable resources of the Harvard Kennedy School, but also the chance to solve key social problems both in developed democracies and societies undergoing democratic transitions. In 2016, Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School began to collaborate with Bloomberg Philanthropies to create the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative. This partnership came with a gift of $32 million, which has allowed the Ash Center to advance education about leadership and management in cities around the world
- B. The Participants
In order to examine the effects of corporate civic responsibility, eight companies were invited to participate. These eight companies reach a wide range of consumers, each offering different products or services that vary in terms of market sector, size of the company, and resources available for corporate social responsibility programming. Additionally, the eight companies had to make a decision of whether they wished to engage employees, consumers, or both as a part of their participation in corporate civil responsibility programs. Furthermore, they needed to determine what aspect of civic engagement would be their primary focus such as voter registration initiatives, voter education programs, and/or voter participation efforts. The eight companies to participate in the study were Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Endeavor, Gap Inc., Patagonia, Snap Inc., Spotify, Target and Twitter. These companies provided details on their initiatives throughout the election cycle including an overview of the internal decision-making and planning process, details of the programs they carried out, and support garnered from third-party organizations.
The first company, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, is an insurance company that has been dedicated for 85 years to providing quality, cost effective health plans and unique health programs.10 As a company that has been committed to serving Minnesota communities since 1933, they lead a wide-ranging social impact efforts that make an extraordinary contribution to every aspect of health in our state and beyond. Moreover, they release a “Report to the Community” each year to summarize their efforts in corporate social responsibility.11 In their Minnesota office, they have around 3,900 employees and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota sought out to set their target program audience on their employees.
Endeavor also chose to focus their program’s efforts on their employees. They operate in the media and entertainment sector through providing representation for clients, event management, marketing and licensing expertise, and content development services. Like Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Endeavor has a company-wide initiative called Endeavor Impact to shape and promote a better world.12 They have 5,469 United States employees, which served as the target for the civic engagement program.
Gap Inc. includes a variety of different retail stores catering to different demographics including Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Athleta, INTERMIX, Hill City, and Janie and Jack.13 They claim to be more than the clothes they create as they are defined by their people with over 135,000 employees world-wide. With this core value, they also chose to focus their civic engagement initiatives on their 2,370 U.S. store employees.
Patagonia took a unique approach and chose to focus their initiatives on both their employees and consumers. Like Gap Inc., they operate in the retail sector and have about 1,200 U.S. employees. Patagonia has a strong social responsibility sector of their business with initiatives ranging from Worn Wear®, which recycles garments beyond repair, and Patagonia Action Works, which supports grassroots activists working to find solutions to the environmental crisis, to providing environmental grants and support.14 With a strong corporate social responsibility network in place, engaging employees and consumers alike was an optimal option for the focus of their civic engagement efforts.
Target, like Gap Inc. and Patagonia, operates in the retail space. They have approximately 345,000 employees which they chose to focus their civic engagement program on. Moreover, such as the other retail store participants, Target has a wide-ranging corporate responsibility portfolio including initiatives on civic activity, community, diversity and inclusion, philanthropy, environmental efforts and many more.15 Additionally, Target states on their corporate, civic activity web page that they “believe that sharing out expertise and resources with policy makers will lead to better decisions for our communities and business.”16 They engage in legislative and public policy activity, issue advocacy including taking part in discussions at all levels of government, and political engagement via supporting candidates who share their philosophies.
Twitter, Spotify and Snapchat, Inc. all operate their businesses in the social media and technology sector. Each of these social media/tech companies chose to focus their efforts on their consumers due to the wide reach they have with regard to their users. Additionally, these three companies had similar numbers in terms of the number of their employees. Twitter employees approximately 4,000 people, Snapchat, Inc. employs 4,165, and Spotify employs roughly 2,800 employees.17 Because of their wide-ranging user base of a plethora of demographics, the focus of their programs on their consumers seemed like the most optimal path for increasing civic engagement and participation for U.S. voters.
The Power of Companies to Increase Voter Turnout
This case study sought out to examine corporate civic responsibility, the tactics employed, and the varying levels of impact they made in order to provide more information for businesses hoping to engage or create their own civic responsibility programs. Eight interviews were first conducted and focused on three aspects of the companies’ voter participation initiatives. This included details of the target audience for their initiatives, whether that was consumers or their employees, an overview of the internal decision-making and planning process for their initiatives, and details of the program they chose to implement including what staff, resources, and support from third-party organizations was required. Through these interviews, they found that C-Suite involvement, identified as one of Holmes’s five key considerations for whether to support a cause18, prior employee or consumer engagement, and PR risks were factors that determined which type of program to pursue. The collected data from interviews, successful strategies, and tactics companies used to achieve their civic responsibility was synthesized in order to inform other companies’ efforts as they pursue corporate civic engagement in elections to come.
These eight companies made the decision to either use employee-focused initiatives or consumer-focused initiatives for their approach. Of the eight companies, five chose an employee-focused initiative, in which they designed their programs around employee engagement. For example, Patagonia was closed for business on Election Day to provide their employees with the paid time off necessary to cast their vote. Their Director of Global Communications and Public Relations, Corley Kenna, relayed that the feedback received after closing the headquarters, retail stores, and distribution and customer service centers was so positive the CEO was inspired to continue this initiative. They have previously done closed for the 2016 presidential election and plan to do so for future elections. After finding success with their corporate civic engagement initiative, Patagonia’s CEO encouraged other companies to join them in this effort to ensure that no American should have to choose between a paycheck and fulfilling his or her civic duty to exercise their right to vote.21 Additionally, their call to action grabbed the attention of other CEOs prompting Patagonia to set up Time to Vote, an avenue for CEOs to make a public commitment to supporting employee voter participation. As a result of the Time to Vote initiative, 411 CEOs have pledged to ensure their employees could vote before the 2018 midterm election. Although Patagonia did not track what each company did or did not due with their pledge, it is evident that they have created some form of momentum in the corporate sector and have also earned significant press attention to the issue.
For Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, their employee-focused initiative consisted of the engaging its CitizenBlue program, which for the past 18 years has worked to create a strong civic culture with year-round employee engagement. They have a dedicated staff member, Lisa Wagor, who works to steer this program in addition to her workload within the government affairs department, where she works as the company’s Public Affairs Manager. Additionally, CitizenBlue has an advisory team that is comprised of employees from different parts of the company to provide input on programming. Unlike Patagonia, who has the flexibility to give their employees Election Day off to vote, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota works year-round to ensure their employee-focused initiative is successful. CitizenBlue programming begins in January and raps up before Election Day. For the 2018 midterm elections, the campaign was titled, “All Aboard,” where each employee received a magnet for their cubicle with information about key dates leading up to the election including party caucus dates, primary election dates, and Election Day. They also hosted bipartisan candidate forums during lunch on campus, materials to explain what different state officers do, and an intranet site where employees had the ability to look up key election information. CitizenBlue even offers Blue Cross and Blue Shield employees tours of the Minnesota State Capitol building and hosts a Flag Day ceremony on its campus. This initiative has been successful over the years as it relies on the advisory team to lead the way and garner employee interest in such initiatives.
For other companies that utilized employee-focused initiatives including Gap Inc., Endeavor, and Target, starting small and focusing on sending timely, informative emails to employees proved successful. For these more spread out companies with employees across the country, there is an added challenge in working across multiple states. Each state has a different voter registration deadline, different absentee/early voting windows, and requires different forms of identification to vote. Because these three companies have a distributed and diverse employee base, they found more success in broad, simple, and generalized civic engagement programs. Endeavor, Gap Inc., and Twitter reach out to their employees via email with reminders to register to vote, links to find important voting information, and provide employees with paid time off to vote. Corporate social media accounts with mass audiences were also flagged as an important tool for formally communicating with employees about key dates and sharing inspiring messages about civic participation. Furthermore, Endeavor’s Human Relations department sends out state-specific emails to employees to remind them to take advantage of their paid time off to vote in primary elections. Each of these three companies also hosted in-person voter registration drives or voting celebrations at headquarters locations.
For Snap, Inc., Spotify, and Twitter, consumer-focused initiatives offered a better-suited path to civic engagement programs. Where some companies focused on registering voters, others focused on reminding people to vote, and a some focused on working to change the culture around voting by utilizing events and social recognition to help establish a voting norm. Each of these three technology platforms had previously engaged their consumers during previous elections, especially in promoting voter registration. In 2018, as participants of this case study and thanks in part to improvements in data-sharing via APIs, these technology platforms were able to expand their programs beyond voter registration and include education and mobilization efforts.
Each of these three technology platforms stressed the importance of crafting a civic engagement program that was unique to their platform and could resonate with what users come to their platforms to experience. However, in contrast to the employee-focused initiatives used by the other companies, these technology platforms reported needed longer planning time in implementing their programs due to the development needed to code the program into the apps and websites. Public demands for technology platforms to play a role in civic education and combat fake news combined with the fact that each company had previously implemented election activations, made devoting resources to these programs to provide voters with information around the 2018 midterm election a smart and cost-effective strategy.
For Spotify, their program organized their activations around music. They embedded pop-up messages that reminded users about Election Day within their music platform while simultaneously promoting curated playlists for each state that could excite voters about the election. Informed by their motto, “music is the key to everything,”19 Spotify used research showing that making voting a fun experience can yield higher voter participation rates.
Twitter expanded upon past efforts in order to educate their users about democracy and the importance of civic participation. The company focused their efforts in three categories: disseminating reliable election information, fostering conversation that encouraged action, and leveraging influencer culture to promote engagement. Through crafting a program around the understanding that “Politics is pop culture,”20 Twitter recognized that giving people who are already having these discussions a place to go and turn their conversation into action seemed like the natural next step in continuing their civic participation initiatives. Moreover, Twitter partnered with Ballotpedia to create ‘verified user’ labels that validated content coming from candidates running for office. These election labels were adopted by 95% of candidates running for positions in the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, or gubernatorial elections and proved to be an effective tool as candidates with these verified labels received approximately 100 million impressions per day and appeared in 13% of U.S. election conversations.21 Additionally, Twitter worked with secretaries of state across the country to share reports of citizens’ issues regarding registering to vote or voting. To tackle this issue, Twitter issued product activations like in-app reminders to vote at the top of users’ home timelines and delivered information about key dates and instructions about how to participate in the election.
To enhance the use experience, Twitter constructed emojis for election-related hashtags, which enabled Twitter to elevate civic engagement discussion. This also provided users with direct links to polling location lookup tools and voter registration resources through third-party partnerships such as TurboVote and GetToThePolls.com. Twitter’s unique civic engagement initiative helped to increase the number of users who joined election-related topic conversations. The technology platform reported a 1.9x increase in the use of the hashtags #iVotedEarly, #iVoted, and #yoVoté in 2016 and saw the number of people who tweeted #NationalVoterRegistrationDay double from 2016 to 2018 despite the fact that it was a midterm election. This impressive increase was significant given the historical attention to the gap in voter turnout between midterm and presidential elections. The 2018 midterm elections were the most tweeted-about midterm election in history, racking up more than 99 million tweets22 sent from the first primaries in March through Election Day.
Snap, Inc.,’s civic engagement strategy proved more difficult as the company’s demographic is traditionally harder to reach with campaigns due to the fact their users skew younger and are typically first-time voters. In an effort to resonate with the company’s mission to “contribute to human progress,”23 Snap, Inc. encouraged users to have fun and express themselves. The company’s VP of Public Policy, Jennifer Stout reinforced the company’s belief that voting fits within its mission and stated, “There is no more powerful form of self-expression than the ability to vote. The numbers we’ve seen have been fantastic and have shown that our users have been some of the most engaged communities out there.”24 Through crafting civic products like voter registration tools in the user profile, providing a polling place lookup in Snap Maps, sending messages to all users 18+ to remind them to take key actions such as registering to vote, and encouraging users to share “snaps” about voting with their friends, Snap, Inc. was able to increase voter turnout. Snap Inc., like Twitter, partnered with a third-party organization, BallotReady, to allow users to research the background of each candidate and referendum on their local ballot. In the end, Snap, Inc. was able to generate over 400,000 voter registration applications, and of those, 57% were submitted by users between the ages of 18-24.25 Moreover, the Election polling place lookup function via Snap Map was used by over 1.4 million Snapchat users.
Although the tactics used to engage employees and consumers varied from company to company, several major themes began to emerge from the final interviews that were conducted. These lessons, because of the wide variance in company size, sector, and election programming, can apply to the many companies looking to embark upon civic responsibility programs in 2020 and beyond. First, all eight of the participating companies found that civic responsibility is good for business. Representatives from each company claimed their election activations were well received by employees, consumers and shareholders. In some of these companies, employees directly expressed gratitude that their company was running such a program. Moreover, although none of these programs were implemented to explicitly produce a financial benefit for the business, each company cited tangible benefits to their business, like brand building with consumers, stronger relationships with employees, and elevating the company’s reputation with elected officials. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota claimed that it has even become a helpful edge in business, as legislators pay more attention to their company because they know that their employees are involved.
Secondly, these companies found it helpful to see other companies doing civic engagement work in 2018. There was a consensus that getting support from the C-suite was much easier when doing so seemed like a corporate cultural norm rather than a “political activity.” Most companies rarely swap notes about marketing strategies or government relations efforts with competitors and that holds true for many corporate social responsibility programs as well. The companies interviewed acknowledged that this was different in the case of civic responsibility. Many companies said they reached out to peers in the sector to find out what other companies were doing surrounding the upcoming election and how they were planning to do it in order to inform their own civic engagement initiatives. For example, Gap Inc. leaned on peers at Levi’s to understand the return on investment of voter registration efforts and stated, “The team working on this had never done it before. We didn’t know how to benchmark [our program] and they helped us to understand how our program was having an impact.”26 Additionally, many companies explained that being able to point to peer companies starting civic participation programs made it “safe” for their own company to create one. The more companies encouraged people to vote, the harder it is for politicians or consumers to attack an individual company’s efforts as disingenuous or partisan, and thanks to the high number of companies that engaged, they said their concerns were mitigated. Reaching out to peers proved to be a helpful strategy for the participating technology companies. For instance, the technology platform companies of Spotify, Twitter, and Snap, Inc. met regularly at a roundtable to discuss ways to solve the low voter participation problem through their platforms and tools.
Another theme across all eight companies that was reiterated was the understanding that some effort is better than no effort, as long as it is on-brand. Each reported that they key to success in voter engagement programs, regardless of the scope and scale, was staying true to their company’s brand and image. Knowing who is in the audience and what resonates is core to running a successful business and those principles should also be applied to voter engagement. The VP of Government Relations for Endeavor, Amos Buhai, emphasized the importance of “walking the walk” and not just telling other people what to do when it comes to voting. Buhai directed messaging efforts at C-suite executives, management, talent, and employees of Endeavor to ensure they would be doing the very thing that they were encouraging the public to do in order to find a successful voter engagement initiative. Endeavor, as well as the other eight companies, made sure to ask key questions about their business such as how they normally communicate with their employees and consumers, what policies their companies already have in place – such as time off to vote – and how do their employees and consumers typically engage with their social responsibility initiatives. These considerations were vital to creating a successful civic participation program, as staying true to the core essence of the company’s message, brand, and image are extremely important in ensuring success for years to come.
Each company reported they found it beneficial to lean on peers and civic engagement experts to support voter engagement efforts to form a program best-suited to their company. Nonprofit partners such as Ballotpedia, TurboVote, and the Civic Responsibility Project helped companies navigate planning and implementation challenges including how to deal with different types of employees and engage in legally permissible activities. Although nonprofits cannot provide legal advice, they helped these companies by raising helpful flags for corporations thinking about this work for the first time. Nonprofits also helped companies with how to communicate with different employees in different states. Companies such as Gap Inc. and Target, with employees across multiple states, found it difficult to find accurate information for each state’s voter registration procedures, early voting, and absentee voting rules. Nonprofits, in this case, served to help identify resources that are able to take the burden of responsibility off a corporation for providing state-specific guides to voter registrations, early voting, absentee voting, and Election Day. Lastly, nonprofits helped companies with how to find volunteers for their civic participation initiatives, so that they could enact their program and make it happen in many different paces. Moreover, nonprofits could help by providing volunteers or staff to help make events run more smoothly.
Lastly, because none of the companies had a dedicated full-time staff person who was in charge of running voter engagement initiatives, it was important for those involved to plan early. All eight companies reported that early planning makes implementation of their program easier, as it helps align all the necessary partners and participants around what needs to be done and along what timeline. In creating a plan for employee or consumer engagement, many companies cited their first step as determining which audience the effort will aim to reach and then setting goals for the work to help determine what tactics should be employed. For example, for companies that aimed to register employees or consumers to vote, the timeline for activation must begin far earlier than if the goal is to remind employees and consumers about important voting dates in upcoming elections because most states have voter registration deadlines weeks prior to Election Day. Early planning and implementation offers more opportunities to be helpful to employees and consumers who are having a hard time navigating the complex calendar and rules of voter engagement. For example, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota launched their 2018 programming in January, much earlier than many of the other participants in the study, so that they could provide their employees with a guide for key election moments throughout the year. As a result, they shared that, “Anecdotally we heard employees are participating more in these [civic events] thanks to our early work.”27
Those interviewed for this case study pointed to their corporate civic responsibility programs as a way to boost employee-employer relations, increase brand awareness, or elevate brand reputation with elected officials. Additionally, the wide range of company size, sector, and election programming analyzed in this case has the potential to be applied to more companies that are looking to form their own civic responsibility initiatives. Furthermore, the lessons learned from these companies, whether they chose an employee-focused initiative or a consumer-focused initiative, provides further evidence to the growing body of research about the importance and impact of corporate social responsibility programs with respect to addressing the issue of low voter turnout in the United States. Based on the analysis of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Endeavor, Gap Inc., Patagonia, Snap, Inc., Spotify, Target and Twitter, provides a framework for how companies can begin an initiative tailored to their company, or for how companies can look to expand current civic participation initiatives. For when more American businesses participate in promoting civic engagement, voter participation increases, and this strengthens the United States’ commitment to democratic principles.