The Voter Participation Center was formerly known as Women’s Voices. Women Vote (WVWV). The name was formally changed in 2011 to reflect the fact the organization expanded its focus beyond its original emphasis on unmarried women to include the entire Rising American Electorate (RAE). The RAE – which is made up of unmarried women, people of color and 18-29 years olds – is now 53 percent of the voting-eligible population. WVWV will remain a project of the Voter Participation Center, focused on never married, divorced, widowed and separated women.
The VPC, then WVWV, was started as a project of the Tides Center in 2003 and was the first major organization to identify unmarried women as a crucial, yet unrecognized constituency, to single-out marital status as determining political participation and to popularize a fundamental dynamic in the American electorate: the “marriage gap” – the fact that married women were much more likely than unmarried women to register and vote.
In its first year of operation, the VPC met the challenge of identifying and contacting unmarried women – a hard to find, highly mobile group, by using a list-based approach to encourage them to register and to vote. The VPC pioneered the use of lists to register and turnout voters based on their demographic characteristics, not based on their geographical location – a much more effective, efficient and impactful way to reach the greatest number of voters and nonvoters.
Incorporated as a stand-alone 501(c)(3) in 2005, the VPC continued to run programs designed to close the participation gap between married and unmarried women in the electorate. But the VPC discovered that the same methods and methodologies used to bring unmarried women into the electorate also worked well with the other key under-represented demographics –people of color and people under 30 years of age. By 2008, the VPC’s models, list enhancements, research-driven messaging and materials, and cost-effective, complementary collaborations with other organizations provided the organization with unprecedented and unique reach and singular ability to motivate and mobilize the RAE.
Since its inception, the VPC has been unique among civic engagement groups because of its reliance on Research & Development (R&D). From controlled experiments to measure and improve programmatic effectiveness and cost-efficiency to demographic and public opinion surveys, the VPC uses a broad array of research instruments to develop and refine programs, tools and tactics designed to reach and increase the democratic participation of the RAE. The VPC’s commitment to R&D has enabled it to continually bend the cost curve, lower the cost per net additional vote, produce a net effect (a net additional vote or other activity that would not have happened were it not for VPC’s programs), increase response rates, and register more than a million members of the RAE to vote.
The VPC’s registration, turnout and mobilization programs have been recognized and lauded for their effectiveness:
- In 2008, Catalist –a data service organization that tracks voter contact efforts -confirmed that the VPC (then WVWV) was highly and singularly effective in identifying, contacting, registering, and mobilizing individuals in key demographic groups who were otherwise highly unlikely to vote. Most of the contacts the VPC made did not overlap with any other independent organizations that Catalist tracked—81 percent would not have been reached out to at all if not for the VPC’s efforts. In addition, VPC applicants turned out at higher rates than other organizations’ registrants. The New Organizing Institute (NOI), in its “Voter Registration Analysis 2008” found that 87.8 percent of the 946,822 VPC applicants were successful registrants and 77 percent of them voted.
- In 2010, the NOI’s report on midterm registration efforts stated, “Mail Programs registered a disproportionately high number of African Americans and Hispanics. It’s worth noting that large portions of mail programs specifically targeted African Americans and Hispanics.” These mail applications were overwhelmingly generated by the VPC. According to the NOI data, the VPC had more successful registrations than anyone else in many states, including: Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Texas and Washington. In addition, NOI data indicates that the VPC had the highest ratio of applications turning into successful registrations of any group included in their analysis, with 93.9% of the VPC’s registration applications turned into successful applications.
To increase RAE participation in 2011 and 2012 the VPC is conducting research-driven year-round civic engagement, information-raising and voter registration, Vote by Mail (VBM), turnout and other mobilization programs in targeted states. The VPC is also committed to building an infrastructure of citizens who take an active role in ensuring America’s democracy is truly representational. The work of the VPC does not end with Election Day, it is just beginning.
The VPC has a (c)(4) sister organization, Women’s Voices. Women Vote Action Fund (WVWVAF).