The New Smartphone App: BuyPartisan


Are you a partisan?  Most people aren’t.  Most people prefer to characterize themselves as middle of the road, independent types that do not ascribe to parties.  These people will usually characterize political parties as that which George Washington famously warned us about tearing the country apart.  Most people like to consider themselves above the fray, willing to hear both sides, and someone that votes for the best person for the job, as opposed to a party.  No matter how partisan that person may turn out to be, they usually consider those that differ with their worldview as “the partisans”.  Most people consider those that vote a straight ticket –based solely on party— not only partisans, but even a little foolish, and perhaps naïve … Even though they may vote a straight ticket themselves.  The takeaway any listener would have of the character profile these people create for themselves is that being called a partisan is one of the worst adjectives a person can use to describe you.

screen568x568Creator of a new smartphone app BuyPartisan, Matt Colbert, disagrees:

A lot of people are heavily partisan Republican and heavily partisan Democrat, and then there are just people who are upset with the amount of money that’s in politics right now,” Colbert said.  “I think that this (app) offers an appeal for all of them.”

This new BuyPartisan app allows you to walk through your local grocery store and scan the barcode of the store’s products to inform you of the manufacturer’s political contributions.  On the iTunes page, BuyPartisan uses the company Coca Cola as an example of their process.  If you were to scan a bottle of Coca Cola, you would see that the corporation as a whole gives 49% of their donations to the Republican Party, 33.25% to the Democrat Party, and 17.75% to others.  The app then breaks down the political contributions of Coca Cola’s board of directors, the CEO, political action committees, and employees.  The iTunes description of the app concludes with: “Simply put, BuyPartisan empowers consumers with awareness of the true impact of the campaign spending by the companies behind the products we all buy every day.”

Most consumers are becoming very health conscious when it comes to the products they purchase in grocery stores.  Walk through any grocery store, anywhere in America, and you’ll find a number of people flipping products around for their content.  Consumers are becoming more and more conscious of what they put into their body.  The most important on the list of ingredients is the product’s fat content; the amount of calories the product contains; and the various other additives the product has in it.  Most consumers, if the makers of BuyPartisan are to be believed, haven’t paid enough attention to the political leanings of manufacturer of said products.  They may not have the time, or they may not be so political that they care what a corporation does with the money they give them by purchasing their products.

Yet companies that make products in the grocery aisles pour billions of dollars into the political system,” CBS correspondent Nancy Cordes reports, “And (this smartphone app) is giving new meaning to voting with your wallet.”

It’s what Matt Colbert calls a “Eureka moment!”  He says, “So you go, ‘Oh my God, I wasn’t aware of that!’” after scanning the product to find out that a majority of that manufacturer’s political contributions go to causes that are against your worldview.  The iTunes description states that: “BuyPartisan works like a nutritional label for your political values.”

According to CBS News, the Spend Consciously, Inc., BuyPartisan app gleans its information from publicly available data compiled by non-profit groups like the Center for Responsible Politics, the Institute for State Money in Politics, and the Sunlight Foundation.

Although this app has proven relatively popular, attracting 100,000 users as of 9/2/2014, not everyone is a fan.  The usually partisan Washington Post editorial board worries that “If the app succeeds, it would be a sign that Democrats and Republicans aren’t even willing to do business with one another any longer.”  They further state: “…We hope BuyPartisan fails.”

Yet, Sunlight Foundation’s Gabriela Schneider counters this fear, saying:

When I go to vote and when I go to make a purchase, I should know what’s the politics behind that.  I should be able to know who’s behind the political ad that’s telling me to vote this way or that way.”

At the very least, states the CBS article, this app makes you look at your household products in a different way.

The app showed 95 percent of contributions made by Quilted Northern toilet papers went to Republicans.  The parent company, Georgia Pacific, is owned by Koch Industries.

So for those that really care about it and who like that side, they can buy it,” Colbert said. “And for those that don’t like that side, they can go, ‘Maybe I don’t want to buy it.  Maybe there’s a different toilet paper I want.’”

Colbert said his next goal is to enable people to see what companies spend on specific issues they care about such as immigration or gay rights.

The one problem with this app is that it doesn’t, as of this writing, allow the user to trumpet their social consciousness.  Or, as Michael Hausam, of Communities Digital News, asks, “What good is the app if you can’t broadcast the results of your buying decisions to everyone?  In this day and age, is a symbolic gesture really worth it if you can’t announce it to everyone in social media?”  The entire purpose of this app seems defeated by the very anonymity of it.  Some people are so partisan that this may still appeal to them, but most people engage in social consciousness for the very purpose of announcing to others, and for the subsequent superiority they gain gain for those actions.  Other apps allow you to take selfies while recycling, and gaining carbon credits, and to hear you care in audio clips spouting off about about the latest social injustice, but BuyPartisan expects you to engage in the described pursuits in utter anonymity.  It just seems self-defeating.

The BuyPartisan makers may want to consider updating their app with a mechanism, similar to a health tracker app, that not only allows the user to provide either an audio clip, with verbal verification provided by the grocery store clerk, or a photo of you holding up the product(s) with the grocery store clerk in your background.  This would further substantiate your allegiance with the worldview.  The makers may also want to consider giving BuyPartisan users partisan points, and allegiance awards, to allow users to express subtle forms of superiority with which their correct-minded friends can either compete, or stew over.  The makers could provide goals that once achieved could allow the user to show their friends that they’ve achieved a sheriff’s badge of social consciousness; an enlightened emblem of epistemology; and finally for those that achieve the supreme state of consciousness: the John Lennon Jewel of Just Cause.

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