Going All In On Young Voter Education

Your first time voting is probably a fond memory. It might have been in a local rec center, at a polling place staffed by faces you recognized from around the neighborhood. You checked the boxes you wanted and wore an “I voted!” sticker for the rest of the day.

Voting for the first time in 2020 is going to be a huge contrast. There are going to be a lot fewer stickers and smiling faces for anyone walking into their very first polling place. 

Many college students are already taking classes remotely, terrified about the future job market, and whether or not they’re going to graduate on schedule — how are they supposed to pick up the nuanced (and changing!) American voting process at the same time?

Studies have found that the younger a person starts voting, the more likely the person is to establish the habit of lifelong voting. With COVID-19 continuing to disrupt daily life during the 2020 election cycle, Gen Z could be left behind unless there is help for them to navigate the process. 

As an organization that works to educate and empower college students to vote during every election cycle, the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge’s role became critical at a time when the pandemic threatened an already confusing experience. To give young voters a fighting chance during this election, ALL IN teamed up with Brooklyn creative agency, Big Spaceship, through the Creative Alliance to create ALL IN to Vote. 

On an average day, Big Spaceship creates experiences and campaigns for major consumer brands like Starbucks, JetBlue, and YouTube. Although it’s been in operation for over 20 years, Big Spaceship has more recently made a name for itself as a partner that truly understands how to synthesize stories that resonate with specific, nuanced audiences. The ALL IN to Vote project was the perfect fit.

After being briefed on the problem by ALL IN, Big Spaceship immediately began to dive into the experiences of 18 to 26-year-olds through a unique, proprietary program called Gen Z Reveal. 

Reveal combines elements of focus groups, social networks, and collaborative research to understand the emerging demographic powerhouse. Reveal is a way for Big Spaceship to get to know not only the habits and preferences of real-life Gen Z individuals but the “why” behind those decisions too.

Insights from the Reveal program brought the team to some unexpected truths about Gen Z’s voting knowledge and beliefs. Discussions started to trend towards a common emotional theme of “anxious empowerment.” Gen Z felt excited to be an important part of history when they voted — but it left them with anxiety to think that they could be voting incorrectly or that they could be perceived as uninformed if they didn’t already know every step of the process.

This is a generation that cares deeply about politics and the world, and who are incredibly engaged with current events. Moments like the way the TikTok community trolled Trump’s Tulsa rally, or the groundswell behind the Parkland students’ gun reform message paint a picture of an engaged generation. They’re even showing interest in going to the polls; Research from Pew Research Center that 30% of eligible Gen Z voters turned out in the 2018 midterm elections, 7% higher than Millennials or Gen X turnouts in their first years of eligibility in 1990 and 2006. 

Unlike some prior generations, Gen Z doesn’t need to be convinced that politics matter. They just need to be shown how to vote quickly and with the most impact.

To do so, the site’s experiences and resource guides were built from the ground up. The team sourced unbiased information to clarify processes and deadlines and reformatted in a way that brought the ALL IN to Vote brand to a place where it could relate to the audience it wanted to activate.

Big Spaceship’s Reveal program was key in reshaping the ALL IN brand to resonate with new voters. By examining a cross-section of Gen Z’s media habits and trusted voter organizations (or not!), the team was able to assemble a new messaging platform and brand look and feel — one that moved away from overly formal red, white, and blue and towards fluidity and secondary colors.

The site also encourages students to challenge their friends to pledge to vote. The Campus Leaderboard feature tracks the number of students pledging to vote across the country. Raising their school’s ranking was as easy as recruiting their friends to register, make a plan to vote on Election Day, and pledge to follow through.

Although the internet is filled with information about voting, it’s difficult to distill and trust. When are my state’s primaries? When do I have to register by? Is this source even reliable? We aggregated all those answers into one knowledgeable (and nonpartisan) hub of articles — one that can answer questions for anyone about the election process, regardless of age or voting experience. 

The result was an understandable, approachable website designed to respect college students’ time. An experience that spoke directly to them, not at them. 

No matter what happens on November 3rd — and no matter how you vote, either by mail or at a polling place with your mask — converting new voters to lifelong voters is a result that Big Spaceship and ALL IN to Vote will be proud of furthering. Make your plan for Election Day and check out the resources we’ve gathered at ALLINtoVote.org.

More than 740 colleges and universities currently participate in the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, including 34 in Michigan and 62 in Pennsylvania. Learn more about the Challenge and donate to advance our work here.

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