Visitors to cultural entities – and particularly members and subscribers – are more likely to be voters passing the policies that shape our nation.
There’s less than a week until election day. (Gulp.) At the time of this writing, more than 70 million Americans have already voted, surpassing all known early voting records and representing more than half of the total votes counted in 2016. The Supreme Court looms large in its consideration of mail-in ballots. Needless to say, this is a big election.
Museums and performing arts organizations are impacted by government actions in a myriad of ways, from funding and support to policies surrounding missions related to science and environmental conservation, and many things in between.
Prior to the 2018 midterm elections, we published data showing intentions to vote among recent and non-recent visitors to cultural organizations. Even then, we knew visitors to cultural entities were more likely to be registered voters with intentions to cast their ballots at the midterm election. But is this still the case? And as the fate of many museums and performing arts organizations are increasingly on the ballot, what do we know about members and subscribers and their voter participation?
To get to the bottom of these questions, we added some questions to the trusty National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study. While the survey now clocks in at over 153,000 participants, the recent feedback of 2,244 adults (all who fit the criteria that define eligible voters) has been contemplated in the following data.
An encouraging 92.5% of people who self-identify as members to exhibit-based entities (museums, gardens, zoos, aquariums, etc.) or subscribers to performance-based entities (theaters, symphonies, ballets, etc.) report they were registered voters as of the start of October. This is a very high percentage of any constituency to report that they do anything! And of those who reported having visited any cultural entity in the last two years, 86.1% were registered to vote. Numbers this high are rare in high-confidence, representative data findings.
There may be more to this than members and subscribers having an isolated increased propensity to vote. Members and subscribers tend to be older, wealthier, and more highly educated compared to regular visitors. On the whole, they may be the kind of people for whom registering to vote has been historically easier. Voter suppression is an issue in the United States – and it’s a very big one in this election as well. Members and subscribers to cultural organizations may be the kind of people who are privileged to encounter fewer obstacles in the registration process.
But what about intentions to vote in the 2020 presidential election? It’s one thing to be registered, but what percentage of members/subscribers and visitors intend to actually fill out a ballot in the upcoming election?
Here’s where things get even more interesting: A staggeringly high percentage of members and subscribers plan to actually vote. Holy members and subscribers undertaking their civil duty, Batman!
As a point of comparison, overall voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election totaled 61.4%. Self-identified members/subscribers reported voting at a rate of 81.5% – substantially higher than the balance of the US eligible voting population. Still, the percentage of members/subscribers who indicate an intent to vote has increased by 12.6% for the 2020 election. These findings affirm the numerous reports anticipating near-record turnout this year when compared to recent presidential elections.
Sure, “members and subscribers are more active voters” sounds like an interesting fun fact for your next staff or board meeting, but the implications of these findings extend far beyond a fun fact:
1) Arts, science, and history organizations are on election ballots
Funding for arts, history, and science organizations are “on ballots” in several capacities in not just this election, but in nearly all elections. Officials run for office with different priorities and viewpoints. Some officials are more supportive of art, science, and history organizations than others. Electing advocates with shared ideals can help fund an organization’s mission to educate and inspire audiences either by way of direct or indirect financial support.
But it’s not just funding for organizations themselves that matters. As nonprofit organizations, many of these entities have social missions. Research shows that people believe that cultural entities should recommend ways to support their causes. From plastic bag bans to policies related to science such as health or climate change, individual propositions will continue to be on ballots throughout the United States that relate directly to many organizations’ causes. Cultural organizations need voters to have their best interests at heart if they hope to secure funding or help pass policies to positively benefit their communities.
2) Members and subscribers are advocates for our organizations – and they are voters
Luckily for us, our closest constituents are voters. This means that if members and subscribers know that aspects of our survival or our social missions are on the ballot – either directly or indirectly – they may vote in our favor.
Members and subscribers were increasing in relative importance before the pandemic struck. Today, the need to be efficient and effective with our resources is even more important as entities are likely to experience reduced attendance this year and through next year as well (link). Members and subscribers are generally more monetarily valuable than general visitors. They also are more likely to have higher visitor satisfaction. Most importantly, members and subscribers also tend to be advocates for our missions. Supporting an organization’s social mission is a top membership benefit.
There are a whole host of obvious additional benefits to this finding, too: Members and subscribers have signed up to remain engaged with us. We know how to reach them. We can more easily survey them than general admission visitors. And, of course, they have pre-paid for their experiences. Add in the fact that they are voters on top of it all, and what’s not to love?!
3) During the pandemic, missions are extending beyond onsite attendance
If your organization hasn’t considered that your social mission may be on the ballot beyond funding, it might be a good time to start thinking about it.
We consistently find that entities highlighting their missions financially outperform those marketing themselves primarily as attractions. Not only that, but perceived mission execution is a top factor influencing an organization’s reputation. It comes in as even more important than your onsite experience.
The belief that museums are credible sources of information has increased since the start of the pandemic as entities created opportunities to digitally engage with topic experts. During this challenging time, cultural entities are showing that their missions and relevance extend far beyond their walls… and sometimes all the way to the ballot box.
4) The stories cultural entities tell today can actively shape the future
This finding is bigger than the 2020 presidential election – and the 2020 presidential election is big. Remember that cultural organizations don’t get to decide how relevant they are – audiences do!
The stories that cultural entities tell onsite by way of their exhibits and performances could shape the people who experience them and how they vote – and, thus, shape the future. More inclusive stories told by organizations could lead to greater empathy and more inclusive members of society who vote not just for themselves, but for others.
Museums and performing arts organizations need people to vote for them and their missions. These findings suggest an opportunity to additionally leverage our most closely held constituencies to support the missions of our organizations with their collective advocacy. The fact that our biggest advocates tend to be voters is a reminder to cultural organization leaders that they have the power to share stories that shape the world in which we live.
We have a community of advocates in our members and subscribers.
They’re also voters.
Together, let’s move things forward.
Still need to cast your ballot? Find voting information here.
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