NextGen America 'courts' the youth vote in Wisconsin via dating apps
Dating apps, like Bumble, Hinge and Tinder have skyrocketed in popularity over the years. So much so that they're a new digital frontier in political outreach. One national organization is using dating apps for outreach about Wisconsin’s upcoming state Supreme Court election.
Kristi Johnston, national press secretary for NextGen America and current Hinge dater, is taking advantage of the potential of dating apps to connect people both romantically and politically. NextGen America is a progressive political organization geared towards mobilizing young people that has recruited a team of about 20 volunteers to set their Hinge locations to different places in Wisconsin, mainly Milwaukee, Green Bay and Madison.
"Hinge has a setup where you're given a certain amount of likes per day," says Johnston. "And also on the other end, other matches are also swiping right or left. So you'll also get an inbox of people that like you to have you both swipe right then you match and from there, you can take the conversation how you like."
Johnston says the line between dating and political outreach has been blurry. "I've been talking to a lot of people about my stress, personally, as an organizer around the election, on overall turnout, and what the outcome could be. So you know, really bringing them into those conversations, and making them feel like they have a stake in the game, and that they're a part of the organizing with us, has been really critical for me."
She says after that, she's been moving into other conversations too. "I've continued a lot of my interactions into more personal questions, like talking about hobbies and getting to know the person a little bit more."
Johnston says she's a Packer fan. She says she's wearing a cheesehead hat in one of her profile pictures, and one prompt says, "Aaron Rodgers might leave you but I never would." She says that's generating a lot of conversation.
Johnston says "I feel like I'm getting the first hand look at how people are actually feeling. The conversation can go anywhere from a conversation about 'OK, how do you feel about Aaron Rodgers leaving the Packers' to 'OK, how do you feel about, you know, my reproductive rights not being intact?'"
"It's all over the place, but in a way where I'm really getting a sense of how young Wisconsin boys and girls are feeling," says Johnston. She has virtual drinks lined up with several people.
Has anyone fallen in love as part of this political dating app outreach? "I would say I'm in love right now," jokes Johnston. "I'm just so blown away by the niceness of Wisconsin boys. I'm in love with each and every one of them."
But actually, notes Johnston, a woman on the NextGen social team found her current boyfriend through this dating app organizing who she's still in love with. "Still going strong," says Johnston. "So it absolutely has the potential to get that love connection."
NextGen America started the program in Arizona during the 2020 election and continued it nationally during the 2022 midterms. They've relaunched in Wisconsin ahead of the state Supreme Court race.
Johnston says dating app outreach is part of larger mobilization efforts. The group plans to send more than 1.1 million texts and make calls to people aged 18 to 35 in Wisconsin ahead of the state Supreme Court race.
Going forward, ahead of the 2024 presidential election, NextGen America will be using dating apps for outreach in key battleground states such as Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas.
"We identified those states as the states where young people can make the biggest impact and where their votes are are going to have the most weight," says Johnston.