Tue April 30, 2013
Dr. Heath Brown, Seton Hall University – Political Activity and Non-Profits
In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Heath Brown of Seton Hall University explores how some immigrant-serving organizations work to encourage voting.
Heath Brown is an assistant professor of political science at Seton Hall University, where his current research focuses on nonprofits, interest groups, and the presidency. In 2012 he published Lobbying the New President: Interests in Transition and he recently received a grant to study immigrant groups and the 2012 election.
Dr. Heath Brown – Political Activity and Non-Profits
Despite historically voting at low levels, immigrants made headlines in 2012 for their turnout in US elections. This didn’t happen by accident, thousands of nonprofit organizations worked to register and mobilize eligible voters. Yet what do we actually know about the ways immigrant-serving nonprofits went about this work?
Based on a survey in six states where large numbers of immigrants reside (FL, IL, MI, NJ, NY, and NC), I found that around sixty percent (58.9%) of immigrant-serving nonprofits were not engaged at all in the election. One respondent said: “We are a 501(c)(3) purely cultural organization so we are specifically barred from engaging in any political activities.” Many groups shared this deep concern that political work is not permitted.
But because some of these concerns are exaggerated -- most non-partisan election work is perfectly legal -- 40% of immigrant-serving nonprofits engaged in at least one tactic. The largest portion of respondents, a little less than a quarter of respondents, chose to monitor news about the campaign. Voter registration and voter mobilization were the next two most popular tactics, employed by 19% and 14% of respondents respectively.
Many of the groups that used one of these two tactics relied upon the Voter Activation Network (VAN), a new database of eligible voter information that groups could use to target voters with extreme precision. Technology, such as the VAN but also social media, now permits nonprofits to engage in quite ambitious voter work at a much lower cost than in the past. It is reasonable to assume that in the future, more immigrant-serving nonprofits will capitalize on the continued reduction in the cost of technology. For others, persistent concerns about violating their protected status as nonprofits, will prevent them from participating in upcoming elections.