Creating the Uber Voter

By Bradley Tusk  |  November 4, 2015

Most politicians I know aren’t all that irrational. They’re intensely focused on re-election (to the exclusion of almost anything else), they typically have a very sophisticated view of the sliver of voters and votes they need to get re-elected (usually a small, vocal sub-group within the small sub-group of people who bother to vote in the first place), and they focus their time and energy on keeping that group of voters happy, frequently to the exclusion of their other constituents, or the public good in general. And while some of those politicians come out of those critical sub-groups of voters and are true believers, most are just smart enough to know where the votes are and that shapes most of their positions, activities, and decisions. If the votes started coming from somewhere else, their views would change to cater to those voters instead.

So when we ask ourselves why most politicians don’t seem to understand the power of new tech-enabled companies and ideas, they’re not being obtuse. In fact, they’re actually being very rational. They’re looking at a tech issue and saying to themselves “Seniors vote and they’re more comfortable with the status quo; and my donors are complaining about being disrupted by these tech companies, so I need to take care of my regular voters and donors.” From a societal standpoint, of course, it’s counter-productive. You can even call it corrupt. But it’s not irrational. Until the people who use and care about new technologies and ideas become a meaningful bloc of voters, they’re just not particularly relevant to the one thing that most politicians care about. But that can change.

Look at some of the regulatory and advocacy fights companies like Uber have faced. When the DC City Council in 2012 tried to shut us down, we were able to rally over 50,000 local residents to send unique emails to individual Councilmembers to oppose anti-Uber legislation.

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We defeated the bad legislation and then passed our own bill, unanimously. The same happened this past summer in New York City when the Mayor proposed a cap on Uber’s growth, and you see it happening now from fantasy sports enthusiasts who don’t want regulators to take away their right to play.

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Rather than just fighting bad laws and regulations, what if we could elect and influence politicians who start to see us as a relevant political force in the first place? The thinking behind most of the proposed anti-tech laws and regulations isn’t particularly complex: the people behind them are just looking at where the votes are. If we become the votes, we’re no longer the target.

So how does that happen?

Bring our voters (loosely defined as most people under 40) to the polls. While anyone should be able to vote via their phone, that’s not going to happen for awhile, so the next best thing is making it easy to get there. That could mean free Uber or Lyft rides to the polls. It could mean Uber or Via pool rides making pickups and drop-offs outside of polling places. It could just mean organizing group outings (via any number of platforms) so that voting is less of a chore and more of an activity.

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Use our platforms to make the consequences real (you can’t just live inside of your phone). Bad governing isn’t abstract. It means living in a worse place: it means taxes go up or crime increases or the public schools get worse or basic operations like trash removal fall apart. So the more we make the consequences relevant and real (and that means using platforms in a more sophisticated way than campaigns use them now and it means realizing that most voters under 40 aren’t being reached through typical forms of campaign advertising like tv and direct mail), the better our chance of increasing turnout and then making elected officials realize that their priorities need to change.

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Bring tech and politics together. If a candidate or an elected official has a position on worker classification, it may make sense for Instacart or Handy or Postmates to let their customers and partners know. If a candidate has a position on short-term rentals, it makes sense for Airbnb to let their hosts know. If a candidate has a position on fantasy sports regulation, it may make sense for FanDuel or Draft Kings to let their customers know.

And once candidates realize that tech companies are aggressively talking to their customers and partners about them, the vast majority of them will bend over backwards to make sure the message being communicated is positive (especially if they see that tech friendly consumers are starting to regularly vote).

There are so many exciting startups that will need to navigate political and regulatory issues over the next decade from autonomous vehicles to drone regulation to cannabis regulation to desalination to worker classification. It’ll be a lot easier to win those fights if we understand what motivates candidates and elected officials in the first place. In other words, we don’t convince politicians to see the world differently. They just need to see our future as their own.