Welcome to Louisiana Lefty, a podcast about politics and community in Louisiana, where we make the case that the health of the state requires a strong progressive movement fueled by the critical work of organizing on the ground. Our goal is to democratize information, demystify party politics, and empower you to join the mission, because victory for Louisiana requires you.
I'm your host Lynda Woolard. On this episode, I speak with Nathaniel Stinnett of the Environmental Voter Project. This is a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that focuses on mobilizing low propensity voters whose number one issue is climate and the environment. It sounds like a simple enough premise. But a lot of data, research and strategy go into making this a successful venture, as well as volunteer recruitment and management. I wanted to speak with Nathaniel who founded EVP, because they've just set their sights on Louisiana, and had their first ever phone bank into our state this month. I asked what led them to believe that Louisiana was a place where their brand of organizing could be effective, and Nathaniel gives us some solid reasoning.
Something we didn't actually discuss, but is worth naming, is that Louisiana has a reasonably high rate of voter registration. Of about three and a half million Louisianans who are eligible, about three million are actually registered to vote. So our registration rate currently sits at about 86%. While that can always improve, where we struggle much more is in voter turnout, particularly in local elections. So mobilization efforts are of great value to a functioning democracy in our state. Nonpartisan, voter mobilization efforts are important, as candidates do not - because they cannot - work to turn out low propensity voters. Every campaign has limited resources. So candidates tend to focus their messaging and money on voters who are more likely to turn out to vote. That's what makes this project so important. And we do talk about that quite a bit. Regular Louisiana Lefty listeners will also know that I love sharing models that can help instruct others on how to better structure the work they want to do or are already doing. And I certainly believe there are many lessons to be learned from the premise and the processes of the environmental voter project.
Nathaniel Stinnett! Thank you so much for joining me on Louisiana Lefty today.
Lynda, thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here.
Well, I always start with how I met my guest. And I've known you for much longer than you've known me, is how I'll say that. I've been on many of your webinars where you've talked about the work you do with the Environmental Voter Project. And we just actually spoke for the first time a week or two ago, though.
That's right. That's right.
Before we launch into more about the Environmental Voter Project, I wanted to ask you, what's your origin story? What got you involved in environmental work, and specifically the political end of that?
Yeah. So thank you for asking. I actually come to this work almost completely from the political sphere, not the environmental sphere. I've always cared deeply about climate and other environmental issues. But I came to this work as someone who, gosh, starting when I was in my early 20s, and I'm now in my 40s, was working on city council and state rep and mayoral and congressional campaigns up here in Massachusetts, where I live. And as you have probably noticed, in many of the campaigns that you've been involved with, Lynda, whenever you look at polling data of voters who actually cast ballots, huge majorities of them would prefer action on climate change, but almost none of them list it as a top priority. And I'll be honest with you, that was frustrating me in campaign after campaign after campaign, because no matter who I was working for, no matter how great an environmentalists they were, boy, was it hard to justify having us talk about an issue that voters didn't care about that much. And so I lived with that frustration for quite a long time. And purely by chance I was taking time off about seven or eight years ago. I had just finished running a mayoral campaign in Boston. My first child was about to be born. So I wasn't going back to the law firm where I was. And I started looking over some polling data. And I saw something that totally blew my mind. And that was that, although there were very few voters who cared deeply about climate and the environment, there were tons of non voters who cared deeply about climate and the environment. And that was like a light bulb going off in my head. And I thought "Ha, campaigns can really only spend most of their time talking to voters, or people who have a fairly high likelihood of voting. Maybe there needs to be an organization that goes after all these non voting environmentalists." And that eventually led to me to doing this crazy thing, starting a nonprofit called the Environmental Voter Project. So that's, that's how I got here.
Well, very good. Tell us a little bit about the Environmental Voter Project. What is the mission of your organization?
The mission is very simple. We find environmentalists who don't vote, and we turn them into better voters. That's it. Now, what that also means is, we don't do a lot of the stuff that typical environmental groups do do. For instance, we don't endorse candidates. We don't lobby for particular policies. We don't even, as weird as it might sound, try to convince people to care more about climate or other environmental issues. A good way to think of us is, we're not even in the mind-changing or opinion-changing business. Instead, we're solely in the behavior-changing business. We try to find people who care so deeply about climate and the environment, that it's their number one priority over all others, but they're not voting. And what that means is they're ready for this purely behavioral intervention. So we can do what you're familiar with in politics, kind of do a blind poll, where we don't need to waste any of our time educating these people about anything. We just go and grab them and try to pull their butts out the door on Election Day, and turn them into better voters.
And I want to know how you decide where to focus your energies. We can talk a little bit about, I know you're coming to Louisiana, but that's new. So you've been operating for how long?
Seven years, we started a one state pilot program in Massachusetts.
Okay, and then how do you decide where you're going to invest your time and your volunteer efforts and your money, et cetera?
Yeah, great question. So I think it's helpful to first understand what our goal is. Our goal is kind of a medium or long term goal. And that is to dramatically build the amount of political power that the environmental movement has. And certainly the Environmental Voter Project has an impact in one-off elections. And we can measure that and it's on our website. But ultimately, our long term goal is to have anybody anywhere running for office and saying, "Holy moly, where did all these environmental voters come from?" Because when that happens, politicians will start following us. Okay, so with that as our goal, we decide what states to work in based on the following criteria. First, where are there lots of non voting environmentalists? Because we're pretty good at what we do. We use a lot of behavioral science and a lot of data science to find the right people, and then deliver the right messaging to them to turn them into better voters. But the truth is, Lynda, it kinda doesn't matter how good we are at this, if we don't have any targets, right? Like if there are 20 non voting environmentalists in a city, well, who cares if we turn them all into voters? That's not going to change anything. So first, we want to find states that have lots of targets for us. Second criteria: stubbornness is so important. Like, again, no matter how smart we are, if we can talk to a voter four times a year, it's so much better than only talking to them once every two years. And so our second criteria is we want to work in states that don't just have 11 year elections, we want to work in states that also have odd year elections so we can talk to people more often. You don't need to be a behavioral scientist to know it's really hard to change people's habits if you only talk to them once every two years in a big federal election. And then the third criteria is we understand that serious environmental policymaking doesn't just happen on the federal level. It also happens on the state and local level. And so we're not just looking for, you know, purple states that will decide who wins the White House or something like that. We're also looking for places where, you know, a new big city mayor, or more control in a state house can really, really make a difference in fighting back against the fossil fuel industry or getting cleaner water or things like that. And so that's how we choose our states. And we're now in 19 states across the country.
Yeah, mayors have a huge influence on environmental policy, that is a huge place to go. Well, so how have you found those states? You can't just poll every state, right? So how are you getting the data to figure out which state you're going to go to?
Yeah, so hold me back if I drag you too far into the weeds here, Lynda, but what I'm about to describe might be interesting to your listeners, because I'm going to talk about predictive modeling. And my guess is, this is something that you've experienced because you live on voter files, kind of like I do. But a lot of people don't understand that political campaigns and nonprofits now target voters in a way that's completely different from what we saw eight or twelve years ago. If your listeners still have in their minds that campaigns target, you know, soccer moms, or NASCAR dads or big demographic groups, like forget about it. We now target people as individuals. And so what I'm about to describe is not only how we choose which state to work in, but it's also how we end up targeting these individual non voting environmentalists. And it goes like this. We individually target voters by building models on these voter files. And the process works like this: we poll tens of thousands of voters. These are just enormous polls. But we're able to do this without it costing so much, because we only ask people one question. We just say, "What's your number one most important issue over all others?" And then we isolate the people who tell us that climate and the environment is their number one priority. All right, we've isolated that group. Let's say we're in Louisiana, and we poll 10,000 people, and 1000 of them tell us the climate is their number one priority. Well, then we can start working with data scientists to figure out what do we know about these 1000 people? What data do we have on them in voter files? What census data do we have on them? What publicly available behavioral and consumer data do we have? Now we only use publicly available data, but there's a lot of it out there. And we can start seeing like, "Oh, this is really interesting. We're noticing some trends. Let's see if we can find other people like them." And it's a long iterative process. But at the end of it, what we're able to do is assign a probability score from 0 to 100, to every single person in a state voter file, telling us how likely they are to list climate as their number one priority over all others. And I know that sounds creepy, and it is, it's a little creepy. But it's enormously powerful. Because what this allows us to do with say, okay, Mary Ann Smith at 123 Main Street has a 92% likelihood of listing climate as her top priority. And we know from the voter file that she never votes in a midterm. So let's go get her. We know, we don't need to persuade her. We know we just need to mobilize her. And so this is not only how we target people, but it's how we decide which states have these huge populations of non voting environmentalists such that the Environmental Voter Project needs to go there and start working.
And we all give free data to folks every day. So while you characterized it as potentially creepy, the fact is, we're all freely offering data out into the world every day. And it's not just y'all using that data. All folks who are targeting people in big elections anymore are using that data.
That's exactly right. I mean, right now, people who are running for governor in Louisiana are building these predictive models so they can figure out who to target. This is how sophisticated political campaigns mobilize voters now. And so shame on us if we don't use it to address the most significant crisis humanity has ever faced, like you better believe we're going to use this technology to try to fight back against all these environmental crises.
Well, I love all the work you put on the front end, to try to figure out who you're going to speak to. Then you have the next step of it, which is speaking to those people. So how do you go about doing that?
This is the really amazing thing. You know, Lynda, when I started the Environmental Voter Project, now seven years ago, I knew that we would be able to accurately identify non voting environmentalists. And I knew that we could run experiments and figure out the best messaging to deliver to them. But I was also honest with myself that this was a really nerdy thing that I was starting. And what I did not know, what I did not expect at all, was that volunteers would be interested in it. I mean, who on earth would be interested in this like, really nerdy, nonpartisan thing? And holy moly, was I wrong! I mean, the way we then use these predictive models, once we've identified folks, is we now work with over 6000 volunteers around the country to call and write postcards and canvass these voters. And then in addition to that, our staff does direct mail and digital ads to these voters. And so it is always Election Day at the Environmental Voter Project. We always have an election going on somewhere, where with our volunteers, we are delivering behavioral science-informed messaging to these non voting environmentalists to get them to vote. And I'm not exaggerating, I really mean every single day, because we truly view even objectively unimportant elections as an opportunity to change people's voting behavior. I mean, we will mobilize these non voting environmentalists for county coroner elections, for library trustee elections, like no election is worth skipping when you're in the business of trying to change people's habits. And so this is what it looks like on the ground. We look much more like a perpetual field campaign than a nonprofit.
And as I said at the opening of the podcast, I have seen you on many webinars. The thing is, you'll get these volunteers together, and again, what I love about this, and perhaps that exposes me as being a fairly nerdy person, is that you do go through the data and explain to folks the research and how you've come up with all this stuff. And then you pivot and say, and this is what we're asking you to do now. And more to the point, you do these follow up webinars where you produce measurables, where you can say, this is what we actually accomplished. So can you tell me a little bit about your measurables and how you measure your progress, and then how you share that with folks?
Absolutely. So let me start with the second thing. First, you know how and why we share it with folks. You are an organizer, I am sure a better organizer than I am. But what you know deep down is that volunteers are making a significant investment in campaigns and nonprofits, just like donors are, just like if you own stock in a company, you're an investor. And so what we want to be able to offer to our volunteers is proof and evidence that their investment of time and energy and expertise is worth it. We know they're not doing this, because it's just fun to pick up the phone and call strangers. I mean, come on, they want to make a difference. So they want to know that they're making a difference. Alright, so that gets to the other part of your question, what type of metrics do we report back to them? We use two main tools to measure our impact. One measures our election-specific impact, and the other is our long term impact. So first, for specific elections, what we do is we run what's called randomized control trials. These are the tools that any psychologist or economist or political scientist uses to see if they're changing people's behavior. And very simply, what that means is, let's say we identify 300,000 environmentalists in Louisiana who are unlikely to vote this year. What we do not do, Lynda, is immediately start mobilizing all 300,000 of them. Instead, before we talk to a single one, we randomly remove about 20 or 25% and set them aside in a control group, and we never talked to them. Then the remaining 75%, they're the ones that we call and mail and send digital ads to with this behavioral science-informed messaging. All right, then the election happens. And as you know, and hopefully your listeners know, whether you vote or not is public record. And so a few months after the election, we can look at public voter files, and we can see, okay, how many of these unlikely to vote environmentalists in our control group voted. And then we can compare it to how many unlikely environmentalists in our treatment group voted. The treatment group is the people who we actually spoke to. And because this was a truly random separation of these two groups, what that allows us to do is measure what EVPs sole impact on turnout was, while controlling for everything else. Because even if a gubernatorial campaign spent $10 million mobilizing voters, but we've controlled for that, unless they hacked into our system, and only talk to people in our treatment group and not our control group. We controlled for that. So what we report back to our volunteers is, we know with statistical certainty, how much our intervention with your help increased turnout. All right. I know that was a long answer. But very briefly, let me get to the second thing that we use, and that is tracking our long term impact. We tag in our voter file every single low propensity environmental voter we have ever spoken to. And it's now been seven years, and we're now in 19 states. So that means there are now over 9.5 million people across the United States, who we identified as being really likely to list climate as their number one priority, yet, they were unlikely to vote. What we now know, as of about two months ago, is over 1.5 million of them - so 1.5 out of 9.5 million - over 1.5 million of them are now voting so consistently that they voted in their most recent federal election, their most recent state election, and even their most recent local election. That is the metric we are most proud of. Now, to be clear, I've got to throw a caveat in here. Unlike a randomized control trial, we can't claim that we're solely responsible for making those 1.5 million super voters, but we're pretty darn responsible. There's no other group mobilizing environmentalists in library trustee races. This is how habit changing work ends up making a big impact.
That's amazing. I love that. I love your statistic that you're sharing there. And ultimately, even if you're saying you can't take sole responsibility for it, there's a layered effect that requires all of these efforts in concert to get voters to change their habits.
It absolutely does. And I think this is such an important point that you bring up, Lynda. And I want to refer back to something that we mentioned in passing, and that is the public nature of the voter file. I think this is a supremely important aspect of politics that a lot of people don't fully understand. Who you vote for is secret. But whether you vote or not is public record. And anybody running for any office starts off their campaign by looking at public voter files and figuring out, "Okay, with limited time and limited money, who are we going to talk to?" And if they literally know, by name and street address, who has a history of turning out for their election and who doesn't, who do you think they're going to talk to? They're going to talk to the voters. Okay, so what does that have to do with what you just brought up, this idea of a cumulative impact and everybody getting together? Well, let's say the Environmental Voter Project gets an environmentalist to vote for the very first time in a city council race. Well, because of this public voter file, it then only takes about two months, for the record of that person voting to show up in public voter files. And then it's like, there's this bright red beacon next to their name, telling all the other campaigns, "Hey, look at me, I just voted at a city council racen!" Ad then everybody else piles on them. Everybody who's running for governor, senator says, "Holy moly, that person just voted in a city council race. Let's go get them." And maybe even more importantly, let's poll them to figure out what issues they care about. It's almost like we're using the voter file to communicate to the rest of the progressive ecosystem, "Hey, we just made a new voter. Now go and get them." And that's so valuable and it shows how we're all working together, even if we never talked to each other, because we have this method of data communication through the voter file.
That's a great, great point. You just had your first, I believe, phone bank into Louisiana this week. Is that right?
That's right. That's right. We did the 93rd House District race, I believe it was.
What made y'all decide to come to Louisiana? And you mentioned that it's for a specific House race, but I see that as sort of a test case for what you're gearing up for.
Yeah, I mean, it has nothing to do with specific races and everything to do with why Louisiana is so important as a state. I mean, every day, the fossil fuel industry is killing Americans with toxic air, and poisoned water, and climate change. And let's be honest, the industry's biggest killing field is the state of Louisiana. Louisiana is where people are suffering the most from Big Oil. So that, Lynda, is the biggest reason why we want to work in Louisiana. But I'll add, perhaps just as importantly, the Environmental Voter Project has identified huge numbers of non voting environmentalists in Louisiana. And we can help tap into that latent political power. And if we do, it will make a big difference for the Louisiana environmental movement. And also everyday Louisianans are suffering some of the worst environmental impacts in the United States. And so that's why we're here. Now. Yes, there is a gubernatorial election. You have publicly elected, you know, utility regulators. You know, there are a lot of specific things that also make Louisiana high leverage when it comes to climate politics. But the simple truth is, we see lots of untapped environmental political power in the state. And there is nowhere in the United States that the environmental movement should be paying more attention to than Louisiana.
Can you share any of that data? I know I've seen it on the webinar. So it's not private data. But can you share some today?
Yeah. So we identified 320,000 environment-first registered voters in Louisiana, who typically skip gubernatorial elections. So I'll say that again, they're already registered to vote. They have a really high likelihood of listing climate or some other environmental issue as their very top priority. Yet they skip gubernatorial elections. 320,000. What that means is, to put that number 320,000 in context: that's more than 10% of all registered voters in Louisiana. So that means more than 10% of all registered voters in Louisiana are non voting environmentalists in gubernatorial years. Now, that's scary. You can listen to that stat and say, "Oh, my gosh," and be disappointed or frustrated. But that's also an enormous opportunity, huge opportunity, because what these people represent are not people whose minds we have to change. And let's face it, like we live in a moment in time where it's become almost impossible to change people's opinions about anything, let alone climate change. But these people don't need that intervention. These people are already with us. They just need to change their habits. And obviously, that's not easy. I will never claim that's easy. But it's easier than changing people's minds.
As I point out frequently - and I know you're agnostic on candidates, I'll repeat that you're nonpartisan - but our last governor's election was won by 40,000 votes. So if even a small percent of the folks we're talking about were to turn out to vote, they could swing an election.
They absolutely could. And to be clear, it's important to vote, even if you don't think you're going to swing an election. Because no matter whom we elect, and I'm not going to pretend it's unimportant who we elect, it's very important whom we elect, but whether we elect a Neanderthal or whether we elect someone who's a great climate leader, they still can't just snap their fingers and get whatever they want. They still need to decide what to spend their precious political capital on. And when they make those decisions, believe me, they ain't polling non voters. They are polling voters to figure out, "Okay, with my limited political capital, what am I going to do?" And no matter whom we elect, boy, are we in trouble if those polls come back and show that only 3% or 4% or 5% of voters lists climate as a top priority. And so, even if your vote, you know, in a mayoral election, where you know the so called right person will win, or even if you're voting in an election where you think the wrong person will win, you still need to show up. Because the dirty secret about politics is that, left or right, Democrat or Republican, the one thing they all still share in common is that, boy, politicians like to win elections. And they will always go where the votes are. And if you get more environmentalists to vote, believe me, you'll have more environmental political leaders.
And those state elections often, once again, or like I said earlier, the mayoral elections, those even hyper local elections have such huge impact on environmental issues.
They do. I mean, all this stuff that is, I mean, it's the very definition of like i-crossing, boring, like policy stuff, it's actually enormously important. I mean, we're talking about zoning laws and building codes and parking and traffic, but like, that's how you save the planet. That is how you save the planet. And you don't need a guy like me from New England to tell people, you know, living on the coast of Louisiana or living on the river in Louisiana, how you are on the front lines of every great environmental crisis that humanity is facing. And yet, it ain't just the governor and it ain't just the president who are going to decide what levees get reinforced, where people can build, what building codes apply, what zoning codes apply. These are enormously consequential decisions. And if the only people who show up and vote in a mayoral election are people who care about potholes and public schools, well, then that's what your mayor is going to care about. But if environmentalist start voting, well, then mayors and city councilors are going to start thinking, "I better start taking these issues seriously."
Some candidates here, because we've had a lot of outside attention and outside money, outside volunteers participate in trying to turn out voters in some of our elections in recent years, and so for the candidates who are not benefiting from that, they like to point it out, "Outsiders, outsiders are coming into our state!" And I have so many problems with that. And of course, first of all, it matters who the outsiders are, right? But the thing about climate issues is, they don't know state boundaries. So who we're electing in every state matters to every other state. So that's number one. But number two, I do like to point out that Louisiana understand that it matters who we elect in every other state, because we participate so frequently in years, where you mentioned before, like purple states and swing states, when we're in presidential years and congressional years, we're frequently sending our money and our volunteer hours to other states like Georgia, where we know there's a winnable election, whereas our elections may not be as winnable, you know, by the data that we see. So we're trying to help get people elected in other states who we know will help us at a federal level, if we can get control of chambers and Congress and or the presidency. So it just feels like that goes both ways. There are people in other states looking at our state saying, "What happens there matters to me and my state and my country. So we want to participate in helping there."
Absolutely. And even if it had no impact on other states, well, you still matter. You're still like a fellow American, you're still a fellow human. And I think it's so important that those of us who care about political activism and environmental activism have a greater sense of solidarity, and just understand, like we we need to help each other. We need to help each other with our struggles. Because if we no longer recognize the humanity of people who are suffering in another state, because some awful politician that we don't like is doing the wrong thing, and if all we can do is just dunk on them online and laugh and say, "Ha, it must really suck to live there," well, like we're failing in a really, really big way. We are failing our allies, and we're failing our fellow countrymen and our fellow humans. This is what it means to believe in progressive values, it's to show up for each other.
That's very well said. So as you pointed out, I've worked with a lot of volunteers, and usually it's with candidates. And those conversations for folks can often be anxiety ridden, right, because we are, in those campaigns, speaking to voters who we don't know if they like our candidate or not. We may be trying to persuade them to like our candidate. So I have so many volunteers over the years who hate making calls, because they feel, "Oh, someone's gonna yell at me, someone's gonna yell at me on the other end of the phone." I would imagine that's less the case with the calls that you're making, since you've already identified them as climate voters - or non voters, I should say - snd all you're really asking them to do is vote. You're not even telling them to vote for a candidate. I would imagine the calls are maybe a little friendlier than your average campaign call.
They absolutely are. You're not doing any arm twisting, you're not saying vote for this person, you're not even trying to convince people to care about something that they don't care about. You're often just reminding them of an election and then having them walk through their election plan. Or you are letting them know that lots of people on their street are going to be voting and so you're trying to nudge them to vote. And so yes, not only is it much easier than these conversations normally are. But the second thing that I think is important to just say is there are so many people who have this ache, this desire right now, to make a difference and to get involved. And you should listen to that. And even if you are anxious or worried about the idea of getting on the phone and talking to strangers, I ask you to consider this: no one is gluing that phone to your ear. If you try it, and you don't like it, hang up and stop. But at least give yourself a chance to fill this desire that you have. Because once you start doing it, once you start knocking on doors or making phone calls, I promise you, it'll be a lot easier than you think. It is always harder when you imagine all the awful things that could happen. And then you pick up the phone and you start doing it, and it's so much easier. But again, even if I'm wrong, even if you end up not liking it, well then just stop, like no one's gonna force you to do it. But give it a shot. Give it a try. You owe yourself that.
Well, a better perhaps comparison is when I first started working, years ago, at the Louisiana Democratic Party, one of the things we did was call folks who did not normally hear from people. They were in parts of the state where, they weren't blue parts of the state. So there, you know, weren't real competitive races going on. And man, they were so happy to hear from us. They were like, "Nobody ever calls us. We've never heard from the party before." So I imagine there may even be some of that, where these are people who are non voters who have therefore never been talked to before, may be actually a little excited to hear from people.
That's exactly right. Now, you know, I'm not going to pretend as though every person you know, shoots off a confetti gun when they pick up the phone because they're so excited. But yes, by definition, the people we call with the Environmental Voter Project are rarely spoken to. And because we also work year round in lots of low turnout campaigns, sometimes they have no clue that there's an election going on. And they'll say, "Oh, wait, wait, there's a city council race next week? Oh, okay, thank you." You know, and literally by just delivering that information, you have turned a zero into a one. You have turned a non voter into a voter, not because they hate voting and were refusing to vote, but because they just had no idea there was an election coming up. Because truth be told, most people don't know when their city council races are. And so yeah, these these types of calls to low propensity voters are so valuable to the voter. But they're also really valuable to the volunteer, you can you can feel yourself making a difference.
So if someone wanted to plug into what you're doing, how would they do that?
Environmentalvoter.org, you go to our website, environmentalvoter.org, you can click on the Get Involved tab. I can brag about this because I have nothing to do with it, Lynda. It's all my organizing team, they have made it so easy through our website for you to sign up to volunteer and contact voters. You just go on our website, you put in your name and your email address for whatever thing you're trying to sign up for, and then - let's use a phone bag as an example- you can sign up for a phone bank, and you will show up on a zoom call, you will get trained, you can then turn off your video and make calls. But there will still be a trainer there if you have any questions. We'll provide the script. And you will be calling these non voting environmentalists anywhere in the country. So for instance, this evening, we are calling non voting environmentalists in Anchorage, Alaska, because they have a municipal election coming up. And we have the script for you and all the information you'll need. We've tested the script in randomized control trials, and we know it works. What's great about this is, you can do this from the comfort of your own home. It's so easy. You're just sitting there with your phone in front of your computer looking at a script, we're giving you exactly what to say, we're giving you the voters to call, no one sees your phone number, you're doing it through a system that anonymizes your phone number. It's fun, it's easy, and it's impactful. So if you go to environmentalvoter.org and sign up, I promise you we can give you a way to make an impact.
And you're a nonprofit. So how are you funding all of this?
Ah, thank you for asking. Donations, donations. So last year, we had over 9400 people make donations to fund our work. And I think the average donation was something like $42 or $43. And so we would absolutely welcome your support.
Is that tax deductible?
So thank you for asking. It's not tax deductible. We're what's called a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which is an advocacy group. But it is so important to get these donations now. Because in an odd year, what we call our conversion costs, the cost to turn a non voter into a voter is so much lower, so much cheaper than it would be if we were contacting a voter for the very first time in the fall of 2024. And so 10 bucks or 25 bucks or 100 bucks or a million bucks, we can take as much as you want to give us, it will go a really, really long way. And it's so, so important and so valuable. And as you brought up before, Lynda, we will report back to you with the data. Not only the impact that you're having as a donor, but the impact that you're having as a volunteer. And that's another thing that you can find on our website environmentalvoter.org right now is tons of reports, detailing the impact that we're having, different messages and how well they work. Please check it out, we want you just see our impact.
That is one of the things you all do best of anyone I know is making sure you're A) training people to do things correctly, but B) reporting back their impact. So that's something again, nerdy, but I very, very much appreciate that you all do that. And I think that's what makes you really successful as an organization.
Well, thank you. Thank you. I mean, we try to keep some Socratic ignorance, right? We try to always be asking, "What don't we know, what could we be getting wrong?" Because like, of course, we're not always going to get stuff right. Of course, we're going to fail, of course, we're going to experiment with certain messages, and they're going to go wrong. And we want to know that. Not only do we want to know that, but we want to report that to our volunteers because our volunteers aren't stupid. Our donors aren't stupid. They know that we're going to make mistakes. And if we don't tell them when we make mistakes, they're going to wonder, "What do I not know?" And so we we want to be really transparent, because we're learners, we want to get better. And when we do find something that succeeds, we want to share it with other people so that they can use it. We realize that we're not going to be able to solve everything by ourselves. And so we want to share our learnings.
That's great. Well, let me get to the last three questions. I ask a version of these every episode. What do you see as the biggest obstacle to progress with climate or the environmental movement?
A lack of political power. I mean, let's be crystal clear here. Whether we are talking about the climate crisis, air pollution, water pollution, various forms of environmental injustice, biodiversity, any great environmental crisis, we already know the policies that we need to enact. We already have the technology to solve all these crises. The only thing we're lacking is political will. Now I say only, obviously, that's not a small thing. But let's just be very, very clear about this. All of those crises are political crises. And so, you know, we in the progressive movement often don't like to talk about power, like raw power, for good reasons. But I want to be totally honest here. We need more political power in the environmental movement. We need to make people scared of us, we need to force politicians to do what we want them to do. And until we're able to do that, I'm not sure we're going to be able to solve all of these problems. So that that is our biggest obstacle.
I sometimes call it political muscle.
That's better than power. I like that. I like that. Yeah.
So what's the biggest opportunity?
So it's actually the flip side of that coin, Lynda. I mean, the biggest opportunity is this power that we need is already there. It's in the stadium; it's just sitting on the sidelines. Like we haven't gotten all the people in the game yet. I mean, I told you some of the Louisiana numbers, let's go big, let's go national. 8.1 million registered voters who list climate as a top priority skipped the 2020 presidential election. 8.1 million! That is a huge number. That is a huge number. Now, not all voter files have been updated from the midterms yet most of them have. We think 13 million environmentalists skipped the midterms last fall. And so this huge obstacle that you just asked about, the lack of political power in the environmental movement, well, we have that. It's just latent. It's just potential that hasn't been activated yet. And so that's what I see as the greatest opportunity, that we have all of these allies who are ready, we just need to get them into the game.
Good point. Nathaniel, who's your favorite superhero?
I'm gonna date myself here. Do you remember the TV show, I think in the 80s, The Greatest American Hero?
I do? Yes. Yeah.
It's a guy who, like, really nerdy dude who got, you know, aliens, like dropped this outfit, and he put it on, and he could fly and have superhuman strength, but he didn't know how to use it. And he would crash into things and stuff like that. I I just love that whole idea that people who, you know, aren't rippling with muscles, people who don't look like superheroes, and maybe don't even know how to use their powers that well, can be heroes. Maybe they don't always look like it. Maybe it's not like a Superman-type thing where they like stand on top of a building and look like a Greek god. But I think there's something really cool to that story. For those of us who are activists, it's this idea that heroism doesn't always look the same in everybody. But we've all got it in us.
I love that. I love that. Well, Nathaniel, thank you so much for joining us today. Really appreciate your time. And I as I've said before, really appreciate everything y'all do.
Well, thank you, Lynda, for everything you do. Not just this podcast, but all of your activism and political work. And thank you so much for having me.
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