With just under a month until Election Day, Sean Parker’s civics-focused startup Brigade wants to help American voters figure out which candidates to vote for.
Brigade, whose founders include billionaire tech investor Sean Parker and former Causes CEO Matt Mahan, rolled out on Tuesday a major update to all users of its desktop, iOS and Android apps that includes a digital ballot guide powered by social media. The election tool serves up personalized recommendations for more than 13,000 federal and state races and ballot propositions largely based on a user’s social connections with friends, neighbors and political influencers in their voting districts.
“There’s too much at stake in this election to stay home, and yet nearly half of eligible voters will do just that on November 8,” Mahan, Brigade’s CEO, told Yahoo Finance. “Even worse, half of those who turn out will fail to vote in the critical state and local races that affect their lives even more directly than who sits in the Oval Office. We’ve built a dead-simple social ballot guide for voters to help each other pledge to vote and ultimately turn out for candidates and ballot props that align with their values.”
Simply put, Brigade’s so-called social ballot guide feature will ask users to opt in and sync up their Facebook, email and phone book contacts so the app can figure out which of their friends are also Brigade users. The app also capitalizes on a feature in the app which lets users connect their Brigade accounts with their public voter file.
Based on a complex set of algorithms and data like how your contacts voted, or “pledged,” on issues inside Brigade, their public voter file, as well as a larger set of overall user pledge data, Brigade is able to decipher the views of candidates. That includes even down-ballot candidates on most issues and offers recommendations on who to vote for — all without having to perform the impossible task of manually pulling data on each and every federal and state race.
Additionally, from now through Election Day, users who recruit or invite pledges from friends on the app also become eligible to join Brigade’s Precinct Captains Challenge — a competition, replete with leaderboard, that awards users who recruit the most pledges on any given day with gift certificates from Amazon (AMZN), Netflix (NLFX) or Spotify. The Precinct Captain with the most votes come Election Day snags a three-day trip to Washington, D.C. for the presidential inauguration next January.
Brigade contends that this kind of low-key social pressure from other Brigade users could improve voter turnout.
Indeed, real-world experiments on voter turnout appear to back up Brigade’s assertions.
“Offline field experiments demonstrate that voter turnout can be significantly affected by social pressure,” explained Donald P. Green, Burgess Professor of Political Science at Columbia University and one of the country’s preeminent researchers of the ways in which political campaigns mobilize and persuade voters. “The next frontier in voter turnout research lies in understanding how online social networks and social pressure affect voter behavior.”
Since Brigade launched in June 2015, the civics-focused social network has seen users take 7 million positions to date across a wide array of topics including civil rights and energy to religion and taxes. The startup has also raised about $9.5 million in funding to date from Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, SV Angel founder Ron Conway and Parker, who carved out his name in Silicon Valley by co-founding the file-sharing service Napster and serving as early Facebook (FB) president.
With all that data, Mahan says he already knows what the next challenge is beyond the social ballot guide.
“We’ve got to figure out what to do with all that user-generated content and how to aggregate it up in interesting and productive ways,” explained Mahan.
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