Mekanism US Presidential Election Politics

How Undivided seeks to bring political discourse to the middle again


By Doug Zanger, Americas Editor

October 27, 2017 | 8 min read

The political divide in the US keeps spreading wider. Battle lines between parties seem inextricably drawn while both sides hunker down in a flurry of rhetoric and flat-out yelling. However, there appears to be a growing gray area, that place where both sides meet on issues, than most realize.

Graphic from Creative Alliance's Undivided campaign

Graphic from Creative Alliance's Undivided campaign / Chapter SF

Undivided is a project that has emerged from the Creative Alliance, a consortium of agencies, creatives, production, PR and media founded about two years ago by Jason Harris, president and chief executive officer of Mekanism and Heidi Hackemer, vice present of the creative studio for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. It supports Civic Nation, a Washington, DC-based organization that focuses on mainly progressive societal issues related to gender equality, educational access and success, and civic engagement.

Other campaigns that the Creative Alliance has undertaken have included the It’s On Us initiative, led by Harris, that was created in partnership with vice president Biden to change the culture around US college campuses to end sexual assault. At present, over 440,000 people have taken the pledge and this week is the program’s “week of action” with events on over 500 college campuses.

Recently, the Creative Alliance worked with The United State of Women to release graphics and a video featuring actor Sophia Bush that has received almost 42m views, in response to President Trump’s action stating that businesses do not have to cover contraception as part of their health care insurance.

Zeppa Kreager, director of the Creative Alliance, points to these campaigns and others that involved the previous leadership at The White House as key points to understand the potential of creativity meeting civic action.

“[It’s On Us was] a beacon for us to follow with some of the best practices in large part because I think it's the perfect example of policy experts, grassroots experts, and marketing experts coming together,” she says.

Undivided: Navigating the nation’s gray area

The goal of the Undivided campaign is surprisingly simple: to illustrate that, on big, challenging issues in the US, most of the country is more united than divided, though social media and the 24-hour news cycle would have one believe otherwise.

This particular campaign, led by Chapter in San Francisco, works to use data to make its point and, though its goal is to have a consistent cadence, has had a continuous flood of moments as an opportunity to engage the population.

After the recent Las Vegas shooting tragedy, the Undivided noted that a poll showed that 94% of Americans, from both sides of the political spectrum, support background checks for gun buyers. On other hot-button issues, 75% of Americans agree that undocumented workers should be allowed to stay in the country and 71% think that the government should spend more on education.

“If you look at all the great initiatives that have happened in the US over history from the New Deal to the Great Society to the Civil Rights Act — even to the launch of the Affordable Care Act — they really came from politicians and people on both sides of the aisle reaching out and finding where the common ground was they could agree upon,” says Gareth Kay, co-founder of Chapter. “There's actually more that unites us in this country than divides us.

“The oxygen has been starved from the debate at the moment,” adds Kay. “I think a lot of the apathy, skepticism, antipathy towards progress among us comes from the fact there's a whole bunch of people who are essentially the silent majority who just feel that they can't fully subscribe to the views of one party or another so why bother? And I think that's the most dangerous thing, frankly.”

Breaking through the noise and skepticism

One of the obvious issues that Undivided faces is simple clutter. As the voluminous weight of opinion, especially in social media, presses the perception of middle ground away, Kay acknowledges that it will take some time, education and continued cadence.

“We’re trying, in many ways, to offset the noise,” he notes. “[Our goal] in stage one [of the campaign] is to say ‘You know what? There is a third way. There’s a way actually that is much truer to the way that the majority of Americans think.’ And we're using data to really support that.”

The support of media partners, such as Viacom, Facebook and others, along with a raft of artists, influencers and celebrities, can serve as an important amplification mechanism. In the case of this campaign, having tools at the ready for more one-on-one dialogue — sometimes a tenuous proposition, especially with family dynamics — is another goal.

“We’ve got holiday times coming up in the near future, when people are coming back together,” says Neil Robinson, co-founder of Chapter. “[We’d like] to progress this and build initiatives that help halt the divisiveness.”

Kay adds: ”I think the next stage of the campaign is one which is much more around engaging people and giving them the tools to have better conversations.”

Another bug-a-boo that lurks under the surface is the skepticism that both sides appear to have regarding data in the first place. Is it even real? Are the numbers skewing one direction to the other to suit an agenda?

“The reality is unless you actually have those kind of human, face-to-face conversations, it's really hard to close the gap because you can throw data at people until they're blue in the face,” says Kay. “We're at the stage at the moment where we're just trying to begin to flag to people that there actually is a different debate that's going on and there shouldn't be one that is dominated by one side or the other. I think the first thing we have to do is just to try and fight off the kind of extreme polarized narrative that we're seeing both in the news media, but more importantly in people's day-to-day lives and what they're seeing on Facebook and Twitter.”

From now to a year from now

As the campaign and effort build momentum, Kay believes that another, critical part of moving forward will be to reconcile the dispassionate nature of data with the stories of real people engaging with each other and, hopefully, having meaningful discourse in the gray area to get more people talking.

“I think the goal as we evolve the campaign is to begin to share more one-on-one stories of individuals or small groups and begin to share some of those more empathetic stories that you can just relate to and begin to really get a sense of the kind of emotional depth that we want to get into the campaign,” says Kay. “I think being able to document some of the conversations that are either happening naturally or that we can begin to inject will become a very important next stage in the campaign.”

In the next year, it’s unclear as to how the Undivided campaign results will reveal themselves to the public but, but in looking at where everyone hopes the campaign leads, Kay echoes universal agreement on what will count as a win.

“I would love to see, more than anything else, people talking and genuinely listening to one another and having conversations again, rather than living off in slightly closed-off worlds.”

Mekanism US Presidential Election Politics

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