Where Reality Meets Visionary

Special Guests: Robert L. Bixby, Tyler Sweeney, Ashley Hunt

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On Facing the Future, Concord Coalition Executive Director Robert L. Bixby, New Hampshire State Director Tyler Sweeney and Iowa-based consultant Ashley Hunt, joined me to discuss grassroots efforts during the 2016 and 2020 presidential election cycles, social media use during campaigns and voter engagement.


Bixby said, during presidential election cycles, The Concord Coalition’s focus is the same as it always is, educating candidates and voters about the federal debt and the dangers and consequences of letting it grow to an unsustainable height.

“The added element in an election year is the opportunity it presents to ask candidates who are going to be the decision makers what they would do about it,” he said. “First, whether they think it’s a priority and then what ideas they have for dealing with it.”

Sweeney discussed the First Budget initiative, which took place during the 2016 cycle. He was an intern on the project and attended more than 200 candidate events.

“We were right in their faces asking very specific policy questions … we were known on a first-name basis by several of the candidates by the end of our time there, but that’s part of what happens when you’re in New Hampshire,” he said. “You get noticed and the candidates take notice of what you’re saying.”

Bixby has done some digging on 2020 candidate websites to see how many candidates address the nation’s debt and deficit issues head-on, and the references are few-and-far-between. He noted that there are key issues that candidates discuss in detail, like health care, immigration and workforce development, that are impacted by the structural challenges in the budget.

“The missing element is a fiscally responsible approach, because it’s not clear from looking at the websites how all these things would be paid for without making the deficit worse,” Bixby said.

An opportunity is being missed for candidates to paint a vision that addresses such issues and engages in proposed changes that can be incorporated into a long-term vision that doesn’t just rely on ever-growing debt, because that is ultimately unsustainable, he said.

We need to be calling upon them to outline and explain their vision, Bixby added.

Hunt shared her insights concerning social media in the 2016 and 2020 campaigns.

“I think you’re seeing a major shift in the role social media is playing from 2016 to now in 2020,” Hunt said. “You’re seeing candidates do Facebook Live; you’re seeing them turn directly to voters on the social platforms … you’re seeing folks announce policies via social media … in Iowa television stations are even broadcasting social-media only content.”

Hunt added that Facebook has become pay-to-play and Twitter has banned political advertisements altogether.

“People are putting dollars behind ads because you’ve got to get out there, but more importantly it’s about finding new and unique ways to reach your voters, or constituents or volunteers,” she said. “It’s moving beyond just tagging and hashtagging into more real-time, direct and immediate content that is relatable and unique.”

Hear more on “Facing the Future.” I host the program each week on WKXL, NHTalkRadio.com (N.H.), and it is also available via podcast. Join me and my guests as we discuss issues relating to national fiscal policy with budget experts, industry leaders, elected officials and candidates for public office. Past broadcasts are available here. You can now subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play or through RSS.

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