Arizona college students looking for a date or hookup might instead find a sales pitch for voting for Joe Biden, as a progressive political action committee deploys organizers to canvass on dating apps.
A team of about 20 organizers from NextGen America began swiping right on young potential voters two weeks ago, with a goal of registering young people to vote and getting them to turn out in November. So far, organizers are chatting up would-be voters between the ages of 18 and 35 on dating apps Bumble, Tinder and Hinge, as well as Bumble’s friendship-based variant Bumble BFF.
It’s a new technique for NextGen Arizona, which set a goal of registering 30,000 young voters in time for the November election. Campus restrictions caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic prevent organizers and volunteers from freely mingling with college students the way they did in 2018, pushing NextGen to try to reach young people online.
“So far, we’re reaching hundreds of potential young voters each week, and it’s really setting us well on our way to hitting our goal of registered voters before November,” spokeswoman Kristi Johnston said.
NextGen Arizona organizers create profiles on some or all of the dating apps, and they identify themselves as organizers working with NextGen. Each app has a similar interface: users see a large intro photo and brief bio and can scroll to see more photos or information about their potential match before deciding whether to connect.
If two users both indicate interest by swiping or tapping a heart button, the app notifies them that they have a match and they’re able to start a text conversation. Bumble only lets women send the first message in a heterosexual match.
NextGen organizers create their profiles in their own style, but all make it clear that they’re using the app for work, Johnston said.
“In some way, we make it clear that this is our job, that we are organizers,” Johnston said. “Either we are starting these conversations and letting people know that we’re working for NextGen and we’re trying to do this or sometimes they have reached out to us and inquired about us because we have it on our profile.”
The organizers are far from the first people to use dating apps for political purposes. In 2018, a New York woman used her $9.99/month Tinder Plus subscription to change her location to swing states including Arizona to urge matches to vote for candidates such as now-Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.
A pair of Elizabeth Warren volunteers who flew into Iowa ahead of this year’s caucuses used their Bumble accounts to convince Des Moines men to commit to caucusing for Warren. And across the pond, British political campaigners developed bots that can mimic real conversations to gin up support for the Labour Party.
None of this behavior is allowed by the dating apps, which frown upon the use of their platforms to do anything but meet potential partners. Just days ago, an Oregon librarian was banned from Tinder for using it to remind matches to fill out the Census form, the Portland-based alternative newspaper Willamette Week reported.
NextGen organizers haven’t run into any issues using the apps so far, Johnston said. Their organizers try to engage with voters in real conversations instead of just spamming them with links to register to vote, which could make a difference.
Organizer Alyssa Ogletree, who moved to Tucson this summer after graduating from the University of San Francisco, said she probably would have used the apps to find new friends with whom to volunteer for campaigns even if it wasn’t her job.
Ogletree has only used Bumble BFF, because she’s in a relationship and doesn’t want mislead anyone looking for love. Her bio also includes a line about wanting to find friends to volunteer with.
“People I’ve met through Bumble BFF have become our volunteers, they have my personal number,” she said. “That line between friend and associate is kind of blurred, but that’s what I would be doing with my normal friends anyway, so it kind of just works for me.”
So far, Ogletree said she has about 30 matches who she’s talking to about various things, and nearly 10 of them have volunteer meetings and started phone banking or text banking with NextGen.
Screenshots Johnston shared show NextGen organizers inviting their Bumble matches to volunteer with the organization or sign a pledge to vote that will result in the organization sending reminders and information about polling places. Tracking on those links enables the organization to see who’s following the links.
“They’re engaging. It’s probably been the most successful program that we’ve had ever since COVID happened and we had to make the switch to completely digital and virtual,” Johnston said.