Staying informed about politics is hard. To the average citizen, politics moves very quickly and can be difficult to understand. But Jackson White, a self-described “political enthusiast,” teamed up with former NFL player Walter Powell Jr. to create something they think can help. “We thought it would be much easier for Americans to understand politics if there was an app that brought together the basic tools necessary for political decision making,” White says. So they created Politiscope, an app for all things policy and politics.
Even as more Americans are being drawn towards political activism, a shocking number remain underinformed about the foundations of our country’s political structure. In fact, one-third of Americans can’t name a single branch of government, and more than that can’t name a single one of the rights protected by the first amendment, according to a 2017 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center. As a country, we encourage everybody to vote, but we do little to educate them on who and what they are really voting for. Sure, there’s lots of often hyperventilated press coverage, but how can people know that it’s objective? And many people are turned off by the way media functions. Simply put, seriously researching politics is too difficult. There are few quick places to go if you want to learn easily digestible things like who represents your congressional district, how that official has voted, how much money they have raised, and from who, or what bills are being discussed and their position on them.
In addition, politics are also… political. On every level, elections are often more about personality and popularity than qualifications and policies. Too often it’s not the best candidate who wins, but the one whose campaign raises the most money and runs the most effective ads, even if they’re misleading. Politiscope works to assemble extensive information in one place, giving citizens an easy way to be informed before making decisions and to decide for themselves who to vote for and how to get involved.
Its goal is to serve as a nonpartisan, one-stop shop for anything a person would want to know. It profiles every member of Congress, including a bio, voting history, supporters and donors, and allows you to follow them on the app to stay informed. If you want to know about a certain topic like education policy or gun rights, the app groups related articles and news together. In addition, the app offers features like Daily Scope and Today in Congress, sections that provide real-time policy news/updates and breaks down the bills being considered in Congress and their status.
Apps such as Countable and Brigade have done a good job creating platforms for citizens to engage with their representatives. But Jackson and Walter wanted a way for people to stay informed. What makes Politiscope different is that it does all the hard work for you. In the past, to stay politically informed, citizens needed to watch the news every day and read article after article to get a complete picture of a politicians’ views. The app breaks the information you need down into an easy to understand briefing for the user. Politiscope gives people the power to know what they want to know, when they want to know it.
So, why did Powell, the former football player, want to help create this app? “Football was my passion, but it wasn’t my purpose,” he says. Even early in his career, he says, he knew he wanted to use his network and platform to help create cultural and political change.
Politiscope was released in January, but is about to get a huge update, in preparation for the 2020 elections. It plans to expand its array of political profiles beyond just members of Congress. In addition, it will add a new electionssection, which will allow people to follow candidates and donate to campaigns directly from the app. It will also provide current polls and campaign descriptions. With no formal marketing, Politiscope has more than 11,000 downloads and over 4,000 active users. In July it gained a valuable investor and advisor, master marketer and digital strategist Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of VaynerMedia and best-selling author. Recently, it also merged with Downticket, another tech based political platform that seeks to increase engagement in elections nationwide. Nim Desai, the founder of Downticket, joins the team as Chief Advisor.
More than half of Americans believe undocumented immigrants deserve no rights, that same Annenberg poll found, though the fifth amendment makes clear they already have quite a few. At a time when “fake news” can come from even the most powerful sources, Powell and White believe it’s important that Politiscope help simplify and explain the world of politics. “No longer can politicians hide behind the lack of public knowledge,” says Jackson. While politicians work for votes and the news media work for views, Politiscope is working for the people.