#VoteTheOutdoors: Grading Congress

Outdoor Industry Association's new campaign delves into the electoral side of politics to encourage the outdoor industry to put its ballot where its mouth is.
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From left: Veronica Miranda, Maricela Rosales, and Luis Villa

From left: Veronica Miranda, Maricela Rosales, and Luis Villa show their support for the outdoors by posing in the #VoteTheOutdoors photo booth by Outdoor Industry Association.

The Outdoor Industry Association is taking its political work to a deeper level. At Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2018, OIA announced a new campaign called Vote the Outdoors, marking a shift for the organization. The group has long devoted itself to lobbying efforts in Washington and in state houses, but until now, has never tried to rally voters directly.

“Vote the Outdoors is exciting because it’s the first time the outdoor industry has really taken a step into electoral politics,” said OIA political director Alex Boian.

The initiative launched alongside the OIA Congressional Scorecard, an interactive online tool grading all members of Congress on their voting history as it pertains to protecting public land, advocating for clean air and water, and fighting for trade interests that would benefit the outdoor industry. Vote the Outdoors will encourage voters to use this tool for the upcoming midterms and beyond.

“The ultimate outcome we hope for is that the outdoor recreation economy and public land and water issues will be voting issues in 2018 in races across the country,” Boian said.

Over time, OIA hopes that brands will adopt the #VoteTheOutdoors campaign and encourage their customers to use the scorecard, and that the scorecard will unify voters across the industry.

The scorecard will adjust in real time as votes on tariffs and other issues come in, but it currently favors Democrats, awarding far more A and B grades to liberal Congress members than to conservatives. 

While Boian emphasized that the scorecard was created objectively without any partisan goals—conservation and business interests are both bipartisan issues, after all—the unmistakable takeaway for voters still might prove an obstacle for brands considering adoption.

“I personally feel like it’s still really polarizing,” said Alan Butts, membership outreach coordinator at Outdoor Prolink. “I’m from the South, and a lot of people there really care about the land, but the politics are still a tough subject.”

Other visitors to OIA’s booth, where the Vote The Outdoors logo was prominently displayed, agreed that it was a touchy subject, but that unity would be useful in effecting change.

“People vote on what’s important to them,” said Tracy Benson, cofounder of BeAlive Media. “And the more you can collaborate and encourage a community to vote as a bloc, that’s important—regardless of where that bloc lies.”

This article was originally published in Day 4 of The Daily (summer 2018).

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