Minnesotans United for All Families, the coalition working to defeat the proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, last week rolled out a social-media campaign using the same technology that gave Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign a boost.
The vote-yes campaign immediately denounced the program as a tool for “cyber-stalking,” calling it a “public database” to be used to “harass those who support traditional marriage.”
“MN United has a tool for you to look to see who doesn’t support their way of thinking,” Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, posted on Facebook. “Talk about a vile way to win.”
Subsequent headlines did little to set the record straight.
Phone banking from home
Somewhere between an app and a program, the tool essentially extends Minnesotans United’s phone-banking technology to supporters who may not have the time or the inclination to volunteer to man the phone banks that are an essential component of the campaign’s conversation-fostering strategy.
It does not offer access to a database of individuals likely to vote one way or another. And at least in MinnPost’s beta testing, its utility is highly dependent on the quality of the underlying data, which is uneven.
To use the tool, go to know.mnunited.org and sign in via Facebook. The program will compare your Facebook profile and friends list with Minnesotans United’s database of likely voters. You will be asked to confirm your identity and then offered a list of potential voters who appear on the group’s list.
After selecting those who are your friends, you will be offered a link to click that — assuming you are performing this task on a smartphone — will dial their phone number. After you’ve talked, you have the option of reporting the outcome to Minnesotans United, which will then take your friends with firm opinions one way or the other off of their call list and prioritize the undecideds.
Core of strategy: personal conversations
While the vote-no coalition has engaged in traditional campaign efforts ranging from staging house parties to advertising on television, personal conversations form the core of its strategy. Because beliefs about marriage and individual rights are closely tied to many people’s identities, firm yes and no voters are unlikely to be persuaded.
Regarding people who either haven’t thought about the issue or have conflicted feelings, research shows that personal exposure to gay- and lesbian-headed households or to friends with LGBT loved one is the factor most likely to generate support for same-sex marriage.
Using targeted phone lists, including those generated by coalition members, including political party units, churches and other faith communities, unions and advocacy groups, the vote-no campaign has spent months training volunteers to call likely voters and initiative these conversations. Volunteers are taught avenues for opening a conversation without arguing or lecturing.
The surprisingly sophisticated lists contain demographic information that allows the campaign to assign, say, a Latino volunteer to a list of Spanish-speaking contacts or a Lutheran to a list of Lutherans. With margins increasingly wafer-thin in elections, targeted voter lists have surged in importance in recent years.
The software used by those who participate in phone banks at any of the group’s offices records information about the conversations’ outcomes so that firm “yes” voters are not contacted again. Firm “no” voters may get another call asking if they are interested in volunteering or donating.
Facebook interface can help narrow call list
Those who are undecided or who offer seemingly contradictory views — they have a gay or lesbian loved one but plan to vote yes, for example — are put on a list for future calls. Users of the Facebook interface who report the results of their conversations back to Minnesotans United will help narrow the number of undecided voters volunteers need to call in coming weeks.
The Facebook program allows those who may be uncomfortable cold-calling strangers to start conversations with people they know but with whom they may not have talked about their feelings about the proposed amendment. Concerned that even gays and lesbians who would like the right to marry may not have thought to talk to their friends about their feelings, the vote-no coalition has been encouraging supporters to talk to as many people as they can think of.
And Minnesotans United’s contention that it makes phone-banking into something that can be done from the comfort of one’s couch would seem to be borne out: During the first two days the tool was available, some 1,500 people used it to hold 2,000 conversations, according to press secretary Kate Brickman.
Last month, MinnPost observed an evening of phone banking and the process is laborious, to say the least. Many of the calls went to numbers that were wrong or outdated; many intended recipients weren’t home.
After 90 minutes of dialing was done, five callers talked to some 16 people, nine of them at enough length to consider a conversation. Six opposed the amendment, two supported it and one was undecided.
A few bugs
The Facebook program may have a few bugs. When Chris Duffy, an online strategist with the public-affairs communications concern Goff Public, signed on at MinnPost’s request, the contact information for himself he was shown was from 2004.
Other MinnPost testers, including the author, were shown a correct profile of themselves but had uneven results in terms of the information provided about their friends.
If the tool works, it has potential to be a game-changer, said Duffy: “A personal conversation with someone you know — that’s the gold standard” in terms of political persuasion.
Correction: This version corrects a mix-up of the words “yes” and “no” in explaining who might get called back for further discussion.