South Carolina has some of the worst roads and bridges in the nation. The state is often the leader in the number of highway fatalities. It has the 4th largest highway system in the country and the 3rd lowest gas tax in which to fund repairs and upkeep. For decades, the South Carolina General Assembly has refused to either raise the gas tax or reform how the state’s Department of Transportation is funded.
The biggest challenge we faced was raising a tax in Conservative South Carolina.
Push Digital identified the main goal as building a critical mass of grassroots pressure and attention on legislators that would result in support for comprehensive reform and increasing the state’s gasoline tax from key elected officials. To achieve this, over a three-year period we targeted multiple pieces of legislation to motivate our audiences to engage their legislators. Despite numerous legislative setbacks, each bill it served as a focal point to build that critical mass for comprehensive reform for future legislative session.
Choosing the right medium
We chose a digital advocacy campaign specifically because of the growing segment of users aged 35 and up using the Internet for news, the speed at which information could be disseminated to the audience and the ability to quickly convert the audience into activists. We set an objective to build an online grassroots coalition that would contact legislators, garner news media coverage from traditional outlets and ultimately win public support from legislators and the Governor. We measured that objective against daily online metrics, the number of news articles generated, contacts from supporters to legislators and ultimately statements from elected officials.
Tools For Voters
We built a unique website with a strong call-to-action. It encouraged people to give us their opinion, submit images and video of roads conditions near them and to take action by contacting legislators.
Reaching The Voters
The advocacy campaign did not end when lawmakers left town. During the three-year long campaign, South Carolina went through two election cycles. This presented an opportunity to further engage with voters and garner the attention of lawmakers. We provided voters with the tools to communicate with the candidates for Governor in 2014 and actively informed voters where their representatives stood on the issue in 2016.
The legislative process is notoriously slow. As the funding plans progressed through the SC House and then bogged down in the SC Senate, the campaign’s message evolved. From South Carolina’s bad roads are costing you money in repairs to South Carolina’s bad roads are costing lives.
The political environment also affected the message development. As the grassroots’ pressure increased, more emphasis was placed on Republican lawmakers – telling them fixing South Carolina’s roads was the responsible investment to make.
Perseverance and patience lead to success – enacting the first significant roads funding measure in 30 years. In three years, we moved an issue that was a low priority for voters in polling to the number one issue on voters’ mind. The issue went from an afterthought in the General Assembly to a must-pass bill. In addition to passing a plan that will have a positive impact for South Carolina for generations to come, we hammered tidal waves of grassroots support, news interest and demonstrated the power and effectiveness of digital advocacy in the South Carolina Statehouse.