Deep canvassing is a structured interview that uses long empathic conversations with the intention of shifting participant's beliefs. Though deep canvassing emerged from traditional political canvassing, deep canvassing has been shown to be an effective way to change political beliefs. Deep canvassing has been used by researchers and activists for decades to garner support for political and/or social ideologies. Deep canvassing has been used for years to gain traction for issues surrounding the LGBTQ+ community, animal rights, and racial justice.
The idea originated in 2012, at the Los Angeles LGBT Center when staffers decided to talk to people who voted against same sex marriage to understand them better. After the tactic was used in a pro-marriage-equality campaign in Minnesota, Steve Deline, Ella Barrett, and David Fleischer enlisted professors David Broockman and Josh Kalla to study the efficacy of the tactic.
Deep canvassing was used by People's Action in the 2020 United States presidential election because of its efficiency in persuasion, democracy, and ethics. Prior to the election, deep canvassing was promoted as an inclusive, value-based, communication strategy that works as a strong means of political persuasion—this is because of its ability to extend a path into advocation for change through like-minded social groups, its ability to position voters as a central facet of community organizing, and its effectiveness.
In 2014, a paper by Michael J. LaCour, When contact changes minds, was released showing that longer and 'deeper' conversation can change minds but was retracted the following year for having falsified data.
Kalla and Broockman's study, published in 2016, found that ten minute conversations did have an impact on residents’ views of transgender issues.
In 2017, Kalla and Broockman published another study that found brief door-to-door canvassing, had nearly zero effect on voting choices. Of their six studies, Kalla and Brookman have found that deep canvassing does have measurable effects.
In 2017, Changing the Conversation Together was launched as an organization of concerned citizens building a national corps of deep canvassers. This volunteer based and professionally-led organization helped flip Staten Island in 2018 and Pennsylvania in 2020.
The process of deep canvassing can be understood like a layer cake. It typically begins by building rapport with participants, then, the canvasser tells a story of significance to the topic at hand, and lastly the participant's experiences are explored.
Brennan and Jackson studied the dialogical process of deep canvassing. They worked with Showing Up for Racial Justice New York City (SUFRJNYC) and studied the organization's facilitation of a deep canvassing conversation about reparations for Black Americans. The canvassing conversation was semi-structured and followed the initial script given to the canvassers. Participants were first asked to rate their initial attitudes about reparations on a numerical scale of 1-10. The conversations with participants included asking about their life experiences and that informed their current beliefs The canvassers were encouraged to actively listen to the participants, tell personal stories, and avoid using facts in their conversations.
There was also found to be four process themes of deep canvassing when performing data analysis of canvassing conversations; these themes were Interpersonal agreement, Intervoice dynamics, Authoring the self and the other, and Personal experience.
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