Can Crowdsourcing Its Politics Help Big Labor Keep Its Influence?

The new science of winning campaigns
Sept. 18 2012 10:44 AM

Can Crowdsourcing Its Politics Help Big Labor Keep Its Influence?

Of all the unintended consequences of Citizens United, this may be the most remarkable: the AFL-CIO crowdsourcing its political program.  I wrote from Wisconsin before the gubernatorial recall there about the Supreme Court decision had changed labor politics, by knocking down sixty-year old restraints on the ability of unions to communicate with voters. The AFL now runs programs through multiple channels, but can know work on mobilizing and persuading working-class voters regardless of whether they live in union households.

Today the AFL’s super-PAC Worker’s Voice will unveil a new platform it calls RePurpose. (Perhaps the finest stylist working in broadcast campaign ads, Jimmy Siegel, did the promotional video above.  He was also responsible for the gorgeous spots in Eliot Spitzer’s 2006 campaign—evidence of the aesthetic risks one can take when running for reelection without serious opposition.)  On the front end, RePurpose resembles a loyalty program, allowing Worker’s Voice supporters to accumulate points for basic activities, from one for for signing a petition to seven for knocking on a voter’s door as part of a canvass.

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Where RePurpose really deviates from usual practice, though, is that it allows supporters to effectively cash in their points to sponsor particular Worker’s Voice activities—choosing which states and candidates they want to back and the method or mode of contact.  “Different items cost different amounts, depending on a few different factors, such as the amount of staff time needed to create or change something (such as a phonebank script or a canvass turf) or the actual cost of the item (such as an online ad or direct mail piece),” according to an explainer.

As I wrote about other Worker’s Voice efforts in June, the platform keeps labor active as a broker of others’ activities: supporters can spend their points only on candidates endorsed by the AFL or its affiliates.

Sasha Issenberg is the author of The Victory Lab about the new science of political campaigns.