Project by: Nathaniel Tisa, Joseph Fiorica, Romer Telemi
High Concept Statement:
Facebook digitized the social world. Amazon digitized the consumer experience. DemocraFi digitizes politics. We fix the campaign-voter engagement gap that leads to bad policy, bad polling, and bad outcomes. We give voters a one-stop-shop for information, donations, and activism, and provide campaigns cheaper and better quality data on constituent issues and beliefs based on anonymized user analytics.
Need or Demand:
The 2016 election highlighted serious problems with democratic engagement. DemocraFi addresses these public sector problems with a private sector solution. Our app brings campaigns and voters together to tackle campaign finance, improve candidate platforms, and engage directly about community problems, all while meeting the individual needs of both groups. Campaigns lack affordable, high-quality data about issues and voters. Changing social norms about communication have made polling less accurate and more expensive. At present, these methods require intensive investments that often exceed the resources of state and local campaigns. When it is available, data is limited in scope, dated, and does not address issue-specific passions and ideology. This means officeholders are unable to take the pulse of where constituents stand, leading to poor outreach, poor representation, and extreme policy positions in response to loud interest groups. Voter trust in officeholders is at historic lows. Turnout, donation, and engagement rates continue to decline. Our research shows that voter distrust of media and the echo chamber and “fake news” problems of social media are key factors in this trend. Voters seek reliable political news, to engage on issues they care about, and to identify and support candidates that will make a difference where it matters. Commuters and working families need to do so quickly and efficiently, and cannot afford to invest large amounts of time seeking out such information.
Product / Service / Solution:
DemocraFi provides campaigns data products that meet existing focus group and polling needs for a fraction of the cost and at higher quality than currently available. We do this by equipping voters in their jurisdiction with a one-stop shop platform that meets their news and activism needs while generating anonymized analytics that inform and guide political decisions. Users receive an issue-based newsfeed that utilizes linguistic processing and behavioral algorithms to deliver balanced content about important issues. Automated processing makes relevant candidate and officeholder stances readily available, along with trending quotes from recognized thought leaders. Users can react directly to this content by donating to candidates and organizations through our application, signing up for sponsored events, or starting their own events with similar-minded users using our simple communication and crowdfunding tools. Economies of scale allow us to revolutionize decentralized, analogue political processes with digital solutions for the first time, achieving quality improvements and cost reduction. Rather than ebb and flow with each election cycle, DemocraFi will harness political energy in a way that takes the guesswork out of making positive change.
Campaigns use voter data to generate greater engagement, yield votes, solicit donations, and built legitimacy. Data generated through our application will be cheaper than existing methods and many times more complex. For the first time, campaigns and officeholders can generate issue-by-issue heat maps of important political questions in their districts. Even at low adoption rates, our users can participate in digital focus groups, achieving substantial cost savings. By way of comparison, social media data available to campaigns allows for targeted advertising based on a standard left-right ideology scale. Our data model utilizes multi-factor analysis that includes personality factors, topic-by-topic reactions, and behavioral patterns to show nuanced preferences. This will allow voters to back campaigns with unorthodox policy combinations in districts that are traditionally polarized along strict ideological lines. State and local campaigns have a tremendous amount to gain from the data revolution. Largely unknown among voters, these political bodies make decisions that impact them more than national decisions on a day-to-day basis. DemocraFi’s algorithms drive users toward state and local information, campaigns, and engagement opportunities relevant to their interest based on activity related to national politics. Campaigns have greater opportunity to engage than ever before, and voters can focus their attention where their voices carry the farthest. Our app saves users time while presented a broad range of content. Language processing algorithms and automated summaries present important facts upfront from all relevant perspectives, while allowing users to dig deeper if their interest is piqued. Unique “ranging” features will make sure users see content just at the edge of their comfort zone to defeat echo chamber effects. Finally, users can convert their newsfeed into podcasts for quick listening during the morning commute.
Campaign Services: political campaigns and parties use financial processors and web providers for data processing on the back-end. These services’ interactivity with users is limited, and they focus primarily on serving campaigns. Example: Act Blue, NationBuilder User Services: social media apps provide an avenue to news, but our research shows users by-and-large do not trust the sites to provide reliable information on a consistent basis (or they do not use these sites for that purpose). Example: Twitter, Facebook Informational Services: limited solutions have provided platforms for information gathering about Congressional contacts, bills under consideration, candidate endorsements, and other parts of the political process. Yet, because they do not partner directly with campaigns, their ability to generate revenue is limited. Further, over time they have struggled to retain a user base because of slow or non-existent updates and lack of peer-to-peer interactivity. Examples: Countable, ChangePolitics (defunct), Poliana (defunct) DemocraFi solves the revenue problem by engaging campaigns as customers, and solves the sustained-interest problem by facilitated user-to-campaign/officeholder engagement and user-to-user engagement through activism tools. Campaign involvement piques user interest in direct engagement, and user involvement justifies the expenditure of campaign resources. Institutional customers help us evangelize and monetize our product.
DemocraFi does NOT depend on traditional advertising revenue. This allows us to create a unique ad-free user experience, respect user privacy, and avoid the revenue and financial incentive problems plaguing social media companies. 1) Donation Cut. We take an industry-standard 3.95% cut of donations to campaigns and organizations. Even at low rates of adoption, this value is significant (federal elections exceeded $1.7B in individual contributions for the 2016 cycle, while state campaigns exceeded $500M). 2) Data Products. Multiple campaigns contest each of the 7,400 state races and 469 federal races per cycle. Officeholders, exploratory committees, and advocacy organizations are also served by our product offerings. Prices vary by level (local, state, national) and service (digital focus group, issue-polling, and push-poll services). Diverse products allow us to sell even when user adoption rates are low in a given jurisdiction. 3) Strategic Partnerships. We will selectively partner with charity, news, and commercial organizations to provide sponsored engagement opportunities for users who indicate interest on a given issue. E.g., we will suggest subscriptions to advocacy organizations that work on gun control for users supporting that issue. At times we will do this as a public service, e.g., suggesting users concerned with VA issues volunteer with charities supporting veterans in need.