By Amy Perlmutter
I first heard Nathaniel Stinnett, Founder and Executive Director of the Environmental Voter Project (EVP), speak to BASG about three years ago when EVP was a nascent organization. I almost didn’t go to BASG that night. I had worked on political campaigns my whole adult life and thought I didn’t have much to learn, but I am so glad I decided at the last minute to attend. Nathaniel blew my mind and, when I think about what gives me hope for environmental progress, EVP’s work is way at the top!
BASG, it will come as no surprise, has moved (along with everyone else) to on-line platforms for our monthly meetings. While we all miss seeing each other in person and getting that energy that comes from being in a room together, we have still been able to hold quality events that attract and engage a broad range of people. And now we have the pleasure of introducing people from around the country to our awesome BASG community! Our May event again featured Nathaniel Stinnet, who gave us an update about the growth of EVP, it’s impact, and what they have learned about the environmental vote.
Nathaniel is no stranger to political campaigns. He spent over a decade as senior advisor, consultant, and trainer for political campaigns and issue-advocacy nonprofits. But he was frustrated that environmental issues were not being talked about nearly enough, nor acted upon, by those running for or elected to office. So, he founded EVP in 2015. EVP’s work is simply about getting non-voting environmentalists to vote. A staggering—and surprising—number of environmentalists who are registered to vote—16 million of us—do not vote. This matters because politicians only prioritize the things that likely voters care about (otherwise, they wouldn’t get re-elected!). Environmentalists are defined by EVP as being anyone who would list an environmental issue as being first or second among their concerns, even though these people may not actually identify as environmentalists (and may even bristle at the label!). You may have noticed that in polls of the general public, environmental issues rank high. But in polls of likely voters, they are much lower down the list. That’s because environmentalists aren’t voting.
EVP is non-partisan, so they don’t care if these non-voters are Republican, Democrat, or anything else; either way, they will do their best to get you to vote! They will knock on your door (on hold for now), text you, call you. They use basic social science messages to get people to vote. They don’t talk to you about the environment. Instead, they may say something like “we see you haven’t voted, but 90% of your neighbors do, and wouldn’t you like to join them and do the same?” As Nathaniel says, it’s easier to change behavior than it is to change minds. In other words, it’s far easier to get a non-voting environmentalist to vote than it is to get a regularly voting non-environmentalist to care about the environment.
The campaigns of candidates focus their Get Out The Vote efforts on likely voters, which is obviously cheaper than getting laggards off their couches. But the voters that EVP targets are ones that aren’t likely already being nudged by others. However, once they vote a few times, they move into the ranks of likely voters— who care about the environment!—and then EVP no longer needs to target them and political campaigns will court (and poll) them.
How do they find these non-voting environmentalists? They use data. They have identified certain criteria that can predict who these non voters are and then buy lists of names and cross-reference these lists against lists of registered voters to see who is voting and who is not (whether you vote or not is public, but who you vote for is not). Their lists of environmentally concerned voters turn out to be over 90% accurate (and you thought you weren’t predictable!).
It’s a truly elegant model and one that gives me a lot of hope.
You can view the recording of the webinar here. I hope you do!