How ballot initiatives to raise the wage and guarantee paid sick days had decisive wins in a divisive cycle.

By Jonathan Schleifer
December 20, 2016

What began as a bold experiment proved that a decentralized national campaign model based on shared expertise and seed funding with local groups can help successfully pass ballot initiatives in a wide range of states.

The Fairness Project, which launched just over a year ago with initial backing from labor, was founded on the belief that voters would embrace ballot initiatives as a way to fix our broken economy and bypass ineffective lawmakers.

But instead of running a top-down national organization, our role was to fund and support local coalitions to run successful initiative campaigns on their own. To achieve this, we developed a strategy to provide early financial support to local groups and offer access to the cutting-edge tools used by top-of-the-ballot campaigns. Our model paid off.

Now, timing was an asset. Enthusiasm this cycle helped propel minimum wage ballot initiatives to pass with a larger margin and more votes in favor than the winning presidential candidate in all four states we worked in.

In Arizona, the measure passed with an impressive 58 percent. President-elect Donald Trump won the state with just 49 percent. Not even Sen. John McCain received that much support in 2008 – the year he won the state with just under 54 percent. This year, he received less support than the ballot measure as well. In nearby Colorado, Hillary Clinton won 48 percent of the vote, but 55 percent of voters approved a hike in the minimum wage.

How was it possible to have such decisive wins in such a divisive cycle? While vote counts and our own post-election polling demonstrated that economic inequality was clearly a top priority across ideology and party, what made the difference was the disciplined state campaigns run by local teams who knocked on over 1.1 million doors and built best-in-class earned and paid media operations.

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