The Yes on 3 campaign in Massachusetts engaged potential voters through a communication method called deep canvassing in-person engagements to move hearts and minds on transgender people (Kling, 2018). The process took place from May 2018 to November 2018 (Kling, 2018).
Problems and Purpose
The process of deep canvassing seeks to address the issue of societal prejudice against often misunderstood or misrepresented populations, which in this case involves transgender people in Massachusetts, whose civil rights have been targeted by ballot initiative (Chen, 2016; Kling, 2018). The problems addressed by the process include determining values which can connect transgender people to the average Massachusetts voter, preparing and training people supportive of transgender people to have meaningful door-to-door engagements and how to shift attitudes towards transgender people overtime leading up to the November election (Kling, 2018). Through the process, the Yes on 3 campaign sought to reduce the elements of prejudice when voters examine the ballot measure, so voters can make more informed decisions based on the merits of the initiative (Kling, 2018).
Background History and Context
A. Yes on 3
The effort to bring full comprehensive non-discrimination protections to transgender people in Massachusetts began in 2007, and after four years of advocacy, the legislature passed protections in credit, education, employment and housing (Dunn, 2018). Lawmakers however left out public accommodations protections, covering hotels, stores, restaurants, medical clinics as well as places like washrooms and locker rooms, thus prompting the creation of Freedom of All Massachusetts in 2015 to get those protections (Dunn, 2018). According to findings from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, transgender people in Massachusetts reported being denied equal treatment, verbal harassment and physical violence in areas of public accommodation, including 30% experiencing mistreatment at least once in 2015 because they were transgender (National Center for Transgender Equality, 2017). With strong support in both houses of the Massachusetts legislature and signed by Republican Governor Charlie Baker, public accommodations protections for transgender people passed in 2016, and violators could face potential fines or jail time if found guilty of discrimination. When the opposition, arguing the definition of gender identity would lead criminals and sex offenders to abuse the law, collected enough signatures to put the measure before the voters, it became Question 3 (DeCosta-Klipa, 2018). A no vote on Question 3 would overturn the law, while a yes vote on Question 3 would keep things as they are; proponents saying the opposition concerns are unfounded (DeCosta-Klipa, 2018).
B. Deep Canvassing
While the power of conversations to shift opinions and attitudes has been long known, the concept of deep canvassing dates back to the aftermath of the Proposition 8 campaign in 2008, when Californians voted to ban same-sex marriage in the state (Issenberg, 2014; James- Harvill, 2017). Instead of training canvassers to read from a fixed script hoping it would be persuasive to voters, Dave Fleischer of the Los Angeles LGBT Leadership Lab theorized canvassers could move voters more on same-sex marriage by building rapport with voters, figuring how why people voted against same sex couples and have low-stakes conversations about their experiences or biases (Issenberg; 2014; James-Harvill, 2017). While traditional canvassers can reach dozens of doors in an hour, Fleischer said a deep canvasser may only reach a fraction due to longer, more personal nature of the conversations, but voters are more likely to remember these conversations for many months (Fuld, 2017). This is supported by findings of the Pew Research Center which found Americans with relatable personal stories about gay and lesbian people were more likely to support same-sex marriage in 2013 (Drake, 2013). Researchers found a similar result when testing personal stories on transgender people and likelihood to support transgender rights in 2017 (Brown, 2017).
The success of person to person contact changing attitudes towards LGBT Americans gained national attention with a 2014 study conducted by LaCour and Green, which was later retracted due to misrepresented incentives and statistical inconsistencies (McNutt, 2015). While LaCour and Green (2014) found only gay canvassers effective in reducing homophobia over several months, Broockman and Kalla (2016) found reductions in transphobia over three months, regardless of the gender identity of the person canvassing participants, even when voters were exposed to opposition messages. Campaigns focusing on transgender people in Anchorage and now Massachusetts have since deployed deep canvassing as an engagement strategy due to transgender public accommodation protections being used as a wedge issue by opposition groups (Holden, 2018).
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The process was organized by Freedom for All Massachusetts, a broad bipartisan coalition formed in 2015 to work on LGBTQ civil rights, which now leads the Yes on 3 campaign in Massachusetts. The funding comes from Freedom for All Massachusetts and its coalition partners.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The process involves identifying and recruiting Freedom for All Massachusetts volunteers, both transgender and non-transgender, to attend training meetings at location sites such as union halls, community centers, etc. (Kling, 2018). It’s unknown from Kling (2018) whether Freedom for All Massachusetts had a preference for volunteers who had previously been canvassers on campaigns, but both Calcagno (2018) and Sosin (2018) provided examples of canvassers as young as 15 years old serving in a leadership pipeline, and Ebbert (2018) and Holden (2018) mentioned the campaign hired canvassers to ensure they met target goals. The examples provided by Kling (2018) and Ebbert (2018) talk about how dozens of people had over a thousand conversations with voters over the course of a day, being trained and evaluated for the conversations afterwards.
Regarding identifying voters, Freedom for All Massachusetts determined certain cities including Quincy, Lowell, Northampton, Fall River, Worcester and Springfield as key areas of engagement, and targeted registered voters who they deemed likely to support issues of fairness based on their demographics and likelihood to be swayed to vote yes on Question 3 from campaign models. (Ebbert, 2018). The volunteers receive the addresses, name and party affiliation of each of these voters for their door engagements with the ability to collect notes on how the conversations went (Ebbert, 2018).
Methods and Tools Used
Before each canvassing date, participants are brought to organizing spaces where they receive training on deep canvassing, build familiarity with the script and practice values based messaging and active listening techniques if needed, as well as how to gather information from their conversations (Kling 2018). The values based messaging training would include preparation on how to counter opposition campaign ads on restrooms and locker rooms, so when canvassers watch the ads with voters, they can help them work through feelings of discomfort or fear (Davis, 2018).
After receiving their list of people to canvass door to door, the volunteer canvassers knock on the doors of identified voters, and after starting the conversation, either start a series of questions which allow for the voter to process their feelings on an issue or present a video showing the opposition messaging (Broockman and Kalla, 2016; Davis, 2018). Both Broockman and Kalla (2016) and Kling (2018) describe the process as informing voters about the issue and asking voters to explain their views, while Davis (2018) said the intervention increases a person’s familiarity with transgender people and decreases the effectiveness of opposition scare tactics. Both Broockman and Kalla as well as Kling discuss how canvassers ask voters to talk about times they experienced discrimination for being perceived as being different and allowed them opportunities to relate or understand transgender people (Broockman and Kalla, 2016; Kling 2018). As a transgender woman, Kling, found an opportunity to share her identity with the voter and related personal experiences of why the ballot measure impacted her, while at the same time actively listening for responses and responding to them (Kling, 2018). Another example brought forth by Sosin (2018) describes a non-binary teenager named Katherine, who listened to voters leaning no on Question 3, but managed to move them by removing confusion on the issue and sharing very personal stories as a student (Sosin, 2018). The voters are asked to see if their opinions may have changed from the engagement (Broockman and Kalla, 2016; Kling, 2018). The voter may remain undecided after the exchange, which takes between 10 to 20 minutes, but will be repeated again in the future, based on report backs on the exchange to the campaign (Kling, 2018).
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Interactions Between Campaign and Volunteers
The deep canvassing process around Question 3 involved two types of interactions, one between volunteers and campaign trainers, while the other involved volunteers and potential voters (Kling, 2018; Wu, 2018). Towards the final weeks of the campaign, Freedom for All Massachusetts had 50 paid staffers, 30 canvassers and nearly 2,000 volunteers with 300 working weekly, but those volunteers did face to face and phone contacting of volunteers (Holden, 2018). The campaign’s door-to-door deep canvassing field effort managed to reach 25,000 voters from May to October, and targeted reaching 3,000 people a week through the final weeks of the effort (Holden, 2018). The Yes on 3 campaign centered transgender people in the campaign as they took on roles ranging from volunteer, spokespeople to campaign leadership, however people of all backgrounds participated (Calcagno, 2018; Holden, 2018).
In regards to the campaign training process, Kling (2018) reports a group meeting with dozens of volunteers at a union hall the morning of her training which involved building familiarity with a script. Meantime, Wu (2018) describes having volunteer trainer giving support for having meaningful conversations with voters, so these training events in multiple cities with groups guided by skilled, often peer volunteers. According to Davis (2018) and Ebbert (2018), volunteers received training in how to counter misleading messaging about restrooms and locker rooms as well as how to talk about opposition ads, which try to relate transgender people to sex offenders to scare viewers. The campaign argues talking about the opposition ads in advance and working through voter discomfort afterwards reduces their effectiveness (Davis, 2018; Ebbert, 2018). The trainers would show volunteers how to use portable screens, like tablets, to show the ads (Holden, 2018). The deep canvassing training did not provide volunteers much decision making other than how to incorporate their own personal stories to help relate and navigate voters through the conversation, however, volunteers provided feedback to the campaign in debrief sessions after their canvassing experiences (Kling, 2018). There is significantly less expressed to the public about the interactions between volunteers and the campaign staff, which often expressed in generalities, than between volunteers and voters.
Interactions Between Volunteers and Voters
The volunteers participating in deep canvassing events would walk door to door in neighborhoods, targeting cities deemed critical by the campaign, knocking on the homes of potential voters provided on a list based on known demographics and likelihood to support fairness according to campaign models (Ebbert, 2018; Wu, 2018). The volunteer canvassers would attempt to meet these people face to face, averaging about three to six conversations per hour often lasting about 10 to 20 minutes a piece (Kling, 2018). According to Kling (2018), she began her conversation determining where the voter stood on non-discrimination protections for transgender people, which led to questions including whether the voter knew transgender people, experienced discrimination or had any concerns, in order to listen and identify shared values. While Kling does not describe showing the campaign ad, others like Wu (2018) and Ebbert (2018) describes how showing a video can prompt responses not provoked by questions and reduce the erosion of support. At the end, Kling (2018) would ask the voter where she stood on non-discrimination in spaces like restrooms and locker rooms on a range from strongly support to strongly oppose to evaluate the impact of the conversation. The process did not involve any decision on the part of the voter besides a willingness to engage in conversation, but the engagement may lead to conversations on future days to see where voters stand after each interaction (2018).
Many deep canvassing attempts ended in rejection, but those who reported conversations between voter and canvasser had varied results (Ebbert, 2018). Both Wu (2018) and Sosin (2018) reported many did not know the rights of transgender people would be on the ballot. Kling (2018) describes how an undecided voter became more open, but remained undecided, yet Sosin (2018) discusses how a young canvasser moved a voter who they uncovered as a supporter of transgender people, but thought they needed to vote no. Ebbert (2018) describes how the notes canvassers collect on voters is really up to the discretion of the volunteer. Supporters of the Yes on 3 who have difficulties talking about transgender people or make unfortunate remarks may have their support regarded with skepticism, thus warranting further engagement (Ebbert, 2018). According to Wu (2018), volunteers may have skepticism towards voters who speak generally against discrimination towards gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, but fail to articulate specific instances or personal experiences, so further questions or presenting the opposition ad may result in clearer reactions. While Wu reported people being open to talk about Question 3, and many people being supportive, but he noted prior exposure to the opposition ad did result in reduced support (Wu, 2018). In the end, the deep canvassing is time intensive process for both the volunteer and the voter, which at times can backfire and turn voters off, so informing how long something might take may be necessary (Ebbert, 2018).
In several examples of deep canvassing from the Massachusetts Yes on 3 campaign, the canvasser discussing transgender non-discrimination had also been transgender or gender non- binary, which according to Calcagno (2018) was the intention of the campaign. According to Kling (2018), she shared her transgender status with a voter because she felt safe enough ten minutes into the conversation, and the disclosure surprised the voter. Sosin (2018) describes how a non-binary teenager sharing their stories of hardship in high school to an adult who leaned no as difficult and dehumanizing (2018). Ebbert (2018) details the experience canvassing door to door with a transgender woman who used non-threatening gestures, encountered a supporter of Question 3 who asked for her previous name and addressed a supporter’s question on whether a transgender woman would use a urinal. Because the process of deep canvassing is about engaging voters and provoke conversation, volunteers often tolerate personal inquiries, contentious arguments or poorly phrased comments, but Ebbert (2018) recognizes transgender people can make a big difference for voters who do not know them.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The various examples of conversations between the volunteer canvasser and voter indicates some increased likelihood of knowing the existence of Question 3, increased familiarity with transgender people, some increased likelihood to relate or emphasize with the issue and in some cases as shift in perspective about their support of Question 3 or transgender people (Davis, 2018; Ebbert, 2018; Kling, 2018; Sosin, 2018; Wu, 2018). While difficult to identify exact instances in Massachusetts from media reports how long voters retained the conversation, but
the randomized trial Broockman and Kalla (2016) conducted of deep canvassing techniques, found the conversations reduced transphobia more than the average decrease previous studies on homophobia. The effects lasted more than three months (Broockman and Kalla, 2016).
Therefore, the biggest indicator of success of the process may be the result of the November vote, where Massachusetts voters supported Yes on 3 with nearly 68% of the vote, and campaign staff placed much success on a field campaign which involved 100,000 conversations with voters, a portion of which came through the deep canvassing process (Calcagno, 2018; Davis, 2018). As for the outcome for volunteers, the intention to center the voices and experiences of transgender and non-binary people resulted in some referring to themselves as ambassadors, taking positions of leadership and actively involved in the implementation of strategy such as the messaging around the opposition ads (Calcagno, 2018; Ebbert, 2018; Holden, 2018). More generally, volunteers like Wu (2018) and Kling (2018) experienced positive feelings having completed the task of talking to voters despite any negative, challenging conversations, and Calcagno (2018) and Davis (2018) expressed relief in preserving the existing non-discrimination protections in Massachusetts.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Just on the result from Massachusetts result, the investment in deep canvassing has initially proven promising in being able to move, loosen or slow the erosion of opinions of misunderstood, marginalized and stereotyped populations like transgender people (Chen, 2016; Davis, 2018; Kling, 2018). According to Holden (2018), the Massachusetts campaign confirmed valuable lessons learned from previous campaigns about how to respond to opposition messaging demonizing transgender people in restrooms and locker rooms by facing the issue head on and using the opposition’s message to neutralize its impact. The previous inability of LGBT efforts to implement strategy on talking about transgender people and the bathroom conversation, such as in Houston in 2015, had limited the progress on advancing comprehensive LGBT non- discrimination in more states (Holden, 2018). According to Davis (2018), the Freedom for All Massachusetts campaign provided a playbook which could be implemented throughout the country familiarize Americans with transgender people and advance LGBT protections.
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Yes on 3 Website: https://www.freedommassachusetts.org/
Lead image: Freedom for All Masssachusetts/Facebook, http://bit.ly/2D7uZEV
The original submission of this case entry was written by Andrea Zekis, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. The views expressed in the current version are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service