The California Dream Narrative

A rigorous, three-year research process has resulted in an extremely useful tool for California’s housing advocates: a broad, unifying narrative that is effective at engaging the wide range of Californians who hold divergent values and attitudes, and moving them toward housing solutions. 

Winning Housing Narrative: The California Dream

It’s about time we redefine the American Dream, and we Californians are the right ones for the job. We need to reboot our idea of the American Dream to reflect the values of our present-day state.

Californians know that when we bring people together from all different walks of life, we’re able to spark new ideas, pioneer groundbreaking innovations, and solve big problems the Californian way. That’s why we need to ensure we build communities where people from different incomes, beliefs, and backgrounds can live, work, and create the California Dream together.

The California Dream of an inclusive, hopeful future must be open to people from all kinds of backgrounds and all walks of life. Every Californian has the right to a decent place to live, regardless of race or income, so they can be a part of our shared future.

Momentum, Not Backlash 

Research suggests that when advocates can nest their ideas within this frame, they will be more likely to be successful in moving California voters toward solutions to our shared housing crisis. This narrative has been tested with California voters who hold multiple, overlapping, and often conflicting beliefs about housing issues, and research indicates it is an effective narrative that advocates can use to meet a broad cross-section of California voters where they are in order to garner more support for housing reforms — over the short and long term. 

Of vital note, the California Dream = Build What Matters to You frame produced favorable results among key demographic groups, while — importantly — doing the least harm among others. This ability to persuade key audience segments without igniting backlash among others is a key reason the California Dream narrative emerged as most effective among the many frames tested

Solving Big Problems the California Way

At this stage of the research, we’ve identified a winning frame. We have ideas about why it’s winning, which researchers are continuing to delve into. But there’s still a lot to uncover around why Californians respond to the California Dream in such a positive way.

During formative focus group research, respondents reflected on how innovative, creative, and forward-thinking California is with respect to its economy and setting national trends, and that these qualities could be leveraged to solve the housing affordability crisis. This theme served as the initial genesis of the California Dream narrative. 

One common theme that emerged was, despite the state’s difficulties in terms of housing costs, traffic, and political dynamics, people believe California had the ability to solve its problems.

Rebooting the American Dream 

From the focus group discussions, researchers also heard that most California voters do not believe that the standard American Dream of home ownership is possible — or, among some mindset segments, even desirable. 

By focusing on redefining the American Dream in a way that works for Californians, the California Dream narrative is effective at moving voters to support housing as a basic right, to support production of housing in their communities, and to increase their likelihood to take action in support of housing solutions. 

An Inclusive, Hopeful Future 

Even in the context of entrenched prior narratives and an increasingly heated public debate over how to best address California’s housing crisis, the California Dream narrative, along with its accompanying messaging, is effective at shifting voters toward actionable solutions. 

Research demonstrates this narrative can be effective in building the broad coalitions housing advocates need to win housing solutions at scale. By linking this narrative with specific messaging on solutions, advocates have a powerful new tool at the ready in their ongoing efforts to ensure that all Californians have a safe, stable home in thriving communities throughout the Golden State. 

Delve Deeper

For deeper detail on how the California Dream narrative performs with key audiences.

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