WPR joins national public media initiative to meet voters where they are

'It all starts with what questions we're asking people' says special projects reporter Bridgit Bowden

A person filling out an election ballot
A voter casts an early ballot at a polling station Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, in Milwaukee. Morry Gash/ AP Photo

Wisconsin Public Radio will be a part of the national America Amplified initiative. Along with dozens of public radio stations across the country, WPR will listen to voters ahead of 2024 elections and highlight the issues most important to them.

WPR is especially interested in hearing from first-time voters with questions about candidates or elections.

WPR’s special projects reporter Bridgit Bowden chatted with “All Things Considered” host Brady Carlson about the project.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Brady Carlson: Given the name America Amplified, this isn’t just happening here in Wisconsin, right? So who’s involved? And how does this work?

Bridgit Bowden: That’s right. America Amplified is actually a collaboration between several dozen public radio stations all across the country. And it’s funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It’s really an effort to deepen engagement with communities all across the country during this very, very important election year.

In addition to traditional election coverage — what the candidates are saying when they’re visiting and that sort of thing — we and all these other stations will be focusing on what issues matter most to the people.

Here at WPR, we are particularly interested in first-time voters. So we will be connecting with people in person throughout the year and also online through a survey that we have up on our website. We’re excited to be a part of this national effort.

BC: Deepening understanding of what voters are saying and thinking in an election year is the gold standard. But it’s also challenging, because oftentimes people will use the same talking points that a candidate is making about an issue or an election. How do you get someone to go beyond those?

BB: I do think it can be difficult. But I think it all starts with what questions we’re asking people. For example, on our online survey, we’re asking people, “What is one thing that elected officials could do to make your community a better place?”

That’s not necessarily a question about the election itself, or about any sort of campaign talking points. And I think starting there really helps people think about what issues matter most to them. And then that helps our journalists know where to start and what stories we should be covering this year.

A woman holding a baby smiles as she reaches for a ballot.
Madison resident Emily Sperka receives a ballot before voting Tuesday, April 4, 2023, at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

BC: First-time voters are often, but not always, younger voters. You could imagine one of these first-time voters saying, “This is 2024. I can post on TikTok, I can post on Facebook, I can post pretty much anywhere I want about whatever I want. I don’t need America Amplified to get my thoughts out into the world.” What’s the case that you would make to someone who might feel this way to encourage them to participate?

BB: They are right, it is so easy to share your thoughts online at any time these days. But I would say that by participating in this project, you are becoming part of a group. Your voice will join many voices and many people that may care about the same things that you do.

And then our reporters will be able to identify those trends and pursue those stories, maybe take those questions to the candidates to other elected officials. And it really becomes sort of a movement as the project moves along.

BC: You mentioned that there’s an online survey, is that the first step for people who do want to get involved?

BB: Absolutely. You can fill out the web survey anytime you can find it at wpr.org/election 2024.

And on that survey, you can let us know what issues you care about this year. Or you can also ask us any question about the election that you want us to answer and we’ll do our best to follow up and get you an answer. And also on that website, you can see all of our election coverage so far, and throughout the year.