In a time where political polarization seems to impact all aspects of our lives, it can sometimes feel like we’re speaking in an echo chamber. If minds are already made up, how can we raise support and mobilize people with our campaigns?
The good news is that there’s a proven way to reach people and challenge rising intolerance and misinformation. “Deep canvassing” is a campaigning technique that uses the power of active listening, empathy, and respect to change minds and reshape attitudes.
The method isn’t new, but it gained significant momentum around 2014 when research began to demonstrate the power of this technique to shift perspectives in a lasting way.
What is deep canvassing?
Deep canvassing is a campaigning method that promotes change through person-to-person conversations.
Of course, these aren’t just any conversations. Deep canvassing involves non-judgemental two-way communication in which both parties can share their personal experiences, values, and concerns. This mutual exchange fosters connection and trust, opening the door to shifting mindsets.
Traditional canvassing uses short scripts to deliver persuasive campaign messages. This method typically invests about three to five minutes per contact and focuses on motivating and mobilizing known supporters. If a contact is found to be hostile to the message, the canvasser is instructed to say goodbye and move on.
Deep canvassing aims to have meaningful conversations that build a relationship between the canvasser and the contact. It involves a more significant personal investment, taking about 10 to 20 minutes per contact. From this place of relationship, deep canvassers can work to counter the hostile narratives the person may be hearing in their daily lives and bring them on board with the campaign message.
The primary goal of deep canvassing is changing attitudes. Canvassers start by asking contacts to rank their support for an issue on a Likert scale. Then, following the conversation, the canvassers have the person rank themselves again to find out whether their opinion has shifted.
The results of deep canvassing show that the extra work is well worth it for campaigners. Studies that evaluate outcomes of this method show up to 40% persuasion rates and that these effects last up to approximately nine months. It’s hard to argue with numbers like that.
Is deep canvassing a good fit for your campaign?
It’s clear that deep canvassing works to effectively shift perspectives, reduce prejudice, and create change. However, as with any method, it also has certain limitations.
So, when is it a wise strategic choice for your campaigns?
- If you are facing a demographic that disagrees with or has previously voted against your cause, this strategy can help you learn why and work to shift attitudes.
- When building support for misunderstood or controversial issues, this strategy can help you find some common ground from which to build compassion and understanding.
- Early-stage political campaigns can use this technique to understand where voters stand on important issues and establish support.
Deep canvassing is not ideal for campaigns where:
- There are significant time constraints,
- The canvassers are not sufficiently motivated,
- There aren’t sufficient resources for adequate training.
If you’ve got some time, an engaged volunteer base, and want to make real, lasting change, deep canvassing may be the perfect technique to help you reach your goals.
Tip! If you’re short on time, you may want to learn about deep canvassing’s cousin, relational organizing.
How to implement deep canvassing
Now that you know what it is and that it works, you’ve decided it’s a good fit for your campaign. What do you need in place to get started?
A minimum of about six months is needed to plan your strategy, organize, train, and prepare your team, and carry out your deep canvassing campaign. The effects are cumulative, so the longer you’ve got, the more effective your campaign will be.
The main things to consider when planning your deep canvassing campaign are:
- You’ll need more canvassers to cover the same ground, so recruitment is a priority. It’s ideal to start with a few leaders who prioritize recruitment as they begin their leadership development and learn more about the technique.
- Training that develops skills in canvassing, persuasive conversation techniques, and script execution will need to be organized and carried out.
- Although not as tightly scripted as traditional canvassing, you’ll still need to plan scripts for your team to frame their approach and discussions. The best scripts are planned with input from the team to ensure they can be delivered authentically.
- Ensure you plan a follow-up strategy to determine how effectively your message is reaching people. You can evaluate whether adjustments need to be made to scripts, teams, or your audience as you start to get a sense of your impact.
The key is to be curious about what people think. Develop a team that uses active listening, empathy, and non-judgemental communication in their approach, and you’ll be well on your way to changing minds and attitudes!
Ready to plan your deep canvass campaign?
We can help! Reach out to Campaign Gears to talk about how we can support you to get up and running.
A curated collection of resources on deep canvassing:
- Read about Canadians using deep canvassing for climate action in B.C. More about them and their strategy here and here.
- Watch a TedTalk by David Fleischer, known as the pioneer of deep canvassing.
- This thorough overview of deep canvassing includes a case study of a campaign for rights for undocumented migrants in Michigan.
- This video shows an example of an actual deep canvassing conversation on trans rights in 2016.
- Another video, this one from People’s Action, showing some examples of deep canvassing in practice.
- This impact report from the Deep Canvass Institute examines actions and results from 2021 through 2023, including case studies. If you prefer, here’s a good summary of the report and the history of deep canvassing.
- CallHub’s article on how to determine success in a deep canvassing campaign includes tips from an expert on how to set up your strategy and timeline. They also have a helpful resource on planning your scripts.
- Find a collection of resources on script-planning here.