TL;DR: Before Politics Become Policy, Pole Troll, And Publishers Call An Audible
Here’s what you need to know…
With Labor Day behind us and the arrival of pumpkin spice season in front of us, we are now a year away from when the majority of American voters traditionally begin tuning in to the presidential contest and other down ballot campaigns. If that seems like a long time away and of no consequence, think again.
Ideas being floated now on the campaign trail can have a real impact on future policy and legislative initiatives, even if the particular candidate espousing them doesn’t survive the primary or get elected. For a recent example, look no further than Bernie Sanders’ failed 2016 bid for the Democratic nomination and his influencing that year’s nominee (and in fact driving the broader policy conversation since then) on issues ranging from support for a single-payer health system, free college tuition, a $15 federal minimum wage, and more.
This election cycle, candidates’ ability to influence policy and legislative outcomes – win or lose – is even more true because voters appear to be far more interested, engaged, and ready than in elections of the recent past, and they are not waiting until post-Labor Day 2020 to tune in. For companies whose business objectives could be negatively impacted by these campaign trail policy ideas, here’s what you can do before politics become policies:
- Begin Monitoring Your Issue Set Now: With a recent Fox News national poll showing 57% of respondents already “extremely” interested in the 2020 election, companies impacted by policy and regulatory frameworks – and key societal issues in the public arena – should be even more interested in the current campaign-related conversations and developments pertaining to their interests. These conversations and developments can be tough to track and make sense of, not only because of the wide range of sources and information flows where they’re unfolding, but because campaign conversations are shaped by more than just a candidate and campaign staff. Other actors such as advisors, surrogates, endorsers, pundits, and third parties from academia to think tanks to advocacy groups are trying to influence the issue debate, too. To stay on top of it all, companies need a system in place to monitor information flows and synthesize insights that can be used to understand the impact of events on their interests quickly. By keeping informed of developments, changes in the state-of-play, and key trends, companies can leverage these insights to better stay ahead of the curve and anticipate what happens next.
- Know The Candidates’ Records And Hold Them Accountable: Throughout primary and general election campaigns, candidates are often adjusting their messaging around politics and policy ideas in order to best appeal to the voters whose support they are trying to earn at that time. The result for companies is that it can be difficult to decipher candidates’ true beliefs on key policy issues, let alone separate the signal from the political noise to determine how they could influence policy outcomes. Therefore, examining candidate records – both personal and professional – is critical. What candidates have said or done in the past is a strong indicator of what they may say or do in the future, and in the event their campaign trail ideas stray from the former, a public affairs strategy highlighting their records can help hold them accountable and positively influence the debate surrounding an issue set (lest they risk being labeled a “flip-flopper”).
- Understand The Networks Influencing Your Issue Set: As mentioned above, candidates and their campaigns are only a piece of the landscape of stakeholders and interests seeking to influence policy and legislative discussions on the campaign trail. The danger of focusing on one component of this complex whole is that ideas that hurt a company’s interests can come to pass despite successful efforts to influence a particular candidate, simply because other politicians, activists, NGOs, think tanks, and the like were not influenced or rebutted – and ultimately had arguments a candidate found more compelling. To avoid this scenario, companies should identify and understand the entire universe of stakeholders that make up the network influencing an issue set. In doing so, public affairs and advocacy efforts can be strategically applied to better position companies to succeed in achieving their desired policy and legislative outcomes.
- Know What You Are Up Against: Competitors, stakeholders, and other groups are constantly engaging in political, policy, and regulatory arenas to influence outcomes favorable to their interests. Given the impact that campaign trail ideas can have on future outcomes, and the influence that candidate networks can have on what ideas they float in the first place, companies need to also be able to understand who these specific influencers are. Examining their backgrounds, activities, and operations provide insight into why they might want a candidate to support a certain idea. Knowing this can also give your company’s interests a boost in campaigns of interest, as this type of information can be used to present connections to the media and public that may raise uncomfortable questions for non-favored candidates.
The early arrival of the 2020 election cycle will no doubt mean more surreal Twitter timelines, yet importantly, it will also bring a greater need for companies to make sense of the unrelenting information flows and universe of stakeholders influencing candidate policy and legislative ideas on the campaign trail impacting their interests and priorities. With public engagement this cycle greater than it has been in the past, the risk that a damaging idea can gain a receptive audience, be amplified and leveraged to organize, and set the marker for future policy discussions is greater than ever. Preparing accordingly now can help companies avoid being caught by surprise and having their policy agenda undermined when the 2020 campaign dust settles. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the tasks ahead of your organization in sorting the policy signals from the 2020 political noise, we happen to know some folks who can help.
News You Can Use
It turns out it isn’t just Russian bots who are waging troll campaigns on social media. Polish Deputy Justice Minister Łukasz Piebiak resigned last month after it was revealed he used an internet troll to wage a smear campaign against judges opposed to the Polish government’s judicial reforms.
Piebiak, through the troll named Emilia, allegedly sent over 2,000 letters and emails, including fabricated and “gossipy” details about Judge Krystian Markiewicz, who opposed the government’s efforts to restructure the Polish judicial system. Piebiak claims he is a victim of hate speech and that the allegations are “tools in a political fight.”
Whether the allegations are true or not, the latest scandal to rock Polish politics exemplifies the breadth and increasingly sophisticated nature of modern-day smear campaigns. Now, not even elected officials can be trusted to resist the temptation to use bots to take down political opponents. The scandal abroad is certainly something to keep an eye on as we move closer to the 2020 election here in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world.
A SURPRISE DELIVEROO FOR GIG WORKERS
Last month, online food delivery company Deliveroo shocked many customers and employees when it announced it would no longer operate in Germany. As of late, Deliveroo has faced the wrath of many unions in Europe over the company’s claim that the company’s workers are “self-employed” rather than full-time employees. The unions argue this policy means Deliveroo’s workers get few protections that are granted to employees in other sectors of the economy. Deliveroo’s exit highlights the increasingly contentious relationship between European governments, workers, and the gig economy.
In fact, last April, the European Union (EU) passed a law that guarantees minimum rights for workers in “casual or short-term” employment, specifically calling out Uber and Deliveroo. Still, it isn’t just gig economy companies in Europe that need to be worried. Such regulations make it difficult for startups to be nimble and pivot as they seek growth opportunities. Policymakers in the U.S. are increasingly targeting sharing economy companies, such as Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb, arguing that they take advantage of workers. Of course, these policymakers fail to realize that the result may be fewer jobs and less economic opportunity for hard-working Americans – including those who want the flexibility a “gig” offers.
EMPLOYEES GET ICE-Y
In this age of extreme polarization and outrage, it should come as a shock to no one that employees at some of the largest companies in the U.S. are protesting against doing any work for agencies that enforce Trump Administration immigration policies. For instance, employees at Google circulated a petition last month demanding that the tech company publicly commit not to support government agencies, including Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which they claim engage in “human rights abuses.” Whole Foods employees demanded that their parent company Amazon cut ties with software company Palantir, since it provides software to ICE.
Herein lies the catch-22 for companies: businesses and their executives are increasingly being pressured by employees and customers to “take a stand” on social issues, yet they must do so without alienating customers. Nobody wants to be the next Gillette, which lost billions of dollars following an ad campaign that shamed their core customers, men. Companies must strike a balance or risk hurting their bottom lines, meaning it may be time to revisit our thoughts on key points to consider before plunging your business into politics.
PUBLISHERS CALL AN AUDIBLE
Seven of the world’s largest book publishers are suing Amazon, accusing the e-commerce giant of a “quintessential” violation of copyright law. At issue is Amazon’s audiobook company Audible and its new, controversial “speech-to-text feature” called Captions. The feature uses artificial intelligence to transcribe spoken words into written ones, so users can read along while they listen to an audiobook. The problem? Amazon is being accused of not obtaining the necessary licenses to reproduce the written versions of the physical books.
The case could have far-reaching implications for the future of intellectual property rights in the digital age, especially as artificial intelligence gains sophistication. It also highlights how a range of laws and regulations, including those regarding intellectual property, have not kept pace with the emerging digital world in which consumers expect to be able to consume information in whichever format suits them.