College Republicans Bank on Competitive Spirit to Drive Online Healthcare Activism

ClickZ News - Politics & AdvocacyHealthcare isn’t a typical topic of conversation among college kids, but the College Republicans hope to change that. The College Republican National Committee has launched a site intended to encourage supporters to use online social tools to promote conservative stances on healthcare issues, and reward them for doing it. Importantly, the site employs Facebook Connect, as did Barack Obama’s presidential campaign site.

“Republicans are competitive,” suggests David All, president of David All Group, the conservative digital consultancy that crafted the Operation Waiting Game site. Hence, the new site plays on that mentality. Supporters are asked to take actions, racking up points for doing things like posting an article link to Facebook or Twitter or signing an online petition. A leaderboard displaying a dynamic counter marking the total number of actions taken by all users dominates the site’s homepage. Once one action is taken, the site presents users with additional ones.

As of Friday, over 8,000 actions had been “taken against a Washington takeover of our health care.” However, many of those can be attributed to the site’s developers and early testers. At this point, the CRNC is relying only on organic word-of-mouth to promote it.

And, the only rewards for now are bragging rights. In the long run, students will be able to purchase CRNC-related items using the points, said All.

Most young people aren’t exactly clued into issues involving doctors, pharmaceutical prescriptions, or health insurance. But, the CRNC believes any kind of compulsory, government-run healthcare system could have a major impact on them. “We want to educate and make the issue relevant to young voters and young conservatives especially,” said the committee’s Executive Director Tommy Jardon. The organization is focusing on what some believe will be the result of government-run healthcare, and something most people detest: waiting. A concern is that people may have to wait several days to see a doctor if the system is patterned after Canadian and European-style government-led health programs.

The Republican National Committee also recently launched a site aimed at derailing healthcare reform., however, takes a far more standardized approach to promoting activism among supporters, featuring lists of talk radio show phone numbers, contact information for elected officials, e-mail addresses for submitting newspaper opinion pieces, talking points, and sample letters. A “Tell and Share” option lets people easily link directly to various social media platforms such as Digg, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and AOL Instant Messenger.

The party got into some hot water last week in another reward-based effort to attract young people. The RNC launched an online contest aimed at young Republicans that was quickly taken down after a popular left-leaning blogger exposed related offensive content. The “Obama Card” game challenged young Republicans to see how fast they could reach expenditures totaling “the $3.4 trillion limit set by our current president.” Apparently integrated with Amazon’s database, the game allowed contestants to search for products, adding them to their shopping carts in the hopes of amassing the huge sum. AmericaBlog’s John Aravosis searched on keywords like “Jew” and “bondage,” resulting in offensive and risqué book titles and images.

The CRNC claims to have around 200,000 members, many of them who joined through Facebook during the 2008 election season. Now, however, the organization wants to branch out beyond relying on Facebook to garner supporters. “Facebook was a great recruitment tool in ’08, but now we’re looking for something else,” said Jardon. The group is hoping the Waiting Game site serves that purpose. Depending on how successful it is, the CRNC may apply the activism-for-points approach to promote its ideas on other issues such as energy, or a possible second economic stimulus package.

Still, the Facebook integration could prove to be significant since it removes the barrier to entry that setting up a new login would create. “This allows us to reach more people in a medium they feel comfortable with,” said Jardon. The integration allows supporters to interact with their Facebook friends through the Waiting Game site, and share media with them on the Facebook site itself.

Though some argue Web-based activism such as signing petitions or e-mailing elected officials has a limited effect, Jardon believes this sort of virtual participation can make a big statement, in part because most forms of digital communication such as Twitter are public, unlike e-mail, for instance. The CRNC is encouraging people to feature the “#HandsOff” hash tag in Twitter posts, used to mark posts representing the anti-healthcare reform movement.

“That’s public knowledge that’s out there for people to see,” said Jardon. “It holds public officials even more accountable to the public than ever before…This is really just an evolution of what activism means.”

No matter how public the participation, the organization’s incentive-based approach could lead some to delegitimize the actions taken through the site, since some people may be compelled more by the spirit of competition than true activist support.

“Everything is a choice,” contended All, who doesn’t worry about the value of the interaction being diluted by incentives. “A lot of people don’t know how they can help,” he continued, adding that the site is aimed at giving busy students tools to promote the cause in 5 to 10 minute spurts.

“College Republicans don’t always have money [to donate], but what they do have is 5 minutes a day or 10 minutes a day,” he said.

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