Civil Legal Aid assures fairness for all in the justice

Report
Expanding Civil Legal Aid: Strategies for
Branding and Communications
Analysis of Findings from a 2013 Nationwide Study of Public Opinion
Commissioned by
for the Civil Legal Aid Communications Hub
Table of Contents
• Introduction to Research
o Overview
o Phase One Methodology: Focus Groups
o Phase Two Methodology: Nationwide Survey
• Key Findings and Recommendations
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Building on Lessons from Previous Research
The Public Opinion Context for the Debate Over Civil Legal Aid
Gaining Support for Increased Funding of Civil Legal Aid
Branding Civil Legal Aid and Connecting on Values
The 9-Second Sound-Bite: Raising Awareness and Priming Key Values
 How To Talk About Civil Legal Aid: The 9-Second Sound-Bite
o The 2-Minute Message: Expanding from Values to Services
 How To Talk About Civil Legal Aid: The 2-Minute Sound-Bite
o Voters’ Key Concerns and How to Respond to Them
 Responding to the Attack that the Middle-Class is Excluded
 Responding to the Attack that Civil Legal Aid is Ripe for Abuse of Tax Dollars
o The Do’s and Don’ts of Messaging Civil Legal Aid
• Contact Information
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Introduction to the Research
Overview
•
Lake Research Partners and the Tarrance Group recently completed for the
Public Welfare and Kresge foundations public opinion research on expanding
Civil Legal Aid. One of the central aims of this study was to aid in the
development of a comprehensive communications strategy that increases
awareness of, and support for, Civil Legal Aid. We also measured opinion
toward increasing government funding of Civil Legal Aid.
•
The study examined the full ecosystem of Civil Legal Aid—including relevant
institutions, program components, messages, and actors. Through this
process, the research also uncovered broader societal themes about how the
public perceives the judicial system, the values they want to reflect in the
justice system, as well as their own sense of vulnerability in contemporary
America.
•
The research, which included exploratory focus groups and a subsequent
nationwide survey, reveals insights about framing, messages, and specific
language to use and to avoid, including some preliminary insights into how
best to articulate both the populations served, and the services provided, by
Civil Legal Aid. This research is an expansion on research conducted by
Belden, Russonello, and Stewart in 2000.
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Phase One Methodology: Focus Groups
• Four focus groups were designed, conducted, and moderated by Lake
Research Partners and The Tarrance Group. The focus groups
consisted of:
– white women in Richmond, VA;
– mixed-gender African Americans in Richmond, VA;
– white women in Riverside, CA; and
– white men in Riverside, CA
• In addition to demographic homogeneity within each focus group, all
participants were screened to ensure they were they neither strong
opponents nor strong supporters of Civil Legal Aid.
• The focus groups in Richmond were conducted March 4th, 2013, and
focus groups in Riverside were conducted March 7th, 2013.
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Phase Two Methodology: Nationwide Survey
•
Lake Research Partners and The Tarrance Group designed and administered this
survey, which was conducted by phone using professional interviewers. The survey
reached a total of 801 likely 2016 voters nationwide. The survey was conducted
May 30th – June 5th, 2013.
– The sample of likely voters was chosen because their opinions can often have a
disproportionate influence on elected officials and major stakeholders. At the
same time, the opinions of likely voters often closely reflect the attitudes of the
public at large.
•
Telephone numbers for the survey were drawn using a file of registered voters. The
sample was stratified geographically to reflect the expected turnout of general
election voters in 2016. Data were weighted to match expected turnout by gender,
party identification, education, age, marital status, race, and region. The margin of
error for the 95% confidence level of the survey is +/-3.46%.
•
In interpreting survey results, all sample surveys are subject to possible sampling
error; that is, the results of a survey may differ from those that would be obtained if
the entire population were interviewed. The size of the sampling error depends
upon both the total number of respondents in the survey and the percentage
distribution of responses to a particular question. For example, if 50% of
respondents in the total sample answered “yes” to a particular question, we can be
95% confident that the true percentage will fall within +/-3.46 percentage points of
this percentage or between 46.4% and 53.46%.
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Key Findings and Recommendations
Building on Lessons from Previous Research
•
This effort builds on previous research conducted in 2000 by Belden, Russonello, and Stewart. Similar to what the
researchers found in that study, Civil Legal Aid remains a largely invisible issue for the American public. More than
one-third (36%) have never heard or have no opinion toward Civil Legal Aid - an improvement from 2000, when 49%
were unaware of Civil Legal Aid services. However, while current survey data reveals positive general impressions of
the term “Civil Legal Aid”, the qualitative (focus groups) research highlights just how shallow those impressions are.
Most participants were unaware of any type of government funded services for civil legal purposes.
•
However, despite the public’s lack of familiarity with Civil Legal Aid, over eight-in-ten (82%) voters support the basic
principle behind Civil Legal Aid: that all Americans should have access to legal representation or help in civil matters,
regardless of how much money you have.
•
In addition to updating the research on public perceptions of Civil Legal Aid, this study explored two new fronts:
support for increasing funding for Civil Legal Aid and reactions to arguments for and against increasing funding for the
program.
•
–
While the previous research assessed support for existing levels of public funding for Civil Legal Aid programs, this effort
explored the public’s appetite for increasing funding for the program—a more difficult threshold, to be sure, in the current
economic environment, and given voters’ tax-sensitivity and skepticism of government-funded and -operated programs.
Even so, the results of this question are quite promising, with nearly half of voters in support of increased funding, and a
majority supports increased funding after being exposed to arguments in favor of—and against—this proposition.
–
As noted above, this study also examined various arguments related to increasing funding for Civil Legal Aid, as well as the
most effective thematic frame for positioning this debate. The findings from this work should help inform advocates’ proactive
communications strategy as well as inoculate against potential attacks, barriers, or resistance.
In contrast to previous recommendations, this study suggests that, with limited time to convey an argument, and after
stating the core value that fairness in the justice system should not depend on how much money a person has, it is
more important to outline some of the specific services provided by Civil Legal Aid rather than detailing the
populations that receive those services. Times have also changed, and in much of our work we are finding less
resonance with the idea of helping the “vulnerable” since voters believe they have to go no further than their kitchen
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table to find people who need help.
The Public Opinion Context for the Debate Over Civil Legal Aid
•
The debate over increased funding for Civil Legal Aid is informed by two competing trends in
public opinion, each of which has been building for several years now, and which give rise to a
set of complex and at times contradictory attitudes.
–
•
On one hand is the public’s diminished faith in government to manage public affairs wisely or
efficiently. On the other hand, is a profound sense of economic insecurity, and a growing belief that the
rules of the game have fundamentally changed—to the detriment of ordinary Americans.
Civil Legal Aid advocates have a tremendous opportunity to frame the debate over increased
public support for the program—in the context of these twin “tsunamis” of public opinion and
without being overtaken by either. The research uncovers some important caveats, however.
–
While the public believes it is important—in fact, critical—to have access to legal expertise in order to
navigate the complexities of the civil justice system, they are largely unfamiliar with that system and
have many fewer associations with it than with the criminal justice system.
–
The debate over support for Civil Legal Aid remains far from the public consciousness today; in this
regard, the debate has not matured substantially over the past decade. Making Civil Legal Aid more
relevant by tapping into broadly-held values, specifically the public’s desire for fairness in the justice
system, is vital. In an engaged debate, we win, but at this moment, the issue of Civil Legal Aid is fairly
unknown.
–
The reality of our cluttered communications environment today is such that the “thirty-second soundbite” has been whittled down to roughly 9-Seconds. While this reality does not obviate the need for
more detailed arguments, advocates must be able to convey in a single sentence a values-oriented
message about the need, and broad-based benefits, of Civil Legal Aid.
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Gaining Support for Increased Funding of Civil Legal Aid
•
Voters are open to increasing funding for Civil Legal Aid, which is no small feat in a spending and tax
sensitive environment and given the program’s relatively low profile today. A plurality (45%) of voters
initially support increasing funding for Civil Legal Aid while one-quarter (24%) is undecided and another nearly
one-in-three (29%) oppose the program.
•
Support for increased funding crosses the 50% threshold in the context of a simulated debate – with
opponents characterizing Civil Legal Aid as costly, ineffective, and ripe for abuse, and advocates defining the
program—and the debate—around the value of assuring fairness for all in the justice system. Crossing the
50% threshold is typically considered a necessary benchmark for elected officials to feel safe throwing their
support behind a cause.
•
We have outlined two priorities to gain support for increased funding of Civil Legal Aid:
•
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We need to shore up support among our base and generate greater enthusiasm among advocates of Civil Legal
Aid. These voters strongly support our program even after they hear negative attacks against us. They tend to be
Democrats, voters of color, unmarried voters, women under 50, and voters in the Northeast. They respond best
to arguments that revolve around fairness and equality.
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We need to educate and convert undecided voters. These voters are largely unfamiliar with Civil Legal Aid, but
move toward supporting increased funding after learning basic information about the program and our message
of assuring fairness for all in the justice system, regardless of how much money you have. They tend to be white,
independents, older, non-college educated, and are more concentrated in the South and the West.
Those who oppose the program tend to have higher sensitivities than other voters when it comes to spending
and taxes. We may never win their support, but we do not need it to be successful. More important, the
opposition gains fairly little traction over the course of the survey; in fact, there is no point in the survey at
which opponents outnumber supporters.
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Branding Civil Legal Aid and Connecting on Values
•
Several fundamental questions presented themselves at the inception of this study: How should advocates refer
to the program? What value(s) best define the work being done by Civil Legal Aid? What services are seen as the
most valuable—while simultaneously allaying concerns over cost and accessibility?
•
Refer to the program as Civil Legal Aid. This term elicits the most positive reactions from voters and is the most
recognized. While the term alone is not a substitute for a message, it provides a foundation on which to build:
–
People have a positive impression of the term (57% favorable, just 7% unfavorable) and it emerges at the top of the
pack of several options, in both closed-ended and open-ended formats.
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‘Aid’ resonates more strongly than other terms, such as ‘assistance’ and ‘services’, because it evokes the value of
help without pigeon-holing those receiving the help or priming negative connotations of exorbitant costs borne, but
not enjoyed, by middle-class taxpayers (‘Aid’ receives 25% support compared to 19% for ‘assistance’ and 17% for
‘services’).
•
Connect Civil Legal Aid to the value of fairness, specifically assuring fairness for all in the justice system.
Fairness is the value most associated with Civil Legal Aid—whether through access to representation or leveling
the playing field. Self-empowerment and protection from harm are secondary dimensions that communications
can evoke.
•
Focus on services provided over populations served. The services voters most prioritize focus on making access
to quality and accurate information easier (such as easy-to-understand forms, legal assistance, and legal
representation), and self-help centers so that people can know their rights. Streamlining the court system and
reducing court costs also work on a secondary level. However, when describing services, we need to
differentiate which services are available to all and which are income-based. We do not want to promise services
to all when not everyone qualifies for them.
•
While not the primary focus, specific groups who benefit from Civil Legal Aid can be highlighted in longer-form
communications, including children, veterans, seniors, the ill and disabled, and victims of domestic violence—
while still positioning the program in the broadest possible terms.
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The 9-Second Sound-Bite: Raising Awareness and Priming Key Values
•
Public education efforts will be key to raising awareness of Civil Legal Aid. Indeed, once voters are
familiar with Civil Legal Aid, they are more likely to support increased funding of the program.
However, advocates cannot teach every voter every thing about Civil Legal Aid, nor should they try.
•
Some people are more likely to be supportive than others. In addition, in today’s increasingly
cluttered communications environment, successful messages often occupy a span of no more than 9Seconds—or a brief, single sentence. As such, advocates must employ a targeted communications
strategy and exercise strict discipline and repetition in conveying their message.
•
To make such an effort successful, advocates must first connect with, and frame Civil Legal Aid
within, an existing set of broadly-held values before delving into the specifics of the program.
•
The value voters most associate with Civil Legal Aid is fairness and the most persuasive arguments in
favor of Civil Legal Aid operate on the theme of 1) ensuring fair play in a system that seems complex
and stacked against ordinary Americans and 2) making sure all Americans receive fairness in the
justice system, regardless of how much money you have.
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This idea of ensuring that everyone is on a level playing field surfaced repeatedly throughout the focus
groups. The program’s connection with the value of fairness is similar to findings from previous
research.
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The research also examined the effectiveness of cost-based messages, which tended to perform better
in the focus groups than in the survey. Nevertheless, including the cost-savings of Civil Legal Aid in any
broader, longer-form communications is advised, as it can help assuage voters’ existing concerns and
also mitigate the power of any attacks on the program. It can also be more important to certain elite
audiences like state legislators.
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How To Talk About Civil Legal Aid: The 9-Second Sound-Bite
The 9-Second Sound-Bite:
What to Highlight
Our Program Is
Civil Legal Aid
We Assure
Fairness for all
in the Justice
System
Civil Legal Aid assures fairness
for all in the justice system,
regardless of how much
money you have.
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The 2-Minute Message: Expanding from Values to Services
•
While 9-second sound-bites are the main currency in today’s world, that in no way eliminates the need for a
more nuanced message in support of Civil Legal Aid (the following page includes recommendations for a 2minute sound-bite).
•
For the 2-minute sound-bite, we recommend talking about a few specific services provided rather than key
populations that receive Civil Legal Aid. This goes against recommendations from previous research. With
limited time, it is more important that voters understand what Civil Legal Aid provides rather than to whom
those services are made available.
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To highlight the best examples of what Civil Legal Aid does, showcase services that increase ease of access
to information and assistance so that people can know their rights. However, we will need to distinguish
differences between what is available to everyone, especially the middle-class, and those who qualify for all of
the programs based on their income. We tested a wide range of services and these three received the most
support):
•
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Provide easy-to-understand forms, including online forms, that people can use in civil legal
proceedings;
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Provide legal assistance, including legal self-help centers, so people can know their rights; and
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Provide legal representation to those who cannot afford it—because justice should not depend on how
much money you have.
These services, as described above, are perceived as broadly accessible and, beyond operating on the
dimension of fairness, also evoke another key value: self-empowerment.
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How To Talk About Civil Legal Aid: The 2-Minute Sound-Bite
The 2-Minute Sound-Bite:
builds on the 9-second sound-bite with additional information on services provided
What to Highlight
Our Program Is
Civil Legal Aid
We Assure Fairness
for All in the Justice
System, Not the Few
Who Can Afford It
Our Services
Increase Ease of
Access to Information
and Assistance to
Know Your Rights
Civil Legal Aid assures fairness for all in the justice
system, regardless of how much money you have.
It provides access to legal help for people to
protect their livelihoods, their health, and their
families. Civil Legal Aid makes it easier to access
information—whether
through
easy-tounderstand forms, including online forms; legal
assistance or representation; and legal self-help
centers—so people can know their rights. Civil
Legal Aid also helps streamline the court system
and cuts down on court costs. When we say the
Pledge of Allegiance we close with “justice for
all.” We need programs like Civil Legal Aid to
ensure that the very principle our founding
fathers envisioned remains alive: justice for all,
not the few who can afford it.
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Voters’ Key Concerns and How to Respond to Them
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There are two major concerns among voters about increased funding for Civil Legal Aid:
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1) That the middle-class is left out of the program while footing the bill
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2) That the program is open to abuse by those who would needlessly take advantage of and over-burden it
Middle-class voters are especially sensitive about increasing funding for public programs from which they are
excluded . That is especially acute here since people can imagine needing these services themselves and think
it is “unfair” to be disqualified based on their income. Many participants in the focus groups expressed a
desire to be able to enjoy the benefits of Civil Legal Aid. When assuaging this concern that middle-class voters
are excluded, we should make distinctions about what specific services they can access such as online forms
and information and self-help centers to name a few.
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One possible response to this concern would be to make the program available to all on a sliding scale basis. This
idea attracts much higher support than a proposal to simply increase funding for Civil Legal Aid.
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As one method of assuaging these concerns, our positive positioning is designed to inoculate against attacks—
particularly on cost and limited access. The program should be described in the broadest possible way and
along dimensions of economic fairness. In addition, the services identified are, for the most part, those that
sound both effective and economical. We have provided recommended responses on the following two pages.
•
Again, while we do not recommend using population groups in the short sound-bites, they can be effective in
longer responses as well as in responding to attacks. The best examples of the types of people who receive
Civil Legal Aid (in no particular order) include children, veterans, seniors, ill or disabled people, and women
who are victims of domestic violence. These examples are more powerful than housing or consumer issues,
where voters believe there may be other remedies.
•
Two possible attacks were tested, neither of which resonates with voters: one, that Civil Legal Aid will be a
burden to taxpayers and will increase the national debt; and two, that we can fix the lack of funding by getting
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more pro-bono lawyers.
Responding to the Attack that the Middle-Class is Excluded*
(This attack raises doubts for 59% of respondents; 30% serious doubts)
RESPONSE:
Civil Legal Aid assures fairness for all in the justice system, regardless of
how much money you have. The program serves Americans of all
backgrounds and ages, including families, children, veterans, seniors, ill
or disabled people, and women who are victims of domestic violence.
Civil Legal Aid provides access to legal help for people to protect their
livelihoods, their health, and their families. It provides access to legal
aid self-help centers, makes it easier to access information through
easy-to-understand forms and online information, and provides legal
assistance so people can know their rights. Civil Legal Aid assures
fairness in the justice system that all Americans deserve.
*Full text of attack is on slide 64 in full details of the research section
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Responding to the Attack that Civil Legal Aid is Ripe for Abuse
of Tax Dollars
*We tested two separate messages in this research but they can easily be combined by our opponents
(Abuse raises doubts for 58% of respondents, 33% serious doubts;
Tax sensitivity raises doubts for 57% of respondents, 31 % serious doubts)
RESPONSE:
Civil Legal Aid is part of the solution, not the problem. Civil Legal Aid
assures fairness for all in the justice system, regardless of how much money
you have. The program serves Americans of all backgrounds and ages,
including families, children, veterans, seniors, ill or disabled people, and
women who are victims of domestic violence. Civil Legal Aid provides access to
legal help for people to protect their livelihoods, their health, and their
families. It provides access to legal aid self-help centers, makes it easier to
access information through easy-to-understand forms and online information,
and provides legal assistance so people can know their rights. Civil Legal Aid
provides expert legal advice, mediation, negotiation, and problem-solving
techniques that streamline the court system, reduce the number of frivolous
lawsuits, cut down on court costs and staff overtime, and save us all money.
*Full text of attack is on slide 64 in full details of the research section
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The Do’s and Don’ts of Messaging Civil Legal Aid
When Talking About Values…
DO:
Talk about assuring fairness for all in the justice system,
regardless of how much money you have. Equality,
justice for all, fair treatment, and self-empowerment are
also effective.
DON’T:
Talk about opportunity or accountability in the justice
system. People do not fully understand the association
of these ideas values with Civil Legal Aid.
When Talking About Services…
DO:
DON’T:
Talk about services that increase ease of access to
information and assistance so that people can know
their rights - easy-to-understand forms, legal assistance
so people can know their rights, and legal representation
to those who cannot afford it (examples shortened).
Get stuck talking about the ins and outs of the
program. People will be overwhelmed by the amount of
services provided and will lose interest. They do not
want to hear about services that do not help all
Americans.
When Talking About Population Groups…
DO:
DON’T:
Talk about families, children, veterans, seniors, ill or
disabled people, and women who are victims of
domestic violence. They put a face to the attacks that
may come our way.
Talk about people seeking remedies for housing or
consumer disputes. Voters tend to think there are
other options for those groups. Any discussion of
immigrants receiving help turns voters off.
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Contact Information
Lake Research Partners
LakeResearch.com
202.776.9066
Celinda Lake
[email protected]
Daniel Gotoff
[email protected]
Kristy Pultorak
[email protected]
The Tarrance Group
Tarrance.com
703.684.6688
Brian Nienaber
[email protected]

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