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After ActBlue, This Was the Next Obvious Step

One of the questions we get most often during election season is: "How can I make sure my political donations do as much good as is possible?" This is not surprising; if someone is going to donate $20 or $50 or $100, they'd rather it go to a candidate or organization who can really use it, as opposed to a candidate who is just running up the score.

This is such an obvious problem, and one that so clearly lends itself to the use of "big data" tools, that it's hard to believe neither political party has tried to tackle it. After all, ActBlue went online 20 years ago. But now, Democratic activist Brian Derrick has created Oath, a website and app that pairs donors with those campaigns that need the money the most.

Oath, apparently built with the recognition that people have short attention spans, asks users three questions: (1) what issues they care most about, whether it's defeating Donald Trump or climate change or about a dozen others; (2) how much they plan to give each month; and (3) how often they would like e-mails with suggestions for donations. Then, the site matches the user with a bunch of potential donation options, along with a score of 0-10. For example, if you tell the site you care only about defeating Donald Trump, it will tell you your best option right now is to donate money to voter registration efforts in Arizona. Or, if you tell it you just want your money to go where it will have the most impact, it suggests donating to state Rep. Matt McLaughlin (D-NH).

Oath is getting a lot of attention, and if and when it becomes established as a key part of the Democratic arsenal, we predict two things will happen. First, there will be carping from Democratic candidates who don't think they are being prioritized properly by the site's algorithm. Second, the Republicans will create their own version ("Prayer"?), just as they did after ActBlue became successful.

While Oath is getting a lot of attention now because it is the new kid on the block, it is the new kid, not the first kid. In 2020, a Website went online to give advice on how to donate for maximum progressive impact. Its recommendations were very granular. For example, it recommended donating to three Democratic challengers running for the Arizona state Senate. Giving $100 to a presidential or Senate candidate means nothing, but in a state Senate race in a medium-size state, that is significant. If all three of the recommendees had won, that would have flipped the Arizona Senate. If a thousand small donors each gave $100 to any of those candidates, they could seriously impact a state chamber. Right now, the Arizona Senate is 14D, 16R and the state House is 29D, 31R, so some of those races are still actually very high priority. Since the federal government is totally paralyzed and can't do anything (see above), the states are increasingly important, and getting trifectas there is of crucial importance. The Democrats have a good shot at getting one in Arizona and the Republicans have a good shot at breaking one in Michigan. At the moment, Blue Tent is not recommending specific races, as it did in 2020, but specific organizations to donate to. Perhaps later in the year it will go back to a granular level of recommendation. All dollars are equal but some dollars are more equal. If you are interested in which ones are more equal, this is also a site to check from time to time.

In any event, this could be a big deal if it works out, since Democratic voters make more small donations than Republican voters do, but also waste more donations on candidates who aren't going to win. The blue team would certainly benefit from more efficiency. (Z)

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