In 2015 a highly publicized study found that conservative people could be talked into changing their opinion after just one conversation.
The only problem was that the study lead author falsified the results. However a new study published in the journal Science has now found even better results from the same kind of work, this time reducing discrimination against members of the transgender community.
Study found long-lasting changes to beliefs
According to the research a 10-minute in-depth conversation from a trained canvasser led to a “substantial” reduction in an individual voter’s anti-transgender bias. It also made them more likely to support anti-discrimination laws.
Scientists found that the change lasted for an amazing three months.
“Most attempts by campaigns to influence voters don’t have an impact at all, and the ones that do, the benefit decays in three to five days,” said David Fleischer, director of the Leadership LAB at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, who came up with the canvassing technique.
Campaigners working hard against anti-transgender laws
The findings offer encouragement to LGBT activists facing a wave of state laws in Southern states which would effectively legalize anti-LGBT discrimination. North Carolina recently ruled that transgender people have to use the bathroom of the sex listed on their birth certificate, and other states are considering similar laws.
Fleischer is also personally vindicated by the findings. Since 2008, when California banned same-sex marriage, he has been canvassing in conservative neighborhoods in Los Angeles.
He enlisted the help of a researcher to test the effectiveness of his method, but it turned out that the researcher had falsified the results. Fleischer was certain that he was right, so he hired the research team that had proved that the previous results were falsified.
He put them to work in Miami, studying a project that was trying to garner support for an anti-discrimination measure. Under the new study researchers followed 56 trained canvassers, some of whom were transgender and others not, that spoke to 501 voters.
The conversations, part of a drive to personalize the issue, were more in-depth than political canvassing work. They lasted around 10 minutes each and involved asking voters if they too were sometimes discriminated against for being different.
Study author urges caution
After a few weeks or months the canvassers returned and found that voters’ bias remained significantly lower. The decrease in the level of bias was found to be “significantly greater than Americans’ average decrease in homophobia from 1998 to 2012.”
According to Fleischer these latest results are even more impressive than those of the discredited study. The previous work showed that a long-term change in views only occurred when the canvasser themselves was gay. However the new work proves that voters’ opinions changed whether or not the canvasser was transgender.
However David Broockman, assistant professor of political economy at Stanford University and study lead researcher, says that the results should not be interpreted as an easy way to fix discrimination against transgender people. The canvassers used specific techniques that were the result of training from the LGBT Center and SAVE, a Florida-based gay rights group.
“The message is not that there’s a silver bullet,” he said. “This is [a canvassing technique] that took the Leadership LAB a long time to develop, and I don’t think anyone should be under the illusion that they can just go out this afternoon and employ this technique.”
However he did strike an optimistic note in saying that the techniques could potentially be used to change other beliefs, such as those on race or climate change.