Recommendations: Overview

The key lessons of Prop 8 are that before the LGBT community can win a future ballot measure campaign on same-sex marriage, we have to:

·         Develop effective arguments that will keep voters from falling for the outrageous, untrue allegations of harm to children;

·         Learn how to move some of those who voted against us to reconsider;

·         Use the opportunity we have right now, between campaigns, to communicate with voters; gain insight; test messages; systematically keep track of what works, what partially works, and what simply does not work;

·         Start the campaign early by building a terrific team and by hiring a campaign manager strong enough to manage expert consultants and hold them accountable for a high level of performance.

One caveat: these recommendations do not guarantee success. There is no secret recipe that we can just follow to win.

The truth is these campaigns are extraordinarily difficult. They are hard and, worse, they are fundamentally unfair. It’s easier for the other side to exploit pre-existing prejudice than it is for us to persuade voters to look past their prejudice. It’s understandable for our side to get discouraged; to oscillate between wishful thinking and hopelessness; and to engage in pointless infighting because the real enemy intimidates us.

All that said, some of the situation is under our control. We are much more likely to win if we recognize the control we do have and run our campaign well.

Here is the full set of this report’s specific recommendations:

Recommendations 1–3: Practice Persuasion Now

The first three recommendations seek to remedy the lack of knowledge we currently possess about how to change voters’ minds on the issue of same-sex marriage and how to hold onto those who support us but are susceptible to anti-gay messages.

Due to the limited ability of polling to increase our understanding of these matters, and in fact its remarkable ability to mislead us, the report recommends field testing of persuasion arguments, particularly face-to-face conversations with voters, as one way for us to gain the insight we need. 

Fortunately, some terrific field testing and experimentation is already underway. At its best, the current field work increasingly simulates for voters the experience they will have during a real campaign, where they will hear both sides’ arguments. 

More field testing and experimentation is needed, however. We should return to the ballot only after know much more than we currently do about how to move voters to our side and retain them.

Recommendations 4–6: Be Ready for the Opposition

The next three recommendations urge that we take great care before we reach the decision to return to the ballot. 

It is tempting to go back quickly, because we feel so wronged by the result of Prop 8. But if we act only on those feelings, we could easily suffer another loss or find that we enjoy only a temporary victory. 

Feelings matter, but we also have to face the facts: we have learning to do before we are truly prepared to wage a markedly improved campaign (as noted in Recommendations 1-3); and our opposition is well-prepared to execute its successful strategy of appealing to anti-gay prejudice.

The countervailing point of view favors setting a specific deadline for a return to the ballot before we know whether we will truly be ready. After all, deadlines are useful; close to their expiration, they frequently help people focus. 

But deadlines are not magical. Deadlines help us get something done that we already know how to do; they don’t necessarily help us get something done that we don’t know how to do, eg how to rebut “Princes.” It’s relatively easy to set deadlines for tasks similar to manufacturing, but not easy to set a deadline for invention; the time we’ll need for the latter is unknown. Some campaigns resemble a manufacturing process, but that’s less true for the ones we’ll be facing on same-sex marriage.

Recommendations 7–11: Campaign Structure and Accountability

The next five recommendations describe how to put together a campaign that brings to bear terrific expertise and provides accountability to the greater LGBT and allied community. 

Greater accountability makes a campaign more permeable to up-and-coming as well as established leaders, and we will need both to do our best. The No on 8 campaign experience with online fundraising is just one example demonstrating the necessity of bringing in newcomers with expertise. 

What we need is to build a campaign that meets three simultaneous challenges: 

· first, to be open to new people, allies, thinking and data;

· second, to include and make good use of established figures, experienced consultants, and knowledge of standard campaign thinking and practices; and

· third, to be cohesive enough to set priorities and make decisions. 

To meet those three challenges, my advice is to break with standard practice in California and hire a strong manager, one who manages the consultants. 

The alternative and usual practice in California state-wide races is to leave the consultants functionally unmanaged. Without a strong, experienced campaign manager, management of the consultants falls to board members or donors. Unfortunately, they typically lack sufficient experience to manage the consultants (it’s a tough job), and also do not have the regular on-site exposure to the consultants to provide meaningful oversight.

When unmanaged, the consultants serve as the campaign’s de facto decision-makers. This structure has virtues but at a price: it makes a set of mistakes highly likely, foremost among them the failure of the campaign to anticipate and rebut our opposition’s appeals to anti-gay prejudice. The problem is spelled out in Appendix L: The Larger Dynamics: Why History Repeats Itself. 

Recommendations 12–14: Honesty

Perhaps this final set of three recommendations will seem paradoxical, even nonsensical, to those who have grown cynical about how to do politics.

But we fool only ourselves when we settle for intellectual dishonesty. It’s easy to commission a poll that will make us feel good about our chances by overstating them. It’s easy to make up numbers and claim massive accomplishment when we’ve done far less. I’ve seen plenty of campaigns that live on lies and they are horrifying. Honesty arrives on election night because someone else counts the votes. The final tally embitters those on our side who believed the phony feel-good statistics that the campaign fed them. Disillusioned, many never return. The cycle of cynicism is thus ever-refreshed. 

Why do we lie to ourselves and to others? To please funders. To make ourselves feel better. To evade accountability. To avoid admitting that we made a mistake or fell short.

I understand these temptations but we must not give in to them. How will we ever organize our community on a much more remarkable scale if we destroy the hopes of our people by lying to them?

Honesty is possible. It is practical. It is bearable. And all of us who have come out to anyone know that it is the best choice we have ever made. The recommendations below explain how we can make honesty a touchstone in our campaigns and increase our chances of winning.