By Randy Paynter
When you think of online petitions, protecting the oceans from oil exploration and wolves from hunters might come to mind.
Political parties, candidates and related advocacy groups are also using petitions as a way to build awareness for their platforms and reach prospective voters. A quick online search of current and former political petitions results in a growing number of examples.
There’s Ben Cohen, the Ben & Jerry’s co-founder who runs a group aiming to overturn Citizens United and garnered support for his petition to get big money out of politics before the 2016 election. No Labels, the Republican/Democrat hybrid group, is collecting signatures on a petition telling Congress we need a National Strategic Agenda. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is sponsoring a petition asking others to join Hillary Clinton in her campaign to fix the broken campaign finance system. During previous election cycles, supporters of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp used a petition to rally support around her campaign. In Wisconsin, Sen. Tammy Baldwin used petitions in the same way.
As we head into the early stages of the 2016 election cycle, I think that online petitions will grow in use, joining the candidates’ typical repertoire of advertising, websites and well-oiled stump speeches. The segment is expanding with new entries, including Stand United, a petition site devoted to conservative campaigns.
A few reasons politicians sponsor petitions include:
It’s for supporters like these that Cohen has directed numerous petitions to enlist support for a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. A current petition has gathered almost 75,000 signatures in support. Human Rights Campaign, which lobbies for LGBT rights, drummed up 24,000 signatures in two days, along with media coverage, with a petition against Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Individual candidates take various tacks: During the 2012 elections, Tammy Baldwin’s team leveraged the public’s anti-Wall Street sentiment with a petition demanding the Justice Department intervene, which netted 5,241 signatures/emails and almost 200 Facebook and Twitter posts and aligned her with a cresting issue. The North Dakota Democratic-NPL (Nonpartisan League) Party simply asked people to sign its petition if they agreed it was time to elect a female senator in support of Heidi Heitkamp. It turns out, 14,906 agreed, and almost 6 percent of them shared on Facebook.
As candidates start to declare in the coming months for the next round of elections, I expect more political marketers will enlist online petitions to build their databases of supporters, market-test ideas and start that all important candidate/constituent dance toward the voting booth.
Image credit: 1) Flickr/Jason McHuff 2) Care2
Randy Paynter is the Founder & CEO of Care2 and helped pioneer online citizen advocacy with the launch of the PetitionSite.com. Randy holds an AB from Harvard University and an MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Before starting Care2 and the PetitionSite.com, he co-founded one of the web’s first viral apps, electronic greeting card service eCards.com in 1995.