UBI-Specific Deep Canvassing

With a majority of American citizens set to receive stimulus checks, there is no better time to reach out to voters about Universal Basic Income.

Deep canvassing is a technique that is quietly gaining momentum. Although it has been in practice for centuries, the term was coined by David Fleischer, who leads the Leadership LAB of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, after the passage of Proposition 8 in the 2008 California ballot measure, banning same-sex marriage in the state. This devastating loss propelled Fleischer to go to the heart of those who voted for the measure, coming up with an initiative that resulted in a 1 in 10 success rate in changing the voter’s mind.

Unlike conventional canvassing which involves scripted questions and targets voters who already agree with the viewpoint of the canvassers (as in Get Out the Vote campaigns), deep canvassing reaches out to voters who may disagree with the canvassers’ position.

The essence of deep canvassing is to build trust of the voters so that they become more open to ideas they are opposed to. For this reason, it is more suited for issue advocacy than for political candidacy.

Instead of firing off bullet points of questions, deep canvassing starts with listening. Typical sessions last 15 to 20 minutes and it is not uncommon to revisit the same voter multiple times over several months or years. It is a slow, long-term process, and therefore not a good tool for an election season. Rather, it is a powerful foundation-building process that leads to winning an election or a ballot measure if conducted a year or two in advance.

Moreover, it is proven to produce long lasting results and provide valuable information, the kind that is not easily conveyed in numbers and check marks. It is a way to build a meaningful network that gives power to organizations and candidates who are willing to put in the time and work.

But perhaps the most valuable aspect of deep canvassing might be that it builds empathy on both sides. People who volunteer to deep-canvas already have a high level of empathy, but they don’t often find opportunities in social situations to speak to people who hold opposite views. With adequate support and training, deep canvassers develop a high level of emotional intelligence and become valuable assets to the community.

We are currently in research and development for deep canvassing specifically designed for UBI advocacy. Our first step is pandemic UBI phone banking, in which volunteers will be calling their friends and family to find out how they feel about UBI, now that its concept has become familiar to many Americans. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter to receive updates.

Photo:Jeffrey Fountain/Courtesy of Los Angeles LGBT Center