According to Lobbyists.info, over $8.1 billion dollars were spent by the lobbying community to affect legislation and regulation in the past two years. That’s a staggering figure. It’s even more staggering when you consider that it doesn’t include non-profits and other organizations that fall under the reporting threshold.
When it comes to influencing public policy today, traditional lobbying – the in-person, hand-to-hand combat that takes place in the buildings at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and in state capitols across the country – obviously remains a powerful and often needed tool. But the power of citizen input – of thousands of Americans engaging in public discourse and sharing their views with lawmakers in Washington, D.C. and back home where they live – is real. Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo Movement and the current student-led rallies for gun control in the wake of the Stoneman Douglass High School shooting, for example, suggest that the opportunities to advance and affect meaningful policy change through grassroots communications are growing. And this is true regardless of whether the policy changes being driven are supported by conservatives or liberals, Republicans or Democrats.
As the late former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill liked to say, “all politics is local.” Several trends help explain why “going local” matters, and why perhaps it matters more today than ever before.
Influence has become democratized. Thanks to social media and other “flattening” technologies, average citizens (who, by the way, are also the customers who buy a company’s products and services, and who are the constituents who vote for candidates and ballot issues) can have as much or more influence than the political, business and academic “experts” who were viewed for decades as the most credible and trusted voices. And, their influence can spread across geographies and time zones, gathering stream and followers in a matter of hours.
Local news is less “fake” and often more popular. Accusations of “fake news” have affected Americans’ trust in the mass media, but according to a Morning Consult/POLITICO poll conducted in August 2017, most Americans continue to maintain faith in at least one media pillar — their local news outlets. Forty-one percent of registered voters have more trust in their local news outlets to report the truth, while 27 percent said they have more trust in the truthfulness of national news coverage. And according to The Pew Research Center’s most recent “State of the News Media” survey conducted in July 2017, while local television news programming has shed audience over the past decade, local TV news still garners more viewers on average than cable and network news programs even with those viewership losses.
Washington is doing nothing better than ever before. With the exception of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, major policy reform through legislation is the exception in Washington, not the rule. More and more, the action is happening at the state and local level. Mayors, city councils, governors and state assemblies across the country are actively looking for innovative ways to address the pressing economic, fiscal and societal challenges and driving change from outside the Beltway.
Grassroots communications is an increasingly effective and efficient way for companies, trade associations, NGOs, non-profits, and sovereign governments to respond to and take advantage of these trends. Today’s grassroots tactics use quantitative and anecdotal research, social listening, and online and offline engagement to produce a data-informed approach wholly predicated on understanding audiences, how to reach them and what will spur them to action. Adopting this approach enables organizations to bring local insights, local media, local relationships and local voices to bear in authentic ways that resonate and positively affect the policy, business and reputational outcomes they are seeking. And if the trends outlined above continue, the role of grassroots communications will likely take on even greater significance in the months and years to come.
By Kathy Jeavons, Executive Vice President, Direct Impact.