The process to implementing this change in our society isn’t quite as simple as “Build it and they will come”. Political engagement is horribly low, and most voting eligible people, even though they often vote in the more important elections, still feel like government doesn’t work. The good news is that there really aren’t any laws that are stopping this from happening; but there would need to be laws created to allow for the full impact. We can dig deeper and theorize about what those laws could look like in the future. We’re going to start with phase 1 though, and in phase 1 we really don’t need any new laws and there isn’t anything to stop us from getting started. If you haven’t already seen the post regarding the platform we can use, then check that out first – this post is going to cover what happens after it’s built.
The last decade has seen confidence in the government plummet across the board; we don’t think government is effective, we don’t think Congress is doing its job, and overall we think the country is headed in the wrong direction. This is a pretty crap trifecta, and along with confidence goes trust, and along with trust often goes engagement. If you can’t believe in your government, and you don’t trust them to listen or treat your opinion as valuable then many times you simple won’t engage, on most minor issues – until it comes time to vote for elected officials. Even then, we’re still struggling. With approval only around 30%, that is the biggest hurdle to really getting this change in place. Voter turnout in mid-term elections tends to be pretty low, probably around 30-ish percent. To vote takes very little knowledge or energy, I would expect engagement with our site to start off exceptionally low, similar to any startup. We would be lucky to crack 1% of eligible voters to start, which is around 2 million people. Judging from petitions on the white house petition site, there are probably about 700,000 to 1 million voters that would fairly quickly engage with something that will let them express their opinions on topics that require a bit more in-depth knowledge. Without a lot of effort on our part. We need to do a lot better than that, government 2.0 has to drive up political engagement in a way that we haven’t seen in at least a decade. In presidential elections we’re getting just over half of eligible voters involved, this year 139 million of the 232 million available voters cast their ballot for president. I think this 139 million would be our initial target, but caring about the president is a lot more general than caring specifically about an abortion bill, or a bill funding the military, the IRS, or NASA. I think on individual issues, turnout will vary from very low to decently high. The Trump cabinet picks have been a pretty hot topic over the past week and the Senate has received a record number of calls about it, around 1.5 million, calling a Senator takes a pretty high level of political engagement; this helps to solidify our starting point of probably around 700K to 1M off the bat. To grow from there, I think it’s going to take a marketing campaign, and a grassroots effort from local activists. With engagement and confidence in the crapper, there is a big challenge ahead.
The goal of the initial marketing, following the roll-out, is to get people to see the value in considering themselves as voters. I’m defining voters as people who share their opinion to create change in the world. Once we identify as people that vote, that will impact how likely we are to vote in general. The site will be simplified to start, because all features cannot be implemented right away. It will basically have the profile UI, scraped legislation from across local, state, and federal sites, and the ability to share your opinion and view statistics on the captured opinions on those pieces of legislation without any automatic impact in actual government; aside from a one-stop-shop for legislators and the media to see what people think. We will hopefully be able to add an additional input for admins where we can take the pulse on other political topics outside of what is available from a legislation perspective. So, to start to get people to think like voters, we’ll start by talking a bit about a few local issues across a spectrum to see what interests them, then ask them to grab the app, and share their opinion (just thumbs up or down, maybe we can allow short comments through a link with Twitter or something, not sure yet on that). This approach is also advocated by some people who research political engagement and disenfranchisement. If we can start with something simple and local, we might be able to see those opinions translate quickly into real change, even without the votes counting for anything officially. Then once any change happens, we need to start pushing the results to the media and social media to get coverage of the impact the site can make (positive for some group, probably negative for another). Getting media coverage will help us to grow our users. Not all media coverage will be free either, it really will need to become a marketing campaign where we get as many touches as possible, radio, internet, in-person, workshops, town-halls, friends + family, social media, guerrilla marketing, sponsorship’s, endorsements, even TV if possible. More planning and research needs to go into each strategy to place it on the timeline and figure out what partnerships we can build and leverage at each level to determine how many users we could impact with each approach. People want to be heard, but we need to prove that using the system will lead to them getting heard in a way that makes their investment worth it.
Changing the status quo isn’t easy, it will take a lot of effort and energy from a lot of people. In this case though, it’s worth it. This is the change we need if we want government to start working for us, and stop doing whats best for just a few.