NBC News have relaunched their popular Election Confessions project to coincide with the US midterm election.

The project enables the electorate to anonymously submit their inner-most thoughts and views on the political event for publication.

An anonymous submission on Election Confessions webpage

During the 2016 presidential election, NBC News received over 250,000 submissions through text, phone, and handwritten submissions, presented on a webpage of sticky-notes.

This time around, several thousand submissions have been sent in over the month since it began re-promoting the project, presented through a scrollable list of pull-quotes that viewers can browse, with some sticky-notes resurfacing.

Anna Brand, special projects editor for NBC News, spoke to Journalism.co.uk about how the project came about and what it aims to achieve...

Anna Brand, special projects manager for NBC News

What inspired you to create Election Confessions?

I was sitting in a coffee shop in New York City when I overheard a couple of people talking about the election and the candidates. A barista began saying how he really disliked all of the candidates; the person he was talking to said that he actually liked some of what Donald Trump had to say — but didn’t really want to tell anyone. A woman they were with chimed in, asking if it made her a ‘bad feminist’ if she didn’t really want to vote for Hillary Clinton. It made me wonder: was everyone saying one thing out loud, in public, about the election but really feeling something different?

I wanted to create a safe space — something anonymous — where real people could share their thoughts about the 2016 Election and the variety of colourful candidates. Whether they were affiliated with a party for their whole lives didn’t matter if their names weren’t attached. The whole project began as an experiment for NBC News; we didn’t want the backing of the network to help spread the word at first, so we started very organically, by hanging flyers around New York.

Election Confession '16 flyers

The project was such a success, reaching millions of viewers on digital and through our network and cable channels, that we decided to bring it back for the 2018 midterm elections.

How do you decide what gets published?

I’m really looking for something personal, where someone is sharing something that they wouldn’t otherwise want to blast out on social media or talk about at Thanksgiving Dinner. We certainly receive submissions about promoting the importance of voting or wanting to see a change from the current administration, but the best ones offer a sense of secrecy.

What do you hope to achieve with the project?

The validity of polling was a huge point of contention in 2016 and continues to be. We haven’t been able to trust that the polls truly reflect the feelings of the voters. When you strip away identity, people tend to be more honest. We’re not claiming to be scientific by any means — and certainly cannot compete with NBC News’ massive polling operation — but if we’re able to shed light on a certain topic or expose sentiments otherwise hidden in polls, that would be a win for the project.

What feedback have you received from your audience so far?

The feedback has been positive. People are eager to share their thoughts, basically without limits, and they’re able to on a large platform. Of course, we then have the option of featuring what’s appropriate.

What is next?

I would love to create a data set for the confessions we received for the 2018 midterm elections. In 2016, because so much of it was experimental, we didn’t have the resources in place to organise the hundreds of thousands of responses that poured in. It could have been useful in uncovering untapped political stories.

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