Political Behavior

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 325–344 | Cite as

Not That There’s Anything Wrong with That: The Effect of Personalized Appeals on Marriage Equality Campaigns

  • Brian F. HarrisonEmail author
  • Melissa R. Michelson
Original Paper


An increasingly predominant strategy used by organizations seeking to increase support for gay marriage is to personalize the issue by focusing on individuals in the LGBT community. However, competing theoretical traditions (e.g., Allport’s contact theory, group threat, implicit bias) raise questions about whether this strategy has the desired effect. This paper presents results from an original field experiment conducted in coordination with a marriage equality organization. Callers who self-identified as a member of the LGBT community were less effective in soliciting donations compared to callers who did not self-identify, suggesting that personalization has a negative effect on persuasion efforts. The findings cut against the grain of the Allport (The nature of prejudice, 1954) hypothesis and have important implications for social advocacy organizations in terms of rhetorical and message strategy.


Marriage equality Contact hypothesis Message personalization Group threat Implicit bias Social fundraising Field experiment Same-sex marriage Speaker credibility Political behavior 



We would like to thank Don Green, Jamie Druckman, Jonathan Krasno, Aaron Michelson, Peter Aronow, Joshua Robison, Shawn Harrison, David Placey and Raechelle Clemmons for their helpful comments; Christy Aroopala for sharing a recent manuscript; and Carolyn Jenison and the staff at One Iowa, the non-profit organization that allowed us to conduct our experiment with them and their supporters. We also thank the three anonymous reviewers who provided substantial and helpful suggestions to improve an earlier draft.

Supplementary material

11109_2011_9169_MOESM1_ESM.docx (138 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 137 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceMenlo CollegeAthertonUSA

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