Are retailers getting too political with voter registration campaigns?

Discussion
Source: Levi’s “Use Your Vote” video
Oct 05, 2018
Tom Ryan

Ahead of the midterm elections, a coalition of 137 companies — including Walmart, Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch and Dick’s Sporting Goods — last week launched the Time to Vote campaign, a “nonpartisan effort led by CEOs, aimed at increasing voter participation.”

A press release noted that the U.S. has one of the lowest voter participation rates among developed nations, as low as 36 percent in the 2014 general election.

Levi’s kicked off a TV campaign last Tuesday on the National Voter Registration Day around the effort.

Participating companies also committed to offering paid time off, a day without meetings and resources for mail-in ballots and early voting to help their employees vote.

Walmart created a website, walmartcommunityvotes.com, that encourages consumers to learn about local candidates and poll details. Walmart said in a statement to Footwear News, “As every election matters, we’re empowering our associates and customers with voting information to more easily exercise this great privilege and responsibility.”

Corporate America has enjoyed a booming stock market and healthy economy in the time since President Trump was elected. But some have questioned how “nonpartisan” the effort can be in today’s politically-charged climate. The Time to Vote initiative was started by Patagonia, which has sued the Trump administration over planned reductions to Utah national monuments.

Other participating CEOs have spoken out against other hot-button issues such as exiting the Paris climate agreement, revamped immigration policies and gun control. 

Walmart CEO, Doug McMillon criticized President Trump after the 2017 Charlottesville rally, and the discounter joined many in opposing tariffs on imports from China. 

Yet, some participants such as Southwest Airlines have stayed out of the political fray. The coalition asserts the effort is similar to past get-out-the-vote campaigns such as MTV’s Rock the Vote in the nineties.

“We’ve voiced disagreement on policy issues in Democratic and Republican administrations,” Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario told The New York Times. “This is about recognizing that a vibrant democracy relies on engaged citizens voting, and that business can play a vital role by removing barriers.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will get-out-the-vote campaigns generally be seen as non-partisan to consumers in today’s political climate? What advice would you have for retailers interested in participating in such campaigns? 

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Braintrust
"Reinforcing voter education and responsibility at the workplace is a way of keeping that responsibility front and center and ensuring multi-generational participation."

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18 Comments on "Are retailers getting too political with voter registration campaigns?"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Getting people to participate in the democratic life of the country is never, and can never, be a bad thing. That’s all I have to say.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

As long as messages stay non-partisan, I don’t see any issue with retailers urging people to vote. That said, it’s very difficult to separate the altruistic sentiment with the highly-charged, partisan political environment that exists today. Retailers are part of society and it’s well within their rights to make public statements, like encouraging people vote. However, I would advise that they be very careful not to get too partisan in their approach unless the position their taking a stance is core to their brand, like in the case of Patagonia.

Jeff Sward
Guest

Patagonia is a great example. They are behaving 100 percent in keeping with their long stated values and their brand promise.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

After the Nike move, are you kidding? Besides, less than half of eligible Americans voted in the 2016 election. I don’t care who you were rooting for, that’s just wrong. It’s our single most important right, so IMO, retailers would be amiss to ignore it.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Maybe it’s because of my background, but it is not the realm of retailers to engage in these campaigns. It is the realm of civic organizations. Born and raised in a country in which voting is mandatory, I see the apathy among eligible voters in the U.S. appalling. In the U.S., voting is seen as a “right” (lucky are we) where, in my view, it is both a privilege of which to be taken advantage and a responsibility not to be shunned. That’s my get-out-and-vote campaign.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

There are countries where voting is a requirement, not a choice. We are more “democratic” in allowing people to shirk that responsibility.

Younger potential voters historically really have a hard time getting it together to vote. Heck, I cast my first vote at 30.

I think it’s great for retailers to encourage people to get out and vote. I may not like the results, but at least I’ll know it was decided by more than 45 percent of eligible voters!

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Maybe working with for-profit companies has made me jaded towards many of the things they do, but I do not believe that from their positions as CEOs, those involved are really concerned about increasing voter participation. That is — unless they believe they can sway voters to vote in ways that fit their corporate agenda.

My opinion is that the Time to Vote campaign is nothing more than a poorly veiled attempt to look like good corporate citizens.

Lack of transparency and honesty always comes back to bite, so I believe these brands need to focus elsewhere and on sincere brand building efforts.

At least Doug McMillon is essentially transparent in his criticisms given that most items filling Walmart’s shelves come from China and that tariffs will hurt Walmart’s profits.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

I think “get out and vote” campaigns are fine however it is essential that every participating retailer remain 100 percent neutral and keeps their own politics out of it. We are a very apathetic society with little voter turnout and, worse than that, too many of those who do vote don’t take the time to learn about whom they are voting for and rely on family and friends to tell them. We need to improve our government by electing candidates who deserve to be there, leaders who will do what is right for our town, state and country and not just themselves. So the campaign is an excellent idea for awareness and has a chance of doing much good as long as we keep it neutral and let the voters decide.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Encouraging people to register and vote is not political.

David Weinand
BrainTrust

No brainer – Any corporate entity with any influence and marketing dollars to put towards educating people around the importance of voting should do so.

Carol Spieckerman
BrainTrust

I like retailers promoting people to get out and vote. A huge generational and cultural shift is underway at retailer HQ and within most retailers’ stores. Reinforcing voter education and responsibility at the workplace is a way of keeping that responsibility front and center and ensuring multi-generational participation.

Anne Howe
BrainTrust

I’m with Neil Saunders on this one! Amen.

Jeff Sward
Guest

The more people voting for the candidate of their choice, the more reflective our government will be of the total population. Then we can work on term limits.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Amen.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Hear! Hear!

Chris Buecker
BrainTrust

I have a clear opinion on that. Retailers should stay out of voter registration campaigns and stay neutral. The question should rather be why the voting rate is one of the lowest in the Western world. And why do people have to register before they have the right to vote? It almost looks like an on-purpose obstacle to keep some people away from voting. In most European countries, every legitimized person is automatically on the voting list with no registering needed.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

The article seems to be talking about two, or even three, different things: actions as an employer (time off, etc.) vs. as a retailer/company/”citizen”. I’ve nothing against the former; the latter on the other hand, however well-intentioned it might start out, I see as fraught with problems.

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

Encouraging voting and making sure employees have the time to vote is good corporate citizenship. Politics is part of daily life and participation should be encouraged regardless of party affiliation. The key is that the messaging has to be neutral. Both sides will find some way of spinning the messaging to their needs and there’s nothing you can do about it.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Reinforcing voter education and responsibility at the workplace is a way of keeping that responsibility front and center and ensuring multi-generational participation."

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