Kawahata’s method is simple: She matches with people in battleground states and uses the question of whether they’ve made up minds on who to vote for as an icebreaker, supplanting more traditional opening lines like “What’s your sign?” If her match is responsive and pro-Biden, she goes further and asks if they’ve made a voting plan; if they’re really on board, she talks to them about potentially volunteering.
“Tens of thousands of people are volunteering [for the Biden-Harris campaign] right now, which is awesome, and I’d like to encourage them to go through these traditional channels,” Kawahata says. “But for a lot of young people, the barrier to entry can be hard. You have to attend these trainings and find time frames that work for you and sign up, so it can be pretty hard to get people on board as traditional volunteers.”
Kawahata doesn’t spend much time trying to sway people’s votes: “If they’re a Trump supporter, you want to respect their time,” she explains. She sees the person-to-person aspect of her Hinge method as an organizational benefit for providing committed Biden voters—as well as undecideds—with direct information. “On Hinge, you have a human being who can actually tell you, ‘Hey, early voting starts on this day in your state, and if you need to find where you can vote in person, here’s the website where you can look up your polling place.’ Why not provide that information in the easiest way possible, on a platform that someone is opening five times a day anyway?”
Kawahata’s methods are certainly unusual, but there’s nothing clearly illegal or unethical about a private citizen deploying them, according to U.C. Irvine professor and election-law expert Rick Hasen. “I don’t see any legal issue in terms of election law,” says Hasen, adding, “People can reach out to others on social media or via text and try to convince them to vote one way or the other.” As far as the apps go, Hinge’s terms of service dictate that users shall not “harass, bully, stalk, intimidate, assault, defame, harm or otherwise mistreat any person,” but there’s no specific language indicating that what Kawahata is doing isn’t permissible.
What started as Kawahata’s passion project has grown into a bona fide movement known as #DateSaveAmerica, with interested parties joining a WhatsApp group to discuss potential outreach methods. For Ann Yang, a Biden voter who was inspired by Kawahata’s idea, blending election conversation with more typical first-Hinge-chat topics has proved effective:
With less than 48 hours until polls around the country close, it’s unclear whether Kawahata and her #DateSaveAmerica cohort will be able to turn the tide of the election using solely their dating-app prowess. One thing is clear, though: They’re sowing the seeds for genuine political conversations in a new platform. “We’re seeing that things are really personal in the political space, just like they are in the dating space, and there are so many opportunities there,” says Kawahata.