Defeating Mississippi’s Personhood Amendment with Targeted Phone Programs

In ultraconservative Mississippi, the No on 26 Campaign faced a well-funded ballot initiative to define personhood as beginning at conception. The opposition was energized and well organized statewide to push this dangerous, intrusive effort through to amending the state constitution. Polling five weeks prior to the election showed supporters of the initiative with a double digit lead and on pace to win. These initial polls identified a staggering 74% of voters (including 80% of African American voters) as anti-choice.

With statewide elections, two other GOP-sponsored initiatives and an African American gubernatorial candidate on the ballot, we expected record-high rural white turnout. Our polling showed that nearly one-third of “anti-choice” rural whites were persuadable when presented with “No on 26” arguments. However, our measure was at the bottom of a long statewide ballot and we lacked the resources for a sustained electronic media effort. Furthermore, mostly due to a failed legal challenge to the initiative, little provisions had been made to combat the personhood campaign.

We knew that in order to defeat Initiative 26 we would need to convince at least one-quarter of rural, conservative, blue-collar whites to vote against the initiative and to capture an even larger share of GOP women in metropolitan areas. Working with Planned Parenthood as part of the No on 26 Campaign, our team provided the campaign with voter targeting studies, telephone town halls and a series of targeted persuasion and turnout calls that led to Mississippi voters defeating Initiative 26 soundly by a previously unthinkable large margin of nearly 60%. As a result, women's rights made a strong and memorable stand in a very difficult environment, setting the stage for many other successful nationwide challenges modeled after Mississippi’s surprise reproductive rights victory.

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