There’s an entire constituency that both parties often forget about completely. It is a constituency that is a gold mine constituency waiting to be tapped into. They are the voters who turn off the TV when campaign ads comes on or tune out a conversation as soon as politics arises. They are the politically disengaged that need to be engaged.
All too often, these voters are forgotten. Politicians, campaigns, and think tanks need to think seriously about the following points, which outline how to reshape a campaign or movement to reach apolitical individuals, if they are ever to win more than their politically active base on Election Day.
Speak in their terms
Engaging unlikely voters is not about discussing economic statistics or legislative terminology. Most Americans don’t watch the news religiously or pore over Supreme Court oral arguments. The average American is more focused on working hard at their job (or finding one), providing for their family, and spending their free time watching the latest Netflix series. For those of us that think, eat, and breathe politics, we must always remember that we are among the minority. Most Americans can’t name a sitting Supreme Court Justice or one of their U.S. Senators., according to David R. Mayhew in “Congress: The Electoral Connection.”
It is all about relating to the average American, rather than forcing them to understand the world of Washington. For example, Young America’s Foundation hosts a ”GPA Redistribution” event across college campuses every year to compare grades to wealth. Conservative students form a fake petition to engage their peers by inquiring if they would be opposed to distributing grades from the top 10 percent of grades earners to the bottom 10 percent (to aid those struggling to graduate). Essentially, the purpose of this petition is to get students talking about our current tax system in terms they are familiar with. This social experiment is a genius way to engage students with a simple comparison that they can understand.
Identify their interests
Even the most apathetic Americans are passionate about something. Find out what ticks them off or gets them fired up. Often, voters want to vote based on their own self-interest, a group’s interest, or the public’s interest as a whole. As Rosalee A. Clawson and Zoe M. Oxley posit in “Public Opinion: Democratic Ideals, Democratic Practice,” if you help them identify with a group that shares their values or beliefs, they will be more likely to vote with that group when November comes around.
For example, the National Rifle Association (NRA) consistently engages voters through this tactic: Identifying gun owners, recruiting them to be members, and encouraging them to vote. Gun owners are able to identify with a group that shares their interests, while also feeling as if they’re protecting their groups’ rights when going to the polls.
Make it tangible
The most important step to politicizing the apolitical is making sure people understand how a policy issue or a candidate will have a direct influence on them. It must be stressed that their voice matters and can make a difference. Americans want to be confident that their lives and others’ lives will be directly affected.
For example, my friend was indifferent to the “Affordable” Care Act just a month ago. However, her family recently received a notification from her mother’s employer informing them that they will no longer have health insurance. Because ObamaCare forced heavy costs on employers, the employees were the ones burdened by this legislative disaster. It was at this moment that my friend became politically engaged against the new healthcare law, despite her previous political apathy.
The final step is to get these voters to the polls, encourage them to stand up for the issues they are fired up about, and keep them engaged and optimistic that they can make a difference. These apathetic voters are the silent majority and they aren’t going away. The party or movement that is able to speak in their terms, identify with their interests, and make it tangible in their lives will prosper. Now what are you waiting for? Go out and find them!
This is dedicated to my roommate, Katie, who was my inspiration for this post. Thanks for putting up with my constant debates, political rants, and the conservative decorations that clutter our room.