If your Instagram feed looked anything like mine in 2022, there were vacation photos, breaking celeb news from The Shade Room, The Real Housewives drama, news clips and eerily on-trend targeted ads. But I also saw memes about voting rights, videos of Liza Koshy breaking down the progress we’ve made to combat climate change, new voters getting registered and pictures of volunteers and future voters having Parties at the Polls. And that’s exactly how we like it at When We All Vote. We don’t believe that voting is a one-time transaction — it’s a long term investment we make every single day, not every two or four years, in building the communities, cities, states and country where we can all thrive.
During the 2022 midterm election cycle, When We All Vote continued our work to merge culture with grassroots organizing to educate, register, mobilize and organize voters by meeting them where they are and speaking to them in ways that they understand. The result? We reached more than 45 million voters this election cycle alone and our work contributed to record-breaking early voting turnout and the second-highest youth turnout rate for a midterm election in the past 30 years.
And one year ago today, we convened 30 voting organizations in the fight for voting rights through a full page ad in the New York Times where we pledged to: recruit and train at least 100,000 volunteers throughout 2022 to register and turn out voters in their communities; register more than a million new voters across the country; recruit thousands of lawyers to protect voters in the states where the freedom to vote is threatened; and more. I’m proud that as a collective we registered two million voters, engaged 100,000 volunteers, recruited nearly 4,000 lawyers who volunteered more than 45,000 hours of free legal services and more.
We are not new to this. In 2020, When We All Vote ran a robust, multifaceted campaign and reached more than 100 million people to educate them about the voting process and get them registered and ready to vote. Our efforts resulted in 512,000 people starting or completing the voter registration process. Our work this cycle builds on that success. Here’s how we did it:
The definition of democracy is “government by the people” or “rule of the majority.” When We All Vote is on a mission to bring the people often left out of our democracy in, and we do that through popular culture and the leading brands, artists and athletes they respond to. In 2022, we partnered with nearly 200 celebrities, athletes and influencers to educate their audiences about voting, and we recruited five new celebrity Co-Chairs: H.E.R., Becky G, Stephen Curry, Jennifer Lopez and Bretman Rock to join our founder, Michelle Obama, and existing Co-Chairs, including Chris Paul, Liza Koshy, Lin Manuel Miranda, Shonda Rhimes, Rita Wilson and more. When We All Vote also engaged over 100 media, entertainment, fashion and corporate partners and 14 pro sports teams and leagues to infuse voting into cultural moments like awards shows, pro sports games and music festivals.
These partnerships to drive voter registration and engagement included a sweepstakes competition to meet Co-Chair Becky G at the Latin GRAMMYs, a voting ad that played throughout the NBA finals in stadiums and on national television, and an appearance from Michelle Obama on the season premiere of Black-ish featuring a storyline about When We All Vote.
Also in June, we convened the first-ever Culture of Democracy Summit, online and in-person at the Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles. The purpose of this bi-annual summit is to bring a cross section of industry leaders together from corporate, civics, tech, entertainment and beyond to discuss the role we all play in strengthening and protecting our democracy. The Summit included a keynote address from Michelle Obama, 85+ speakers including Chris Paul, Selena Gomez, Kerry Washington, former Attorney General Eric Holder, Magic Johnson, Doc Rivers, David Hogg and more, and reached 1,000+ in-person attendees, garnering 179,000 live streams, 205 million impressions and 73,000 engagements on social media. Throughout the weekend, we hosted special events for civic organizers and a series of conversations on topics ranging from environmental and criminal justice to voter suppression and engaging Gen Z. At the end of the event, the audience left with clear calls to action on how they can shape the culture of democracy.
When it comes to reaching young people, we know that these communities increasingly live online. 86% of Americans say they get their news online, and 44% of Gen Z report never receiving news and information from traditional sources.
In 2022, When We All Vote reached voters in authentic, creative and engaging ways to increase both awareness and action around the midterms. Our content focused on three core areas to empower current and future voters: educating voters on the issues and positions that were on the ballot, why their vote counts and the constant changes in voting rules and regulations; informing voters about election deadlines, rules and their voting rights; and mobilizing voters to take action through storytelling memes and videos that allow our audience to see how voting plays a role in their everyday lives. Our “This Week at When We All Vote” video series is a prime example of how we used video content to break down the issues for our audience and show them how to take action in an accessible way.
Through our partnerships with celebrities, cultural leaders, influencers and content creators, we reached millions of users well beyond our own audiences. Through creative collaborations with accounts like @feminist and @Upworthy we earned more than 800,000 impressions, reaching previously untapped audiences in non-partisan online spaces. We also expanded our partnership with 18 celebrities on the SMS platform Community, which allowed us to promote voter registration on someone’s 18th birthday. Finally, Vote Lab, our research program, conducted a field experiment for Instagram micro-influencers to study their input on voter engagement, allowing us to better understand the role that influencers of all sizes can play in driving voter registration.
Additionally, in the leadup to the primary and general elections, our team sent segmented email and SMS reminders to voters in all 15 of our focus states, including critical battlegrounds like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Reminders included dates and deadlines for registering to vote, voting early and voting by mail, in addition to Election Day reminders. These segmented emails and SMS messages ultimately reached an audience of nearly 3 million voters, empowering them with the information they needed to make their voices heard in the midterms.
Finally, our team continued to focus on organizing on the ground and empowering volunteers to be trusted messengers in their own communities. We hosted 20 virtual rallies and trainings that reached nearly 10,000 volunteers who took action during the midterms and helped nearly 90,000 people register or check their voter registration. We also recruited and organized more than 200 My School Votes clubs in high schools across the country.
In March, Co-Chairs Michelle Obama and Chris Paul launched the VOTE LOUD HBCU Squad Challenge to empower students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to take a leading role in voter registration, education and mobilization efforts on their campuses.
In the lead-up to Election Day, we saw our organizing efforts pay off. When We All Vote built upon our strong track record of hosting early voting celebrations that have been proven to increase voter turnout. Through our Party at the Polls program, we worked with local partners, volunteer leaders and HBCU voting squads to celebrate voting with more than 215 free events at or near polling locations with music, food and fun. When We All Vote provided grant funding to more than 90 organizations to help power these celebrations.
Looking ahead to 2023 and beyond
While we saw record-breaking turnout in 2020 and high midterm turnout in 2022, our work is far from done. An estimated 127 million people, more than half of the voting-eligible population, did not vote in 2022 and we are already seeing states move to continue to restrict voting rights as we head into the 2024 presidential election. But we know that When We All Vote’s combination of culture change and grassroots organizing is working, and it has the power to bring even more lifelong voters into the fold. As we look to 2023, 2024 and beyond, our team will constantly be thinking of new ways to reach voters through culture, online and in their communities and we look forward to you being on that journey with us. Democracy is not a spectator sport. We all have to be on the field.