Winning the Vote

Groups hold power to sway large blocks of voters

their messages. Many actually spend a lot of time and effort campaigning, convincing their members why a particular candidate would have their best interests in mind. One such group that heavily influences the voting choice of its members is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a union of 1.4 million public service workers that endorsed Obama in June.

“We don’t just tell members, ‘This is the candidate we’re endorsing.’ We like to educate our members,” says Glenard S. Middleton Sr., international vice president of AFSCME for Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

To do so, the union compares the candidates’ views on key issues such as healthcare, the economy, and workplace safety, Middleton says. It then presents the information to members through mailings and phone calls so they can make an educated decision. Historically, those campaigning efforts have translated into votes for the candidate AFSCME has endorsed, with nearly 70% of members supporting the union’s choice, Middleton says.

While winning over the endorsement of a powerful group or organization is typically a welcome achievement for any candidate, there is a potential downside. People tend to look to group endorsements to determine whether a candidate’s views are in line with their own. If a candidate receives the support of a group that another group of voters disagrees with, it may cause that other group to vote differently. For example, “when a group of American Muslims endorses Barack Obama, it might make Jewish Americans nervous,” Harris-Lacewell says.

But for voters, groups they trust and identify with can make the candidate vetting process much easier. After all, such groups are looking specifically at how the candidates’ platforms will impact their members, causes, and interests.

“As a voter, I look for experts because I assume experts are going to read that part of the platform and look at the candidate’s speeches—things that if I’m busy taking my kids to school, paying the bills, and trying to figure out how to put gas in the car, I don’t have time to do,” Harris-Lacewell says.

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