The San Francisco Bay Area is known for its progressive policies and often high voter approval of new taxes. And true to form, initial polling in both cities had the ‘No’ campaign losing by significant margins, including 66% of Richmond voters signaling an intention to vote yes. This is the backdrop against which 1st Tuesday co-founders Gerry Gunster and Matt Rodriguez were brought on to manage campaign efforts to defeat sugar-sweetened beverage taxes in 2012 in Richmond, California and 2014 in San Francisco, California.
Simply pouring money into traditional anti-tax messages were unlikely to succeed in this atmosphere. The “No” campaign needed a different connection to voters. So Gunster and Rodriguez mapped out multiple rounds of qualitative and quantitative research. Gleaning results from polling and focus groups, some issues started to come into focus: Anger over the Bay Area’s high cost of living and confusion over the arbitrary nature of the tax (some beverages were taxed while others were not) allowed the campaigns to capitalize on the measures’ shortcomings. Voters were open to a tax – just not an arbitrary and regressive one.
With new messaging in hand, Gunster and Rodriguez oversaw robust grassroots and grasstops field campaigns, which served to build opposition and identify ‘real people’ as validators in both earned and paid media. Traditional allies like anti-tax groups were enlisted. Furthermore, the team brought together voices from the left highlighting the regressive nature of the tax, as well as the Teamsters, whose workers expressed economic concerns about jobs and the already high cost of living for their members. These were real Bay Area people willing to talk about real consequences.
The campaigns succeeded by raising doubts about the motivation behind the measures. Validators framed the beverage taxes as money grabs by politicians who should’ve been focused on lowering, rather than increasing, the cost of living. Paid media highlighted the blatantly regressive nature of the measures – levying taxes on soda and drinks consumed by lower-income communities but leaving expensive, high-sugared Frappuccinos and Starbucks drinks free from any taxation.
Under the leadership of Gunster and Rodriguez, Richmond’s Measure N was defeated by a 3-to-1 margin in 2012, having moved voters 30 points from initial polling. Two years later, the team was behind the defeat of San Francisco’s Proposition E, which failed by over 10 percentage points. In San Francisco, the team moved voters by over 10 percentage points from early polling, representing the difference at the ballot box.
Voters in El Monte, California were asked to consider a further increase to the local sales tax, in the form of Measure H - a penny-per-ounce tax on all sugar-sweetened beverages sold in El Monte.
1st Tuesday’s co-founders Gerry Gunster and Matt Rodriguez knew education would be the key to defeating the measure. Together, they devised the “Wasting Our Money” campaign to speak directly to El Monte’s Latino voters—a significant portion of El Monte’s electorate. Latino, Spanish-speaking messengers ensured our audience realized that Measure H meant not just an increase in soda prices, but also an across-the-board increase in the price of all sugar-sweetened beverages, including horchatas and other beverages popular with the Latino community. A similar dynamic played out with El Monte’s sizable Chinese population. Mandarin and Cantonese radio spots and mail pieces featured Chinese business owners and residents pushing back on the effect taxes would have on Boba drinks, Asian teas, and other imported beverages. Campaign advertising then re-directed the audience back to our website to learn more and to find out how they could spread the word about the consequences associated with Measure H. Online, we devised a “Grocery Round Up”—an interactive feature that grouped items up for taxation into easy-to-understand categories. Coffee lovers and soda drinkers alike could see how the tax would impact their grocery budget and lifestyle if it went into effect. The result was an online space that was both personal and informative.
As a result of our fine-tuned efforts to define the debate early and powerfully within the communities most affected by ballot measures, Measure H was defeated by an unprecedented 77 percent margin by citizens of El Monte.
In 2006, 1st Tuesday co-founder Matt Rodriguez managed the top California State Assembly race of that year, helping secure a win for underdog Kevin de León. Kevin’s biggest weakness entering that race was his lack of name recognition in the district. In third place when the campaign started, the key to winning this race would prove to be simple but challenging: set up an infrastructure to raise enough money to increase Kevin’s name ID through paid media and match that media with a door-to-door canvassing effort. Kevin fundraised five to six hours daily making calls, traveling to all parts of the state for meetings and participating in local events. The canvassing effort targeted likely voters using bilingual canvassers on a daily basis. Additionally, the campaign won the endorsement of the largest labor organization in Southern California to augment its efforts. Combining all three areas – endorsements, fundraising, and voter contact - Kevin surged late to overtake his opponents, nearly doubling his closest competitor. Kevin has gone on to state and national prominence as the California Senate Leader and candidate for U.S. Senate.
In 2013, the Telluride City Council voted to place a beverage tax on the November ballot. Ballot Issue 2A would have imposed a penny-per-ounce tax on all sugar-sweetened beverages sold in Telluride, increasing the prices of soda, juice drinks, sports drinks, some coffee drinks, and even drink powders like cocoa and lemonade. Unknown to voters was the impact the tax would have had on the local economy and tourist industry. Additionally, the measure was written in such a way as to place the burden of filing paperwork associated with the tax on local business owners. In other words, this tax came with additional hidden compliance costs that Telluride businesses could not afford. 1st Tuesday co-founder Gerry Gunster and his team were brought in to manage the campaign to deliver “No on Ballot Issue 2A.”
At first, public opinion about 2A was difficult to assess given that Telluride, Colorado is a progressive, highly educated, and parochial community that is very suspicious of outside influence. But quantitative and qualitative research gave us an edge by uncovering three main messages that resonated with Telluride voters: “This tax comes with a high cost for consumers;” This tax will be damaging to our local economy;” and “The list of beverages as effected by this tax is extensive.”
Campaign tactics relied heavily on our ground team to generate support by focusing on the consequences for Telluride businesses should a beverage tax take effect. Well-known and credible local residents helped deliver our message, wrote op-eds, and hosted “Telluride Tax Talks” to educate voters. These activities gave additional credibility to our campaign and allowed us to leave a smaller footprint of industry coalition members. On the digital side, ads targeted strategic Colorado/Telluride-specific websites, and paid media in the local newspapers helped create an atmosphere of support for our position.
Despite facing challenges by a nationally-funded “Yes” campaign, our efforts proved successful: With the help of our local Telluride business partners, Ballot Issue 2A, the Telluride beverage tax, was defeated by an overwhelming 68% of the vote.
In late 2013, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) submitted nearly 100,000 signatures to the Massachusetts Legislature in support of an expanded bottle bill. When the legislature failed to pass the measure, MASSPIRG began collecting additional signatures to qualify the measure for the November 2014 ballot. The initiative, “Question 2,” would have broadened the Commonwealth’s existing $0.05 beverage container deposit law to include nonalcoholic beverages like sports drinks, bottled water, and juice. The net result was a dramatic increase in costs to bottlers and consumers, with nominal increase in recycling rates.
With initial polling placing public approval for an expanded bottle bill at a staggering 72 percent, the American Beverage Association and Massachusetts Food Association needed to act fast to reverse public opinion on the issue before Election Day. From the start, the 1st Tuesday team (then part of Goddard Gunster) knew we needed to reframe the debate. If voters continued to associate the term “bottle bill” with advances in recycling, it would be difficult for voters to understand Question 2’s negative impact. We began by identifying messages that could convince voters that the bottle bill was ill-equipped to increase recycling rates. We also commissioned an economic impact study, arming us with information about how much Question 2 would cost Massachusetts and the impact it would have on Commonwealth recycling rates. With this information in hand, we turned our attention to messaging and micro-targeting. We knew from experience that we could expect high turnout among supportive voting blocs, as the vote on the measure would take place during a midterm election cycle. To succeed, we needed to saturate key Boston neighborhoods and other regional communities with our messages.
Our grassroots team and key spokespeople undertook a rigorous calendar of speaking engagements and events throughout the Commonwealth, with a focus on disseminating our messaging in key communities. We also deployed more than 3.3 million pieces of collateral material statewide, including a point-of-sale collateral distribution program with grocers, recyclers, bottlers, and manufacturers.
Initially, 72 percent of voters supported the idea of an update to the bottle deposit law. By November, we had reversed public opinion on the issue, increasing opposition to the law by 49 percent. In a campaign that spanned less than ten months, Question 2 was defeated handily: 73.5 percent NO to 26.5 percent YES. Illustrating the power of our campaigns -- as well as the power of ballot measures to drive voter turnout -- more people voted “NO” on Question 2 than voted for or against any other person or issue on the ballot.
The state of Oklahoma was operating under prohibition-era laws that tightly restricted the sale of alcoholic beverages. State Question 792 would allow regular-strength beer and wine to be sold in grocery and convenience stores.
The campaign’s biggest hurdle was navigating Oklahoma’s extremely conservative and religious voter base. 1st Tuesday’s co-founders Gerry Gunster and Matt Rodriguez framed the debate not as an issue of ethics or morals, but as an affirmative economic imperative for communities across the state: “Yes on 792.”
Through extensive research, the campaign found that the most appealing messages were: keeping money in Oklahoma, increasing jobs, and making life more convenient for Oklahoma residents. To deliver this message, we worked with regional grocery-store owners, law enforcement and even grape-growers. These groups proved to be the most trustworthy and effective advocates.
Tactics included direct mail, radio, television, print, and digital advertising. And we produced a special radio spot that spoke directly to the agriculture community. Gunster and Rodriguez successfully grew a coalition of thousands of individuals, and hundreds of businesses and organizations who were in support of SQ 792. By the end of the campaign, we had more than 26,000 Facebook likes and 2,700 followers on Twitter. On Election Day, Oklahomans made their voice heard — SQ 792 passed with 65% of the vote.
In 2004, 1st Tuesday co-founder Matt Rodriguez managed the reelection of former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, delivering Dodd’s highest margin of victory of his five Senate campaigns.
In 2008, the Maine Legislature passed the Governor signed legislation imposing a costly new tax on beverages, enacted with virtually no public debate or citizen input. The consequential outcry was immediate and vigorous. Led by 1st Tuesday co-founder Gerry Gunster, we worked with national and in-state beverage companies to develop a new committee to pursue a ballot measure strategy — we named it “Fed Up With Taxes” (FUWT). With nearly 100,000 signatures collected, FUWT forced the state to place a “People’s Veto” on the ballot. FUWT faced an uphill battle because Maine law requires an affirmative vote for a People’s Veto -- FUWT found itself having to run a “Yes” campaign to say no to a tax.
Through in-depth public opinion research, we learned that the state’s voters were concerned about the direction of the state, that neither the legislature nor the governor were viewed positively, and that taxes were a “top of mind” issue, along with other economic concerns.
Utilizing restaurant and small business owners as the messengers, we developed TV ads, direct mail, print, radio, and online ads to deliver the anti-tax message. Aggressive grassroots and GOTV operations proved very successful because in-state beverage distributors and other small businesses were actively involved in the campaign from the outset. The state was blanketed with signs and posters that encouraged Maine people to vote “Yes on Question 1.”
Despite especially difficult ballot wording and resulting voter confusion, along with initial polling that found the “Yes” vote trailing 44% to 48%), we helped our clients deliver an overwhelming victory, securing over 64% of the vote.
In 2015, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans for a voter referendum on the question of his country’s membership in the European Union. While a date for the vote was not yet set, advocacy groups on both sides of the question began to organize their campaigns and messages. Recognizing the need for expert assistance, the Leave.EU campaign engaged 1st Tuesday co-founders Gerry Gunster and Jonathan Stember to bring the latest in advocacy techniques to the United Kingdom to help make their case to British voters.
Working closely with the Leave.EU team, we made a quick assessment of how best to utilize the most effective tools transcending borders and political cultures.
On Election Day, history was made. In a peaceful and democratic referendum, nearly 52 percent of British voters indicated their desire for the United Kingdom to leave the EU.
In August 2009, accompanying a special “all-mail” election for the Seattle Mayor’s democratic primary race, voters were asked to “Accept” or “Reject” a 20-cent tax on paper and plastic bags at grocery, convenient and drug stores. The environmentally-conscious Seattle residents initially supported this tax.
Given the nature of the special election, 1st Tuesday co-founder Gerry Gunster and the campaign team knew that voter turnout would be low and that the campaign needed to shore up the base of voters in favor of “Reject” without energizing the strong supporters of the tax. We created the “Stop the Seattle Bag Tax” coalition to defeat the tax and set out to run a “below-the-radar” targeted campaign.
We stayed off television, made selective use of radio and used a sophisticated mail-, Internet- and grassroots-coordinated effort to deliver our message to those we knew would vote or we could convince to support our side of the issue. Through in-depth public opinion research, we learned that Seattle voters did not think highly of their city Legislature; at the same time, they did they mind paying higher taxes for the sake of protecting the environment.
In the days prior to Election Day, the campaign ramped up the on-the-ground effort for a Get Out The Vote program that included local Seattle residents and employees from a bag manufacturing plant. By emphasizing the flaws in the proposed legislation of the bag tax and engaging the most motivated voters, we were successfully able to connect with Seattle voters and win with a 53 percent “Reject” vote on Election Day.
In 2008, 1st Tuesday co-founder Matt Rodriguez worked on his third consecutive presidential campaign as one of the first employees to sign on with then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama. During the primaries, Matt served as the New Hampshire State Director, managing an operation of more than 120 employees.
In the general U.S. Presidential election, 1st Tuesday co-founder Matt Rodriguez oversaw the Western United States making sure they had sufficient staffing and communication with the Chicago HQ. Matt focused his attention on Nevada, historically a swing state that borders Arizona, the home state of the Republican nominee John McCain. Nevada had multiple strategic and management considerations: turning out the labor force mostly centered around the hotels and casinos of Las Vegas; identifying and motivating the state’s growing Latino population; and navigating Nevada’s early and mobile early voting (different voting locations on varying dates prior to Election Day).
However, the key to the strategy lay in changing the state’s electorate. Hundreds of employees and volunteers descended on Nevada in the largest voter registration push in that state’s history. Starting the summer with an overall Republican registration advantage, the registration effort turned Nevada Democratic by Election Day, including flipping historically red Washoe County (Reno). Additionally, Matt increased staff and volunteer efforts in neighboring California to serve as additional phone bank and volunteer hubs. California staff and volunteers made hundreds of thousands of calls and visits into Nevada prior to Election Day. Obama won the state by 12.5%, far more than any candidate, Democratic or Republican, in 20 years.
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