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To win over people on same-sex marriage, LGBT canvassers got very personal




Stephen Deline with the LA LGBT Center knocks on doors as canvassers talked with voters about why they didn't support gay marriage.
Stephen Deline with the LA LGBT Center knocks on doors as canvassers talked with voters about why they didn't support gay marriage.
LA LGBT Center

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Update May 28, 2015: "Science" has officially retracted this study, with editor-in-chief Marcia McNutt noting that co-author Michael LaCour does not agree with the retraction. In correspondence with LaCour's attorney, the magazine says the funding and sponsorship for the surveys were falsified.

However, LaCour tells "Science" that he will issue a full report in his defense.

Update May 21, 2015: Since this story first aired, the co-author of this study Donald Green has asked "Science" for a retraction. Green writes that he was contacted by two graduate students hoping to replicate the study. They found irregularities in the surveys Green's co-author Michael LaCour gathered to test people's views on same-sex marriage.

Green reached out to LaCour to see and vet the original data, himself, but LaCour has not been able to prove he conducted those surveys at all. In his letter to "Science," Green suggests the data may have been faked and that, "Michael LaCour’s failure to produce the raw data coupled with the other concerns noted above undermines the credibility of the findings."

KPCC reached out to both Green and LaCour, both of whom have no comment at this time.

The LA LGBT Center issued this statement:

"We were shocked and disheartened when we learned yesterday of the apparent falsification of data by independent researcher Michael LaCour,” said Los Angeles LGBT Center Leadership LAB Director David Fleischer. “We sought external and independent evaluation of our voter canvassing project to determine the efficacy of the work through unbiased analysis. We are not in a position to fully interpret or assess the apparent irregularities in the research as we do not have access to the full body of information and, by design, have maintained an arms-length relationship with the evaluation of the project. We support Donald Green’s retraction of the Science article and are grateful that the problems with LaCour’s research have been exposed.”

When California passed Proposition 8 in 2008, LGBT activists were crushed.

Afterwards, in an effort to change hearts and minds, the LA LGBT Center sent canvassers out onto the streets to talk with people who voted in favor of Prop 8.

A new study published in the journal, "Science," discovered something that's both surprising and, well, not so surprising: LGBT canvassers had a longer-lasting impact on people's opinions compared to their straight counterparts.

The reason: they shared their own personal stories, and that profoundly affected how people saw the issue of same-sex marriage.

"I want [a voter] to understand what it's like for me, the person that he's looking at," says canvasser Laura Gardiner.

Laura was carefully trained to ask questions and empathize with whoever she talked with. 

"By me being honest, that voter and voters in general are a lot more likely to open up and be honest with us because they know we're not there to judge them," she says.

It was a very intentional strategy, says organizer Jackson Darling.

"I remember being a brand new canvasser in 2009 and getting into an argument with a man at his doorstep," he says. "We just walked away more mad than we were before and I absolutely remember not changing his mind."

Instead, the canvassers were taught to listen and respect people's opinion first. Then, when there was an opportunity, personalize the issue by talking about themselves.

"We were able to have these in-depth conversations that can be a lot harder to have with someone you are close to like a family member," says Gardiner, "but having it with a stranger is the kind of conversation where you can ask the questions that you've been really thinking about."

The report in "Science" says that the strategy had a profound impact: the LGBT canvassers were able to get voters to have a more positive view of same-sex marriage that would've taken them five years to reach on their own.

Meanwhile, straight canvassers were half as effective because their impact degraded over time.

The lesson, says Darling, is that changing people's minds on delicate issues can be most effective when campaigns are staffed with people who have real-life experiences to share.

"For example, we've started to talk to voters about abortion access and trying to reduce stigma against women who've had an abortion." He says in this case, canvassers will show video of a women speaking who has had an abortion.

Laura Gardiner also learned how differently she could approach people in the future. 

"It's helped me be more understanding and patient," she says. "Talking to these voters and being able to understand where they were coming from, know that it's a journey that people are on."