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“Deep canvassing” model counters anti-immigrant narratives, cuts Trump support, and holds lessons for the age of COVID-19

Contact: Johanna Kichton, 202.660.0605,

WASHINGTON, D.C.–People’s Action today announced the dramatic results of an organizing experiment in small-town America, revealing that a new “deep canvassing” model can effectively counter the right’s use of strategic racism. The study took place among white, working-class voters in rural Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, and showed a dramatic shift in support for including undocumented immigrants in expanded social safety net programs. 

Berkeley’s David Broockman and Yale’s Josh Kalla worked with People’s Action to design the experiment, which launched in the spring of 2019. The results from the “deep canvassing” model were 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 lessons learned in the experiment were also applicable for phone and text-based conversations, making them especially useful in the age of coronavirus-required physical distancing. 

“This experiment shows that our deep canvassing model is a game-changer,” People’s Action Executive Director George Goehl said. “We launched this experiment because we were alarmed by the way in which Trump’s use of strategic racism had taken root in rural and small-town America. We wanted to see if a narrative that connected race and class could disrupt that anti-immigrant, scarcity-based framework.”

The test found a statistically significant 8 new supporters of including undocumented immigrants in programs such as Medicaid for every 100 deep canvass conversations. The conversations also increased support for including undocumented immigrants in other programs canvassers did not mention, and decreased voters’ support for statements such as “Undocumented immigrants are a burden on my community.” 

Despite not mentioning Donald Trump, the canvass also unexpectedly decreased Trump approval by 2 percentage points. The effects persist for at least five months.

The full results from the experiment are detailed in People’s Action’s new report, “Building a Bigger We: Changing Hearts & Minds on Immigration in Rural and Small-Town America.” 

“So much of our work is focused on ‘building a bigger we,’” Goehl added. “This experiment shows it’s possible to help people make meaning out of their experiences in a way that includes people of color and immigrants among those being impacted by wealth concentration in the hands of a few. If we can scale this work up, we can build support for a true multiracial democracy in this country.” 

About People’s Action

People’s Action is a national network of 40 state and local grassroots, power-building organizations united in fighting for justice. Our organization recently released a vision for a national Homes Guarantee that has already prompted major legislation from champions including U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib. We operate the largest progressive rural organizing project in the country. The Nation called our Iowa presidential forum the “most in-depth, people-powered forum” of the 2020 cycle. 

Press Contact
Johanna Kichton

(202) 660-0605

About People’s Action Institute

Over five decades, People’s Action Institute and our affiliates have fought for reforms that recognize poor and working people’s dignity and make material and political improvements to millions of lives. Our victories include the Community Reinvestment Act, Superfund, the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act and the MAT Act.

We engage in issue campaigns, public education and training to advance a long-term agenda for racial, economic and gender justice. Our focus now is on deepening community organizing so we can build lasting power across the country. 

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