App Helps Conservative Parents Choose Where to Spend on Back-to-School

By Benjamin Herold — August 14, 2014 4 min read
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Worried that your back-to-school dollars might go to a company that supports liberal causes such as gay marriage, abortion rights, or gun control?

Chris Walker wants to help.

“Too often, as conservatives we haven’t held our dollars accountable,” said Walker, the executive director of Nashville-based 2nd Vote, the nonprofit organization behind a self-described “conservative shopper app” that rates companies according to their political leanings.

“We’re helping people align their dollars with their values,” Walker said.

Here’s how the app works:

After reviewing tax filings, public statements, records of direct and indirect political contributions, and more, 2nd Vote has created a database that keeps track of the corporate donations, sponsorships, advocacy, and policies of roughly 500 companies.

Those companies are then scored on an issue-by-issue basis, receiving points for support for conservative causes and losing points for support of liberal causes.

Soon, the organization—which launched last October and has seen its app downloaded almost 90,000 times, according to Walker—will also provide Facebook and Twitter integration so users can share what they find with others.

At least one other company, Buycott, offers a similar app that has been described in media reports as oriented towards those with more liberal leanings.

It’s no secret that back-to-school is a big shopping time: The National Retail Federation, a Washington-based retail trade association, projected last month that the average U.S. family with children in grades K-12 student will spend $669 on back-to-school apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, up 5 percent over last year.

A guide released by 2nd Vote lists top conservative and liberal companies in those primary back-to-school shopping categories.

Not surprisingly, 2nd Vote determined that Hobby Lobby is the best place for conservatives to buy their classroom supplies. The Oklahoma City-based arts and crafts retailer with nearly 600 stores nationwide was deemed by the app to operate “in a manner consistent with biblical principles.” That stance that gained national attention as part of a controversial, contested June Supreme Court ruling that the federal government cannot through the Affordable Care Act mandate that “closely-held” corporations pay for insurance coverage for contraception.

“We’ve seen what [Hobby Lobby has] done on issues like Obamacare and donations to Catholic Charities and other-pro family groups, so that’s obviously a pretty natural one for us,” Walker said.

Reflecting the growing digital presence in K-12 education (and the raison d’etre for this blog), technology is one of the key categories for which 2nd Vote examined retailers. Almost one-third of families’ back-to-school spending will be for electronics, according to the National Retail Federation.

But when it comes to ed-tech, trouble could loom for conservative shoppers, according to 2nd Vote: All five companies listed in 2nd Vote’s guides—Apple, Best Buy, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft—were deemed liberal.

Dell took a hit for having a perfect rating in the 2014 Buyer’s Guide of the Human Rights Campaign, a national group that advocates for equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

And Apple got the lowest possible score, in part because of its support for the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress.

So where should conservative parents buy ed-tech products for their kids?

“Across the board, it’s pretty bleak on the technology front,” Walker said. “That’s the nature of Silicon Valley and the West Coast.”

[UPDATE (August 27, by Sam Atkeson): 2nd Vote announced this week the addition of education to its list of scoring categories. Specifically, the app will now also rate corporations based on their support for or opposition to the Common Core State Standards and the issue of school choice. Opposition to the common core, from 2nd Vote’s perspective, enhances a company’s conservative credentials—though a number of prominent conservatives support the standards. Support for school choice also boosts an organization’s conservative standing.

In a conference call on August 26, Walker expressed his organization’s opposition to what it sees as an expansion of federal control over education. Decisions regarding school choice and curriculum should be made by teachers and parents at the local level, Walker argued, not by bureaucrats.

Currently, all of the over 50 corporations listed on the app have received a scoring of 1 or 2, meant to indicate liberal leanings and support for Common Core. Often, this support is tangential; Coca Cola, for example, received a rating of 2 based on its support for the Center for American Progress and its membership in the Business Roundtable—both of which have expressed support for common core.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.