Since President Donald Trump won the state of Pennsylvania in 2016 by a razor-thin margin of 44,292 votes, a foremost question among those seeking to unseat him in 2020 has been how to win hearts and minds, particularly around hot-button issues like immigration and race. Since 2019, PA Stands Up has been pioneering the use of "deep canvassing," a strategy that involves empathetic listening and sharing experiences to create human connection and motivate political action. A new study of our efforts in partnership with People's Action and political scientists at Yale and Berkeley University shows that this approach is far more effective than traditional canvassing efforts.
This study, conducted in partnership Professors Joshua Kalla (Yale University) and David Broockman (UC Berkeley), shows that the impact of deep canvassing on voter's political views are both significant—larger than the shift away from Democrats in Michigan from 2012 to 2016; roughly equal to 6 years of change on attitudes towards gay marriage; and larger than the effects of social pressure on voter turnout in a very quiet election (the 2019 cycle). The shifts in voter attitudes produced by deep canvassing are also durable, persisting for more than 4.5 months. Finally, these conversations with voters decreased their support for Donald Trump by a significant margin—without ever even mentioning his name.
In Pennsylvania, PA Stands Up conducted more than 800 conversations in the fall of 2019 as part of the study. Since then, our team has made more than 8,000 voter contact events that have resulted in another 1,200 deep canvass conversations. . PA Stands Up organizers and our chapters are continuing this work leading up to the presidential election, talking to voters about the COVID pandemic, the economic crisis, as well as defunding the police. Diamonic Holmes, an organizer with Capital Region Stands Up, has been applying the deep canvass methodology to connect with voters about rampant police violence against Black and brown Pennsylvanians.
“Our approach to organizing to end the tyranny of police abuses has been to create as many opportunities for entry into the movement for those who have been sitting on the sidelines,” said Diamonic Holmes. "Having deep conversations, learning about the experiences of each other, and finding our overlapping interests builds the bridges we need to finally end the forces of white supremacy in our country.”
Onah Ossai, who joined Capital Region Stands Up as an organizer after talking with a deep canvasser on her own doorstep, is excited about the possibilities of this research. “This experiment was conducted during two very different time periods, before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, utilizing in-person door knocking conversations and conversations by phone. This means we can and will make a real impact during these difficult times, but our capacity will not end when things go back to the new normal. People are hungry for human contact, and there is no time for us to waste.” (Listen to Onah talk about her experience on the doorstep with one voter here.)
As the 2020 election nears, PA Stands Up plans to make the deep canvass approach central to our voter persuasion efforts. We've been running weekly training sessions to enable our volunteer canvassers to have this kind of intentional connection with their neighbors. They will be part of the more than 1 million voter contact attempts we will make in the leadup to November 3.
To learn more about Capital Region Stands Up's deep canvassing work or our effort to defeat Trump and elect progressive champions in November, please contact Michael Fisher (email@example.com)