The reasons persuadables moved from opposing to supporting the protests, Prull said, can mostly be attributed to the demonstrations growing and becoming largely peaceful by their second week, with human stories of everyday police brutality saturating the media environment. Trump’s strongman performance on June 1 did almost nothing to turn public opinion against the demonstrations. Instead it likely backfired. “Between those two dates, the big driver that I see is the protests becoming larger and even more peaceful each day,” Prull told me. “The story was being told by people who are being hurt by police every day, and the empathy with that, and frankly the reasonableness of that, was breaking through. And then the president tear-gassing protestors outside the White House lawn, I think, was a nontrivial part of this. You had the draconian response of the government, and then the protests just seemed even more reasonable when it was a bunch of regular people being tear-gassed in the middle of Washington D.C. for the sake of a photo op.”
Avalanche’s data bear this out. The firm marries polling with what it calls “deep listening surveys,” using a language-processing system that analyzes written responses to open-ended “listening” questions, as a way to extract more depth and texture about public opinion. They operate like focus groups at scale, performed online. The purpose, Prull told me last year, is to get beyond hard numbers and better understand the emotional undercurrents of politics. “We, as Democrats, have a really bad habit of bringing facts to an emotional battle and getting our asses kicked,” Prull said. In the case of the protests, Avalanche’s survey asked if protesters were doing the “right thing or the wrong thing,” with the responses analyzed using the firm’s listening tools. The idea that the protesters were “completely right” was most pronounced among Vote Biden respondents, Black respondents, and young Americans between 18-35. Those supporters described the protests using terms related to ending police brutality, achieving justice, and the urgent need to address racism.