By: Lake Research Partners Tarrance Group. Published by: Voices for Civil Justice. Published in November 2013.
The research, which included four 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.
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.
- 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.
The 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 table to find people who need help.