A few months ago, Scott Cohen, CEO of data-driven online publication Vocativ, sat down with a handful of his employees to try and figure out how to get people more invested in politics. With the midterm elections looming in November, he wanted something snappy and fresh to appeal to his twenty- and thirty-something smartphone readers.
“A member of the team threw up his hand and said, ‘Well, what about a Tinder for politics?’” Cohen recalls. “Everyone loved it, and we were literally wire-framing and building it out within a day.”
Votr was born.
The mobile web app asks some straightforward political orientation questions, but answers only come in the form of emoji. On gay marriage, are you #NoH8 or Adam and Eve? When it comes to marijuana legalization, are you 420-friendly, or hugs not drugs? Even your preference for, say, Beyoncé (“Put a ring on it”) or Rihanna (“Umbrella-ella-eh”), feeds into an algorithm that matches millennial users with some of the 161 Senate candidates.
For a generation that is being trained to associate thumb swipes on smartphones with imminent sexual arousal, Votr is a clever, if not Pavlovian way of stimulating political discussion. “I feel like that’s key. Making something that’s really fucking boring, in my opinion, into something fun,” one Votr test subject told the publication.
Votr covers a surprising amount of political ground, though not all; the app did not ask about campaign finance reform, for example, or net neutrality. But Cohen expects Votr to pay off in more ways than just getting his readers to swipe left or right on political issues. Because of the data that Vocativ’s team of data scientists collected about a variety of third party and dark horse candidates, they’ve also got a spreadsheet that’s generating new story ideas.
“We saw some lightbulb moments, some fascinating stories and characters. We did one such piece [this week] about a candidate out of West Virginia who’s running her campaign from her living room while under house arrest,” Cohen says.
Votr could soon yield telling insights about Vocativ readers, too. “We see that our audience is keenly interested in environment, reproductive rights, marriage equality,” Cohen says, though he acknowledges that much was expected. When more users swipe through the app, other patterns could bubble to the surface.
“It’s a real perfect mix of something that’s important and fun,” Cohen adds.