Research Methodology

To arrive at the California Dream narrative and the accompanying recommendations in this toolkit, researchers engaged in a multi-year, mixed-methods research process to examine and analyze California voter sentiment and attitudes toward a wide slate of reforms, policies, and approaches to housing affordability. By drawing on multiple methods and stages of research, this approach has resulted in rich insights into the narrative landscape of housing in California, as well as opportunities to shift that landscape toward housing solutions.

Below is an overview of methods used at each phase of research. Download the full research report – including detailed methodology in the appendix. 

Phase 0:

Field Listening

To inform the research design and ensure its utility and applicability for the field, researchers began the project by convening a multidisciplinary group of advisors to bring the perspective of field practitioners to the fore. A formal steering committee — composed of seasoned housing advocates from across California — advised the project at every step of the way. By building on input from advocates as the core foundation of the research, the research team sought to ensure the resulting recommendations were driven by field needs and would yield the tools housing advocates need most to advance their work.

Phase 1:

Media Monitoring

Protagonist was commissioned to conduct media landscaping in order to understand the existing public conversation on housing in California — on social media and in traditional media. The goal of this snapshot was to better understand and assess the conversations on housing taking place across California at a specific moment in time. This landscape analysis  – while it would surely look different if conducted today — provided vital contextualizing input, and a foundational understanding of the narrative circumstances California’s housing advocates are operating within.

Phase 2:

Foundational Qualitative Research

This phase of research collected qualitative input from everyday Californians across the state to generate hypotheses about the values and attitudes that Californians hold toward housing affordability. In this phase of research, we sought to understand the breadth and depth of Californians’ underlying values and attitudes toward housing reform — as well as the contradictions they hold. In the subsequent research described below, these hypotheses were then tested in the quantitative mindset segmentation that followed. 

Phase 3:

Mindset Segmentation

Rather than viewing the electorate as a monolithic unit or only through traditional differentiators like demography, partisanship, or geography, a values-based mindset segmentation surfaces the unique ways that voters think about housing affordability. The mindset segmentation offers a generalizable and representative picture of how voters in California come to the table on housing affordability. Survey data was collected via AmeriSpeak (in English and Spanish), and mindset segments were derived through a non-negative matrix factorization.

Phase 4:

Frame Generation & Testing

Rooted in the fresh understanding of our audience offered by the mindset segmentation, this phase of research used ten focus group discussions (two groups with each of the five mindset segments, representing voters in the Bay Area and Southern California) to surface and develop key narrative frames about housing. Researchers then used a quantitative survey via YouGov to test (in English and Spanish) those frames with each of the mindset segments. From this stage, two frames emerged that warranted further testing. 

Phase 5:

Frame & Outcome Message Testing

This phase of research was designed to further hone in on the most effective narrative frame housing advocates could use to engage, persuade, and motivate the broadest cross section of California voters toward housing solutions. To identify a clearly dominant frame between the two most promising candidates, the California Dream = Build What Matters to You and the American Dream = A Safe and Stable Home frames, the team developed issue-specific messaging to test against specific outcomes. Quantitative survey data was gathered via YouGov (in English and Spanish).

Photo of colorful apartment buildings // Kimson Doan /