Still unsure who to vote for in next month’s presidential election? Unclear about where the candidates stand on a particular issue? Looking for well-researched, unbiased information that allows you to voice your own opinions? With less than five weeks to go until the 2016 presidential election, the College of Communication has come up with a new smartphone and tablet app, called INVOLVD, designed to reach millennial voters.
INVOLVD’s motto is “Democracy is not a spectator sport.” To engage the user, the app consists of COM-curated news reports that scrutinize the presidential candidates’ ideas for tackling the nation’s problems. Users vote on whether or not they believe the proposal will be successful, and they then have the option to use the app to push out their opinion. Since launching this summer, more than 1,000 people have downloaded INVOLVD, which is available through the Apple and Android stores.
Thomas Fiedler (COM’71), dean of COM, says the concept of the app occurred following a conversation he had with local Boston political organizer Tom Cosgrove about how millennial voters were approaching this election. The New York Times reported last week that “younger voters are shunning the two major political parties on a scale not seen since Ross Perot’s third-party bid for the presidency in 1992,” with many saying they may not vote at all.
“The concern both of us shared was that the level of discussion that was going on in the public sphere was so off-putting that a lot of voters, especially younger voters, were disengaged from the process,” Fiedler says. “From that came the question, what might we do to engage this generation?”
Millennials no longer get their news by sitting in front of a TV or reading a newspaper, he says—instead, they consume information through their smartphones and social media. Fiedler and Cosgrove came up with the idea of producing reliable, well researched, not hyperbolic content put together in a way that would be particularly interesting to young voters.
Fiedler credits Cosgrove with designing the app in an engaging, game-like format. Users can choose to explore any of 21 issues, like climate change, mass shootings, race in America, student debt, housing costs, and the threat posed by ISIS. When you choose the issue “student debt,” for example, this sound bite pops up: “We’re going to do something for the student, something with extensions, lower rates, and a lot of good things.” The next arrow tells you who said it (in this case, Donald Trump) and more about where the candidates stand on the issue, through brief video reports by veteran journalists Camilla Carr and R. D. Sahl, a COM associate professor of the professional practice; informal YouTube-style clips by student reporters Sanaz Tahernia (COM’17) and Torrance Latham (COM’16); and longer, in-depth text pieces from the Conversation, a collaborative website offering news analysis and commentary from academics and editors. Once you have made up your mind about which candidate best addresses the issue, you vote “viable” or “not viable,” and you can then share your own solution for student debt, with the option to tweet your idea to the candidate.
“It’s hard for people to find news that is not filled with punditry,” Cosgrove says. “Millennials will be more affected by climate change than any other generation, and the same goes for their kids and grandkids. We have more video on the INVOLVD app about where Trump and Clinton stand on this issue than any of the major news networks, and the same with mass shootings and student debt. These issues are important to all voters, but especially millennials.”
Fiedler hopes that the app catches on enough to generate more resources so it can continue past the election. He says he also hopes to engage more student journalists going forward.
“I think the app has a great name because it’s important for my age group to be involved,” says Latham, now an intern at NBC’s weekly public affairs show Meet the Press. “Millennials were really crucial in getting President Obama elected, so I think it was an excellent idea for the app’s creators to figure out a way to reach them. Most kids don’t care about politics, unless they major in something like political science or journalism, and this app makes them feel like they have a voice.”
The app was made possible by a grant from the Reva & David Logan Foundation.
Download INVOLVD here.