Melissa Michelson Headshot

Melissa R. Michelson

Dean of Arts & Sciences and Professor of Political Science, Menlo College

About Melissa

Michelson's research focuses Latinx politics, voter mobilization experiments, and LGBTQ rights, and past president of the LGBT Caucus and of the Latino Caucus of the American Political Science Association. She is the award-winning author of six books, including Mobilizing Inclusion: Transforming the Electorate through Get-Out-the-Vote Campaigns (2012) and, most recently, Transforming Prejudice: Identity, Fear, and Transgender Rights (2020). Her work also appears in a variety of top-rated academic journals, and in popular outlets such as the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog.

In the News

Quoted by Dylan Matthews in "The Pandemic Is Forcing Democrats to Ask: How Important Is Door-Knocking, Anyway?," Vox, September 3, 2020.
Quoted by Katy Murphy and Mackenzie Mays in " California Skeptics Challenge Coronavirus Alerts," Politico, March 10, 2020.
Research discussed by Issie Lapowsky, in "Democrats are Busting their 2016 Mobile Canvassing Records," Wired, September 24, 2018.
Research discussed by Phil Wilson, in "Gavin Newsom Criticized For Flip-Flopping on California's Most Pressing Issues," Los Angeles Times, August 20, 2018.
Interviewed in "Do Candidates Matter?," Capital Public Radio, August 17, 2018.
Guest on WGN Radio's Legal Face-Off, April 20, 2018.
Opinion: "The Debate That Mattered," Melissa R. Michelson, Democracy Journal, September 28, 2016.
Quoted by Tracy Seipel in "Clinton Still Leads, but Trump Makes Slight Gains in California," Mercury News, September 20, 2016.
Opinion: "Anti-Trump Latinos Can Shape California Elections," Melissa R. Michelson, The Mercury News, July 22, 2016.
Quoted by Carol Pogash in "Unsettling Political Climate Galvanizes Muslims to Vote," New York Times, June 1, 2016.
Quoted by Benoit Denizet-Lewis in "How Do You Change Voters’ Minds? Have a Conversation," New York Times Magazine, April 7, 2016.
Opinion: "Here’s a List of Smart Women Political Scientists. They Know Stuff, Too.," Melissa R. Michelson (with Samara Klar, Emily Beaulieu, Amber Boydstun, Kim Yi Dionne, Yanna Krupnikov, Kathleen Searles, and Christina Wolbrecht), The Washington Post, February 11, 2016.
Opinion: "How to Change Minds about Same-Sex Marriage," Melissa R. Michelson (with Brian F. Harrison), The Washington Post, May 26, 2015.
Opinion: "Immigration Activists are Empowered When They Don’t Fear Arrest," Melissa R. Michelson, The Washington Post, December 19, 2014.
Opinion: "How to Mobilize Reluctant Voters," Melissa R. Michelson, The Washington Post, July 15, 2014.


"Listen, We Need to Talk: How to Change Attitudes About LGBT Rights" (with Brian F. Harrison) (Oxford University Press, 2017).

Finds that people are often willing to change their attitudes about LGBT rights when they find out that others with whom they share an identity(for example, sports fans or members of a religious group) are also supporters of those rights. Provides a blueprint for thinking about how to bring disparate groups together over contentious political issues.

"Healthy Skepticism or Corrosive Cynicism? New Insights into the Roots and Results of Latino Political Cynicism" The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 2, no. 3 (2016): 60-77.

Compares Latino trust in government in the context of the 2012 presidential election campaign—one in which outreach to Latino citizens in pursuit of their votes signaled that they were important and powerful members of the polity—to Latino trust in government in the context of the 2006 immigration marches—one in which Latinos found themselves taking to the streets to protest anti-Latino and anti-immigrant legislation.

"Turnout, Status, and Identity: Mobilizing Latinos to Vote with Group Appeals" (with Ali A. Valenzuela). American Political Science Review 110, no. 4 (2016): 615-630.

Brings together theories of expressive voting with literature on racial and ethnic identification to argue that prior studies, which have found either weak or null effects of identity messages targeting minority groups, have missed a crucial moderating variable—identity strength—that varies across both individuals and communities. Shows the effects of both ethnic and national identity appeals among Latinos in California and Texas are conditional on the strength of those identities in different communities and among different Latino subgroups.

"Living the Dream: New Immigration Policies and the Lives of Undocumented Latino Youth" (with Maria Chávez and Jessica Lavariega Monforti) (Paradigm Press, 2014).
Shares the real-life stories of more than 100 DREAMers from four states. The authors assess the life circumstances in which undocumented Latino youth find themselves, the racializing effects generated by current immigration public discourse, and the permanent impact of this policy environment on DREAMers in America.
"Multiple Paths to Cynicism: Social Networks, Identity, and Linked Fate among Latinos" (with Jessica Lavariega Monforti), in Latino Politics en Ciencia Política, edited by Tony Affigne, Evelyn Hu-DeHart, and Marion Orr (New York University Press, 2014), 92-112.
Investigates how various aspects of Latino acculturation impact feelings of political trust. The authors find that Latinos who more strongly identify as American and who support blending into U.S. culture are more trusting of government, and that the path to cynicism among Latinos is one of acculturation into a racialized subgroup. At the same time, strong feelings of linked fate mitigate the usual corrosive effect on trust in government, reflecting perceived reserves of social capital, interpersonal trust, and a sense of power as a subgroup.
"Mobilization by Different Means: Nativity and GOTV in the United States" (with Lisa García Bedolla). International Migration Review (2014).
Reviews results from fifteen recent voter mobilization field experiments conducted in California, comparing the effectiveness of various campaigns in increasing turnout among native-born and naturalized citizens, with specific attention focused on the civic engagement of Latino and Asian immigrant voters. Although Asian immigrants are moved to the polls by personal contact, Latino naturalized voters do not seem to need that contact in order to turn out. We argue the anti-immigrant political context, and framing of immigration as a “Latino” problem, results in the mobilization of naturalized voters, but by different means.
"¿Por Quién Votará? Experimental Evidence about Language, Ethnicity and Vote Choice (among Republicans)" (with Jessica Lavariega Monforti and Annie Franco). Politics, Groups and Identities 1, no. 4 (2013): 475-487.
Does fluency in Spanish (or the lack thereof) matter to voters? Does the degree to which language ability matters depend on the ethnicity of the candidates, or of the voters? This article explores those questions with a series of randomized survey experiments with Republican voters in Texas and the U.S., in the context of the race for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate in Texas in the summer of 2012. We find that language ability matters. Latino voters, including Republican Latinos in Texas, reward bilingual ability. In contrast, Anglo Republican voters punish it, but not in Texas.
"Mobilizing Inclusion: Redefining Citizenship through Get-Out-the-Vote Campaigns" (with Lisa García Bedolla) (Yale University Press, 2012).
Discusses which get-out-the-vote efforts actually succeed in ethnoracial communities, and why. Analyzing the results from hundreds of original experiments conducted in cooperation with community organizations, this book offers a persuasive new theory – the Social Cognition Model of voting, based on an individual’s sense of civic duty – to explain why some methods work while others don’t.
"Not That There’s Anything Wrong with That: The Effect of Personalized Appeals on Marriage Equality Campaigns" (with Brian F. Harrison). Political Behavior 34, no. 2 (2012): 325-344.
Identifies an increasingly predominant strategy used by organizations seeking to increase support for gay marriage: to personalize the issue by focusing on individuals in the LGBT community. This paper presents results from an original field experiment conducted in coordination with a marriage equality organization. Callers who self-identified as a member of the LGBT community were less effective in soliciting donations compared to callers who did not self-identify, suggesting that personalization has a negative effect on persuasion efforts.