Face-to-face Community Outreach Program Tested by Miami Organization SAVE & L.A. LGBT Center Measurably Reduces Anti-Transgender Prejudice

SAVE LogoA study published today in Science found that door-to-door canvassers from the South Florida LGBTQ advocacy group SAVE, employing a novel approach directed and developed by the Los Angeles LGBT Center termed “deep canvassing,” measurably reduced voters’ prejudice against transgender people and increased support for laws that protect transgender people from discrimination.

In recent years, the LGBTQ movement both nationwide and locally has achieved some of its greatest victories, such as the passage of comprehensive nondiscrimination protections in Miami-Dade County, as well as court victories in SAVE’s 2014 marriage equality case in Florida and for nationwide marriage advocates at the Supreme Court in 2015.

However, in response to these victories, the movement for LGBTQ equality has come under some of the fiercest backlash in its history. Amid widely publicized resistance to marriage equality such as that of Kim Davis in Kentucky, SAVE fought back repeated attempts by Florida lawmakers to pass anti-LGBTQ bills during the 2015-2016 legislative session, including a proposal which would criminalize the use of restrooms by transgender Floridians as well as one which would legally sanction discrimination against LGBTQ Floridians.

In response to — and in anticipation of — a legislative or electoral campaign to repeal nondiscrimination protections or curtail the human rights of LGBTQ people (and particularly people who are transgender), SAVE set out to find out how to best reach voters at a granular level in order to reduce the very biases in which anti-LGBTQ campaigns are grounded. In order to answer this question, the LGBTQ advocacy group, the foremost such organization in South Florida, teamed up to conduct a scientific study with the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Leadership LAB as well as researchers from Stanford and the University of California Berkeley.

“We found that a single, approximately 10-minute conversation with a stranger produced large reductions in prejudice that persisted for at least the three months studied to date; were resistant to counterargument; and affected political attitudes,” said David Broockman, assistant professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

He and Joshua Kalla, PhD student at the University of California at Berkeley, co-authored the new study. Kalla added that “the decline in prejudice against transgender people is comparable to the prejudice reduction against gay and lesbian people that took more than a decade to achieve.”

The groups achieving the reduction in prejudice, SAVE and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, welcomed the academics’ independent measurement of the canvassing program and the publication of their findings. “Our ability to change voters’ hearts and minds has been measured, this time for real,” said Dave Fleischer, director of the L.A. LGBT Center’s Leadership LAB.

Last year, when Broockman and Kalla were graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley, they uncovered data irregularities in a December 2014 Science article studying the Center’s same innovative grassroots approach. That study was retracted after they (along with an additional colleague, Professor Peter Aronow of Yale) uncovered the study’s flaws. Broockman, Kalla, and Aronow subsequently won a Leamer-Rosenthal Prize for Open Social Science for discovering the discrepancies.

“Our new study’s findings differ from those in the retracted article in an important way,” Kalla noted. “Unlike the original study which found only gay canvassers could lastingly reduce prejudice, we find both transgender canvassers and non-transgender allies were effective. Canvassers do not need to be members of an affected group to lastingly reduce prejudice against that group.”

The new study by Broockman and Kalla measured the impact of a voter treatment developed by the L.A. LGBT Center called “deep canvassing.” A “deep canvass” conversation differs from a conventional canvass conversation in both length and reciprocity, with the conversations taking 10-15 minutes as the canvasser listens to voters’ experiences and responds conversationally rather than reciting a script or talking points.

From January through June 2015, the L.A. LGBT Center partnered with SAVE, South Florida’s largest and longest-serving LGBT organization. Together, they canvassed voters in conservative neighborhoods in Miami six months after the Miami-Dade County Commission voted to include transgender people in the county’s Human Rights Ordinance.

The result: with a rigorous randomized trial — just like a clinical trial — Broockman and Kalla found that the deep canvass conversations changed roughly 1 in 10 voters’ attitudes about transgender people. The researchers also found an impact on feelings towards transgender people comparable to the decline in prejudice against gay and lesbian people seen between 1998 and 2012.

In repeated re-measurement, this impact persisted without decay for at least three months. This enduring effect stands in marked contrast to other published measurements of conventional attempts at voter persuasion and prejudice reduction through TV ads or mail or in standard phone or canvass conversations. Other research rarely tracks the long-term impact of such activities. When it does, it has found that these conventional tactics tend to have little or no impact; typically, their impact dissipates within days as voters return to their old points of view.

Broockman and Kalla found that the conversations were broadly effective: Democratic and Republican voters, liberal and conservative voters, female and male voters, and voters who were Caucasian, Latino, and African-American all exhibited a profound shift.

“The immediate practical value is that we know we are reducing anti-transgender prejudice here in Miami,” said Justin Klecha, director of campaigns at SAVE. SAVE has continued deep canvassing in its ongoing campaign to pass statewide non-discrimination protections and make Miami-Dade County a more accepting place for transgender people to live and work.

“These conversations are a real game-changer for us here in Florida,” said Tony Lima, executive director at SAVE. “Because of these conversations and their impact, we’re getting closer to being the first state in the South to pass statewide protections for LGBT people.”

Commenting on the larger significance, Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean said, “When our community faces anti-LGBT ballot measures, it has become abundantly clear we need more than 30-second ads to win. We’ve long believed that if LGBT people and our allies could meet and engage voters in heartfelt conversations, we could reduce their prejudice. It’s exciting to have the data to prove that deep canvassing works, and gratifying to share this powerful new approach with LGBT leaders and progressive allies throughout the country.”

The broader applicability of this approach to other issues is an area for future research. Nevertheless, Broockman and Kalla note that their findings suggest “it may be in campaigns’ own best interest to place renewed emphasis on a personal exchange of initially opposing views, even regarding controversial issues and across partisan lines.”

The independent study was made possible by the Gill Foundation, which provided grants for the data measurement costs incurred by Broockman and Kalla for the research published in Science, as well as significant funding for both SAVE and the Los Angeles LGBT Center to conduct the prejudice reduction canvassing. The participation of the Los Angeles LGBT Center was also made possible by generous support from the Walter and Evelyn Haas Jr. Fund and the William B. Wiener Jr. Foundation.

Neither of the study’s authors is affiliated with the Los Angeles LGBT Center or SAVE, nor did they receive compensation from them for the research.

“The bottom line is that this new study shows we have discovered an important, first insight into how to reduce prejudice,” said Fleischer.

The article in Science is available at the following link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aad9713.

About SAVE: SAVE is South Florida’s foremost advocate for the local LGBTQ community. Our mission is to aid in the election of candidates for political office who will work to promote, protect and defend equality for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. Established in 1993, SAVE accomplishes this mission through education initiatives, outreach, grassroots organizing, and advocacy. Starting with the landmark passage of Miami’s Human Rights Ordinance in 1998 to the recent litigation spearheaded by SAVE which resulted in marriage equality in Florida in January 2015, SAVE continues to lead the fight for LGBT equality through grassroots action, political advocacy, and community outreach.



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