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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, October 8th, 2021

Transformative change comes from dialogue, not talking points, canvassing experts say

One of the ear­ly pan­els on on the first day of Net­roots Nation 2021 took a look at deep can­vass­ing as an alter­na­tive to tra­di­tion­al can­vass­ing meth­ods for get­ting swing and inde­pen­dent vot­ers enthu­si­as­tic about pro­gres­sive causes.

Research from 2020 showed that tra­di­tion­al can­vass­ing meth­ods dur­ing cam­paigns, which tra­di­tion­al­ly cen­ter around talk­ing points and stick­ing to scripts, rarely lead to long-last­ing opin­ion changes.

This is usu­al­ly mea­sured through the per­sua­sion rate, the mea­sure of vot­ers who start­ed the con­ver­sa­tion either con­flict­ed or lean­ing slight­ly towards vot­ing for Trump and end­ed com­mit­ted to vot­ing for Biden.

Not only is the per­sua­sion rate poor, the results don’t last.

Stud­ies con­duct­ed by David Broock­man, Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor and UC Berke­ley, and Ella Bar­rett, Co-Founder of The New Con­ver­sa­tion ini­tia­tive, both fea­tured speak­ers on this pan­el, found that despite an ini­tial bump in vot­er opin­ion fol­low­ing tra­di­tion­al can­vass­ing, with­in two months of elec­tion day, there was lit­tle evi­dence that vot­er opin­ion had changed at all.

Mehrdad Aze­mun, Senior Strate­gist at Peo­ple’s Action, cit­ed these stud­ies, and went on to com­pare the per­sua­sion rates from deep can­vass­ing cam­paigns with those from tra­di­tion­al canvassing–and the results would have been enough for any cam­paign man­ag­er to start tak­ing notes. Dur­ing the ground­break­ing Geor­gia Sen­ate runoff elec­tion in 2020, “deep can­vass­ing out­reach efforts to infre­quent vot­ers result­ed in a 58.9% per­sua­sion rate.” In oth­er words, infre­quent vot­ers were more like­ly to be per­suad­ed to become com­mit­ted voters.

To fur­ther demon­strate this, lis­ten­ers were pre­sent­ed with a pre-record­ed pre­sen­ta­tion by Broock­man (who was unable to attend live due to a sched­ul­ing con­flict) demon­strat­ing the sci­ence of deep canvassing.

The effects of deep can­vass­ing in stud­ies he helped con­duct found that they could lead to “as much as a 20% increase in sup­port,” and that sup­port showed no signs of wan­ing three months after their con­ver­sa­tion with the canvassers.

This extend­ed to issues that are often weaponized by Repub­li­cans to be divi­sive issues, such as immi­grant rights or trans­gen­der rights.

So what makes deep can­vass­ing different?

The pan­elists said that it’s all about con­ver­sa­tion and dialogue.

Fol­low­ing Broock­man’s pre­sen­ta­tion, Bar­rett stepped in along­side Brooke Adams to talk about the method­ol­o­gy of deep canvassing.

Typ­i­cal­ly, she said, unde­cid­ed vot­ers are caught in an “emo­tion­al con­flict towards an issue and away from an issue.”

“Deep can­vass­ing is the oppor­tu­ni­ty for peo­ple to process their emo­tion­al con­flict,” the pan­elists explained.

They then shared a video of the method in action.

The video fea­tured Jack­son dis­cussing mar­riage equal­i­ty with an unde­cid­ed vot­er, Clint. Clint began the con­ver­sa­tion flat­ly against it.

“Can you tell me why you feel that way?” Jack­son asked.

Even­tu­al­ly, Clint revealed that his cousin had a long-term part­ner­ship with a woman, and became emo­tion­al as he described how hard it was watch­ing her and her part­ner’s inabil­i­ty to man­age each oth­er’s med­ical needs due to their not being legal­ly married–one of the many strug­gles queer cou­ples faced pri­or to the fed­er­al legal­iza­tion of same-sex marriage.

Jack­son com­pas­sion­ate­ly guid­ed Clint through his con­flict­ed feel­ings, ask­ing many ques­tions, before end­ing the con­ver­sa­tion by ask­ing Clint how he felt about mar­riage equal­i­ty after their exchange.

Con­ver­sa­tions like this, the pan­elists said, demon­strat­ed the pow­er of deep can­vass­ing through the fol­low­ing steps:

  1. Sur­face hon­est opinion
  2. Share emo­tion­al stories
  3. Process con­cerns (for exam­ple: ‘thank you for listening–let’s pause for a moment and ask how you feel about this issue now?’)
  4. Make the case for the issue
  5. Rate how the vot­er feels on a 1–10 scale.

The pan­el con­clud­ed with a tes­ti­mo­ni­al from Jill Mur­phy, a for­mer skep­tic of the method. Jill said that at first she was­n’t sure this method would work — she came to the train­ing frus­trat­ed and angry with the injus­tice and lack of empa­thy shown by oppo­si­tion vot­ers. How­ev­er, once she tried it dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with a stranger about immi­gra­tion, “by the end she was ask­ing me ques­tions!”

“[By show­ing my] vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, I had opened up hers,” she said.

At one point dur­ing the dis­cus­sion, pan­elists made clear that this method was­n’t to sway “hard oppo­nents,” but “unde­cid­ed vot­ers and soft supporters.”

Deep can­vass­ing isn’t about the recita­tion of com­mon talk­ing points, they reit­er­at­ed, but fos­ter­ing con­nec­tion, lead­ing with com­pas­sion and curios­i­ty, and giv­ing peo­ple the space to nav­i­gate their emo­tion­al conflicts.

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