Then, something happens. The woman starts to open up. A 20-minute heart-to-heart conversations follows. She reveals one of her sons was in a terrible marriage; his child was unplanned. "I don't know if keeping this child was the right idea," she admits. "My advice—and even though I don't believe in abortion—was to have an abortion. Because I didn't think it is fair to bring that baby into that environment."
"Sounds like you got a conflict," the canvasser says.
"I don't think there is a right answer," she says. "I really don't."
That's a position that's a long way off from "I don't believe in abortion."
Fleischer, 60, has worked in politics for 40 years, and heads outreach efforts at the Los Angeles LGBT center. Growing up in a small town in Ohio, Fleischer didn't come out as a gay man until he was 25. "I've spent my whole life trying to figure out how to reduce prejudice," he tells me.
Fleischer has been refining canvassing methods since Proposition 8 appeared on the ballot in California in 2008. His work is about convincing voters their beliefs—beliefs they might vote on when it comes to a ballot measure—are actually more conflicted when they are prompted by canvassers to think more deeply about them. "When was the last time you changed your mind on anything?" he asks me. "I think you are going to discover you did not change your mind because somebody else—I'm just going to say—bitch slapped you with a statistic."
Fleischer shows me two other similar videos of him and his canvassers approaching California voters. In one, a man who disagrees with transgender issues eventually admits it may be rooted in his upbringing in a bigoted family. In another, a woman reverses her stance on abortion after the canvasser tells her a story about her own abortion.
"If you want a voter to change their mind," Fleischer says, "the most useful thing we do by far is that we elicit their real-lived experience. We ask open-ended questions and then we listen. And then we continue to ask open-ended questions based on what they just told us."
Until recently, Fleischer had the scientific evidence to say his methods worked.
Late last month, the journal Science retracted a 2014 study that found that canvassers who were gay and following Fleischer's method could influence voters to support same-sex marriage more than canvassers who were straight—a conclusion that's now in doubt.
Fleischer was not involved in the data collection himself; Michael J. LaCour, a doctoral student at the University of California (Los Angeles) was studying Fleischer's canvassing methods on his own.
Donald Green, a well-regarded political science professor at Columbia University (people say he wrote "the bible" on field experimentation in political science)—oversaw the project. When it was published in Science, a premier peer-reviewed journal, it was the type of blockbuster study that was covered by all the major newspapers, and recently was featured in a segment of This American Life.