During the 2020 General Election, ACRONYM ran an $11M program called Expand the Electorate that aimed to increase the number of Black and Latina voters across 8 target states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. This program, one of the largest of its kind ever undertaken, sought to challenge the assumptions about what works best for online advertising campaigns designed to register and mobilize voters. We broke with tradition by running a longer-term campaign with robust message testing and culturally competent ad creative.
Prior to founding the Voter Formation Project, CEO Tatenda Musapatike built the Expand the Electorate program from the ground up at ACRONYM. Here, we are sharing the results of that program, which serves as a foundation for the work we will accomplish at the Voter Formation Project in coming cycles.
This approach worked.
We saw statistically significant lift in both registration and mobilization for African American women, and uncovered new best practices for executing the work. We saw mixed results with our Latina audience, and were able to use our results from this program to develop a roadmap for future research and investment.
There exists a clear disparity between the rates of voter registration among white and non-white voters: while 71% of eligible white Americans are registered to vote, just 54% of their Hispanic, 64% of their Black, and 54% of their AAPI counterparts are registered, respectively. Systemic voter suppression efforts have made it especially difficult for BIPOC Americans to register and exercise their rights to vote, and these efforts are only accelerating.
This problem is compounded by the fact that executing digital voter registration
and mobilization campaigns is difficult.
The voting process itself can be hard: voting laws differ significantly by state, and barriers are often deliberately put in place to keep voters of color away from the polls.
BIPOC audiences are more difficult to target online due to structural racism in data.
Online voter registration and mobilization campaigns are under-researched and difficult to measure, which dissuades campaigns from taking risks with their digital ad programs.
Existing online voter registration and mobilization platform technology is not built to optimize for sophisticated advertising programs, leaving the field unable to fully leverage the potential of paid digital investments.
Our Theory of Change
Seeing that existing approaches to these issues were falling short, we took a new approach in the creative, media, and technology structures that supported Expand the Electorate.
We developed two brands: an official-looking, traditional brand that aligned with industry assumptions about what worked for voter registration, and an inclusive, culturally-relevant brand that aligned with commercial marketing best practices. We consistently tested both brands and found that the latter performed best with younger, more diverse audiences.
We used media buys to test our messages across a number of platforms, scaling once we found messages and tactics that worked for our audience on a given platform. Our primary goal was reaching voters of color, and we optimized our media for just that, updating our buys in real time to exclude people outside of our audience.
To support this new approach to online voter registration and mobilization, we built our own tech stack called ACRONYM CITIZEN. This allowed us to provide a seamless experience for users to effectively register and access ballot information, as well as enabling us to maintain a tracking infrastructure that supported our digital ad optimization and reporting.
Our program worked: compared to similar audiences that did not receive our digital advertising treatment for the extended 6-month campaign period, we were able to demonstrate statistically significant lift with Black audiences, and we uncovered new best practices for executing the work.
Our program also made it clear that more investment and research is needed to identify methods for effectively scaling this type of work online, particularly in the following areas:
Which messaging can positively drive voter registration and voting for southwestern Latina communities?
How can Spanish-language content impact our voter registration and mobilization efforts?
How can more locally-influenced content drive positive impacts in the states we work in?
Through the Voter Formation Project, we are committed to continuing this work in 2021 and beyond. We aim to completely change the way we register and mobilize under-represented communities online, and plan to experiment and share our learnings along the way. To read our full white paper, please fill out the form below- we look forward to sharing more of our research with you.
A special thanks to Levi Braslow, Akiko Iwamizu, Michalina Kubicka and Katie Miller for the writing of this document.