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:
- Surface honest opinion
- Share emotional stories
- Process concerns (for example: ‘thank you for listening–let’s pause for a moment and ask how you feel about this issue now?’)
- Make the case for the issue
- 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.