In the last issue of qnotes, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) took the spotlight in our series that looks at what LGBTQ organizations have done, and are doing, to mobilize people to vote. The organization has built a membership of more than three million LGBTQ and allied people, making it the largest LGBTQ civil rights organization in the country.
“We’re bringing people in,” says Lucas Acosta, national press secretary for campaigns at HRC. “We are making sure that every person is getting out to vote, but also the people who have been voting and have been voting consistently — we need to move them up the ladder of engagement.” Acosta explains the importance of encouraging people to volunteer, organize and even fundraise, then getting their friends to do the same. “Our power can continue to grow,” he says.
There have been growing concerns since February about voter turnout as there is no clear sign to the end of COVID-19. Phase 1 of North Carolina’s three-step plan to reopen the state went into effect late last week, but future steps will be based on data from testing, tracing and trends and those dates are not yet clear. As the state’s website states: “If infections spike or benchmark trends begin to move in the wrong direction, the state may move to a previous phase to protect public health.”
Dan Honig, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, stated recently in the university’s magazine the Hub that “anxiety related to the coronavirus pandemic has the potential to dampen participation and could encourage a ‘flight to safety’ for voters.” He points out an already noted change in voters that chose former Vice President Joe Biden against Sen. Bernie Sanders as a “desire to de-risk” and the potential for future exploitation of COVID-19 anxiety to influence the general election results.
Acosta points out that, while HRC’s timeline has somewhat changed, the organization is staying the course with its planned mobilization efforts. “For us, it’s really been keeping our volunteers engaged,” says Acosta. “What we’ve done over the past three years in terms of hosting events is really not a possibility at this point. We were always planning on having a significant digital organizing tool and effort this cycle, but with COVID-19 and quarantine, our development in those plans went rapid-fire.”
HRC partnered with The Tuesday Company on a mobile application called Team which was created by Michael Luciani and Shola Farber in the wake of the 2016 election. The two worked for the Hillary Clinton campaign in Michigan. Team lets volunteers see which of their friends a campaign wants to reach. According to its website, users upload their contact lists, and campaigns compare those lists to their own voter files. Then users can send personalized text messages to the people selected by the campaign. The app also provides breaking news from HRC to volunteers across the country, allowing them to quickly share the information in their individual circles of influence.
“It’s a very unique tool that translates a lot of the technology that was developed in the 2018 [midterm] election around peer-to-peer engagement and really takes that to the next step, taking it outside of the app itself and utilizing existing resources and networks,” says Acosta. “What we’ve seen, study after study has shown that there’s a nine percent [action] increase in opportunity when you’re hearing directly from a friend rather than from a random stranger.” HRC had always planned on using the resource because of that marked increase in engagement, but during quarantine it has improved the organization’s efforts to get it off the ground. “I would argue [it has] improved the effectiveness of those programs given that everyone is on their phone all the time,” says Acosta.
Punching Above Our Weight
“We’re voting at massive rates already,” says Acosta. “For example, on Super Tuesday, nine to ten percent of voters were LGBTQ identifying, despite being only 4.5 percent of the population overall. Our community is already punching massive numbers above our weight.”
Acosta points out that the important work lies ahead in how they move those voters “up the ladder of engagement” to increase the overall impact the LGBTQ community has on the election. But there are still 21 percent of LGBTQ adults not registered to vote in the U.S., according to the Williams Institute’s study qnotes referred to in the beginning of this series. “Those people are becoming fewer and further between,” says Acosta when reflecting on his personal experience working in the field. “I think one of the best things that has happened in the Trump administration is that people realize that passivity is tacit endorsement.”
While at the same time, HRC has learned that a specifically Trump message is less and less effective. “One thing we have done, for example,” says Acosta “is that while we are definitely holding Trump accountable, our center piece and our north star is not something that’s affiliated with him.” The organization focuses rather on a proactive response. “Obviously, we still fight against and push back against everything this administration has done to target our community, but we’ve seen that equality voters and LGBTQ voters understand that we’re under attack and understand that we need to move, and we need to move forward. They want to know what that plan is when we move forward, and how the people they would be voting for are going to articulate and push that plan.”
Recently, HRC officially endorsed Biden for president, saying “His dedication to advancing LGBTQ equality, even when it was unpopular to do so, has pushed our country and our movement forward.” The endorsement came on the eighth anniversary of Biden’s endorsement of marriage equality in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Throughout the primary process, our work has always been to improve voter turnout amongst equality voters and make sure that we left our mark in the primary process,” says Acosta. “That work is going to continue.”
This project has been supported by the Solutions Journalism Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems. Visit solutionsjournalism.org to learn more.