Melissa Michelson, Ph.D.

Menlo College

Phone: 6508884810

City: Palo Alto, California - 94306

Country: United States

About Me:

Melissa R. Michelson (Ph.D. Yale University) is Dean of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Political Science at Menlo College. She is the award-winning author of five books, including Mobilizing Inclusion: Redefining Citizenship through Get-Out-the-Vote Campaigns (2012), Living the Dream: New Immigration Policies and the Lives of Undocumented Latino Youth (2014), Listen, We Need to Talk: How to Change Attitudes about LGBT Rights (2017), and Transforming Prejudice: Identity, Fear, and Transgender Rights (2019). She has also published dozens of articles in top-ranked political science research journals. She is a nationally recognized expert on Latinx politics, voter mobilization experiments, and LGBTQ rights. She also conducts research on election administration including vote-by-mail and how to encourage absentee voting by Latinos and Black Americans, marijuana legalization, DACA and undocumented immigration, attitudes toward Muslim Americans, and how community organizations can increase activism. Her current research projects explore voter registration and mobilization in minority communities, how to increase participation in the 2020 Census among hard-to-count populations, and persuasive communication on transgender rights. In her spare time, she knits and runs marathons.  

Research Interests

Political Participation

Race, Ethnicity and Politics

LGBTQIA Politics

Experimental Research

Immigration & Citizenship

Public Opinion

LGBTQ Rights

Latino Politics

Voter Mobilization

Transgender Rights



Latino Vote

Trans Rights


Black Vote

Hispanic Vote

Countries of Interest

United States

My Research:

My work generally focuses on increasing the inclusion of members of marginalized communities. This includes increasing political participation of youth and members of communities of color in elections, especially Latino voters. Most of this research uses randomized controlled trials (field experiments) to test how to increase voter turnout using different tactics, messengers, and messages. I also study how to change attitudes and behavior to be more supportive of members of the LGBTQ community, using persuasive messaging and messages. Additional research interest include DREAMers (undocumented immigrant youth) and Muslim-American politics. I am currently conducting research on how to increase voter turnout in 2018 and beyond, how to increase support for transgender rights, and how Latino public opinion and behavior is shifting under the Trump administration.


Journal Articles:

(2018) Gender, Masculinity Threat, and Support for Transgender Rights: An Experimental Study, Sex Roles

We explore how gender, attitudes about traditional gender roles, and threats to masculinity and femininity affect U.S. participants’ support for transgender rights. First, we present analyses using data from the 2016 pilot survey of the American National Election Survey (ANES) showing how men and women differ in their attitudes toward transgender people as measured by thermometer ratings toward transgender people and questions about perceptions of whether they are victims of discrimination. Next, we describe our randomized laboratory experiment, testing three hypotheses/predictions: (a) that men are less supportive of transgender people and rights than women are, (2) that threatening a man’s masculinity increases opposition to transgender rights whereas threatening a woman’s femininity has no effect, and (3) that this effect will be stronger among men who report that their gender identity is very important to them. Consistent with existing scholarship, we find that women are more supportive of transgender rights compared to men. More importantly, we also find that threatened masculinity is an even better predictor of opposition to transgender rights than gender identity. In short, we find that attitudes toward transgender people and rights are closely linked with the way people think and feel about their own gender identity and expectations of gender performance.

(2018) Back in the Shadows, Back in the Streets, PS Political Science and Politics

This article explores the responses of Latinos (including citizens, legal residents, and undocumented immigrants) to the rise of candidate and then president Donald Trump. We find considerable evidence that Latinos in all three categories were more cynical (less trusting) and more politically active in 2016 compared to 2012.

(2017) Trumped up challenges: limitations, opportunities, and the future of political research on Muslim Americans, Politics, Groups, and Identities

With the election of Donald J. Trump as president, Muslim Americans may face the most pronounced threat to their collective political well-being in history. Unfortunately, while scholars have generated insights into the dynamics that affect members of this very diverse community in U.S. politics, assessment of Muslim Americans lags other religious and ethnic groups in terms of data and hypothesis testing. In this essay, we review the basic political challenges facing Muslim Americans at the dawn of the Trump era, and chronicle some of the key studies on Muslims that should animate future efforts in assessing this community. We then examine some of the limitations of existing work on the subject, and look ahead to plans for innovation in scholarship on Muslim Americans in the coming years.

(2017) What’s Love Got To Do With It?: Emotion, Rationality, and Framing LGBT Rights, New Political Science

Recent years have a seen a dramatic and rapid shift in attitudes about same-sex marriage—quite possibly one of the largest shifts in public opinion ever recorded. Another shift has occurred regarding the framing of persuasive appeals by gay rights advocacy organizations. Earlier campaigns focused on rationality by highlighting the idea of equal rights for Lesbian Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender individuals; more recent campaigns have focused on love and commitment. Is one type of framing more effective than the other? Are attitudes about marriage equality more likely to shift when arguments are framed rationally or when they are framed emotionally? We conducted a series of randomized experiments to explore these questions. We find that rights are more effective in the abstract but that videos highlighting same-sex couples in loving and committed relationships are more effective than videos focused on rights and equality.

(2017) Using experiments to understand public attitudes towards transgender rights, Politics, Groups, and Identities

While lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans have seen recent legal victories and declining explicit discrimination, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals (TGNC) remain astoundingly vulnerable. An area of recent public debate is the right of transgender individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, regardless of the sex they were assigned at birth. Little is known, however, about how the public forms their views of transgender people and rights, particularly the issue of bathroom access. Our research agenda seeks to better understand public attitudes about transgender bathroom access. In this paper, we describe our use of experiments to investigate how issue framing and identity priming affects public opinion toward the key transgender right of bathroom access and provide results from a recent pilot study.

(2017) Trumped Up Challenges: Limitations, Opportunities, and the Future of Political Research on Muslim Americans, Politics Groups and Identities

With the election of Donald J. Trump as president, Muslim Americans may face the most pronounced threat to their collective political well-being in history. Unfortunately, while scholars have generated insights into the dynamics that affect members of this very diverse community in U.S. politics, assessment of Muslim Americans lags other religious and ethnic groups in terms of data and hypothesis testing. In this essay, we review the basic political challenges facing Muslim Americans at the dawn of the Trump era, and chronicle some of the key studies on Muslims that should animate future efforts in assessing this community. We then examine some of the limitations of existing work on the subject, and look ahead to plans for innovation in scholarship on Muslim Americans in the coming years.

(2016) Turnout, Status, and Identity: Mobilizing Latinos to Vote with Group Appeals, American Political Science Review

The rise of micro-targeting in American elections raises new questions about the effects of identity-based mobilization strategies. In this article, we bring 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. Identity appeals can have powerful effects on turnout, but only when they target politicized identities to which individuals hold strong prior attachments. Using two innovative GOTV field experiments that rely on publicly available data as a proxy for identity strength, we show that 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.

(2016) More Than a Game: Football Fans and Marriage Equality, PS: Political Science and Politics

Public opinion tends to be stable. Once formed, attitudes are persistent and endure over time at both the individual and the aggregate levels. Attitudes toward marriage equality, however, have changed rapidly in recent years. This article posits that this is partly due to people learning that other members of their in-groups are supporters; they then alter their own opinions to be consistent with those of other in-group members. The authors tested this theory using a set of randomized survey experiments that shared identities as fans of professional football. When fans learn—sometimes unexpectedly—that other fans or athletes are supporters of marriage equality, they are motivated to agree in order to further normalize their membership in those sports-fan groups.

Books Written:

(2020) Transforming Prejudice: Identity, Fear, and Transgender Rights, Oxford University Press

Since the mid-1990s, there has been a seismic shift in attitudes toward gay and lesbian people, with a majority of Americans now supporting same-sex marriage and relations between same-sex, consenting adults. However, support for transgender individuals lags far behind; a significant majority of Americans do not support the right of transgender people to be free from discrimination in housing, employment, public spaces, health care, legal documents, and other areas. Much of this is due to deeply entrenched ideas about the definition of gender, perceptions that transgender people are not "real" or are suffering from mental illness, and fears that extending rights to transgender people will come at the expense of the rights of others. So how do you get people to rethink their prejudices? In this book, Melissa R. Michelson and Brian F. Harrison examine what tactics are effective in changing public opinion regarding transgender people. The result is a new approach that they call Identity Reassurance Theory. The idea is that individuals need to feel confident in their own identity before they can embrace a stigmatized group like transgender people, and that support of members of an outgroup can be encouraged by affirming the self-esteem of those targeted for attitude change. Michelson and Harrison, through their experiments, show that the most effective messaging on transgender issues meets people where they are, acknowledges their discomfort without judgment or criticism, and helps them to think about transgender people and rights in a way that aligns with their view of themselves as moral human beings.

(2017) Listen, We Need to Talk: How to Change Attitudes about LGBT Rights, Oxford University Press

Over the past three decades, public support for same-sex marriage has risen from scarcely more than a tenth to a majority of the population. Why have people's minds changed so dramatically on this issue, and why so quickly? Listen, We Need to Talk tests a new theory, The Theory of Dissonant Identity Priming, about how to change people's attitudes on controversial topics. Harrison and Michelson conducted randomized experiments all over the United States, many in partnership with equality organizations, including Equality Illinois, Georgia Equality, Lambda Legal, Equality Maryland, and Louisiana's Capital City Alliance. They found 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, as sports fans or members of a religious group) are also supporters of those rights-particularly when told about support from a leader of the group, and particularly if they find the information somewhat surprising. Listen, We Need to Talk provides a blueprint for thinking about how to bring disparate groups together over contentious political issues.

(2012) Mobilizing Inclusion: Transforming the Electorate through Get-Out-the-Vote Campaigns, Yale University Press

Which get-out-the-vote efforts actually succeed in ethnoracial communities—and why? Analyzing the results from hundreds of original experiments, the authors of this book offer a persuasive new theory to explain why some methods work while others don’t. Exploring and comparing a wide variety of efforts targeting ethnoracial voters, Lisa García Bedolla and Melissa R. Michelson present a new theoretical frame—the Social Cognition Model of voting, based on an individual’s sense of civic identity—for understanding get-out-the-vote effectiveness. Their book will serve as a useful guide for political practitioners, for it offers concrete strategies to employ in developing future mobilization efforts.

Media Appearances:

TV Appearances:

(2019) KTVU

Trump fires his internal pollsters

(2018) ABC7 San Francisco

Response to interview with James Comey by George Stephanopoulos

(2018) Peninsula Television

Guest for The Game episode about how to change attitudes about LGBTQ rights

(2018) ABC7 San Francisco

Interviewed about Nancy Pelosi's "filibuster" on the House floor, in support of undocumented immigrants

(2018) Peninsula Television

Guest for show reviewing results from June 2018 primary elections.

(2017) Peninsula Television

Live election night coverage of local returns (and national trends)

(2017) KOLR10

Interviewed about rise of political polarization in parties and public.

(2017) Peninsula Television

Guest for show about San Mateo County politics.

Radio Appearances:

(2019) KQED

The Equal Rights Amendment: What You Need to Know

(2018) WGN Radio

Interviewed about James Comey's new book.

(2018) WOSU

Guest on show about minority inclusion in the LGBTQ community.

(2018) 89.3KPCC

Interviewed for story about how Antonio Villaraigosa did not survive June 2018 gubernatorial primary in California.

(2017) Oregon Public Broadcasting

Guest for live show about viewpoint diversity in academia.

Newspaper Quotes:

(2019) USA Today

Some 2020 Democrats spoke in Spanish during their first debate. Was it 'Hispandering'?

(2019) Dallas Morning News

How immigration battles are firing up Latinos and putting Texas and battleground states in play for 2020

(2019) Washington Post

Why Americans' views on gay rights flipped so quickly

(2019) New York Times

Why Democrats aren't winning a larger proportion of the Latino vote

(2018) San Jose Mercury News

Story about television advertisements recently aired by California gubernatorial candidates.

(2018) San Jose Mercury News

Quoted in story about sexual harassment allegations' affect on race for Santa Clara County Supervisor.

(2018) San Francisco Chronicle

Quoted in story about California gubernatorial race

(2018) San Jose Mercury News

Quoted on impact of report on sexual harassment by California state elected officials.

(2018) San Francisco Chronicle

Quoted in story about outreach to Latino voters (or lack thereof) by California gubernatorial candidates.

(2018) Voice of America

Quoted in story about pro-DACA court ruling and ongoing immigration battle.

(2018) Philadelphia Inquirer

Quoted in story about California lawmakers' plan to help Californians avoid increased taxes due to federal tax bill

(2018) San Francisco Chronicle

Interviewed for story about last-minute campaigning by CA gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa

(2017) The Press-Enterprise

Quoted in story about new surge of transgender elected officials.

(2017) San Jose Mercury News

Quoted in story about transgender candidates for elected office.

(2017) Chronicle of Higher Education

Quoted in story about bans on single-gender panels.

(2017) San Jose Mercury News

Quoted in story about California governor's race.

(2017) San Jose Mercury News

Quoted in story about Trump and immigration policy.

(2017) San Jose Mercury News

Quoted in story about U.S. Senate vote on heath care.

(2017) San Jose Mercury News

Quoted in story about proposed shift from at-large to district elections.

Blog Posts:

(2019) Vox

14 political experts on why the first Democratic debates were history-making

(2019) FiveThirtyEight

Can Julian Castro rally Latino voters?

(2018) NBC Latino

Quoted in story about use of Spanish-language advertisements by political candidates.

(2018) NBC Latino

Interviewed for story about how to engage and mobilize Latino voters


Quoted in story about whether Democratic Party should embrace identity politics.


(2018) America's Voice

Interviewed about Latino voter turnout and mobilization as guest of podcast.

(2017) Newsy

Video interview about Secretary of the Interior Ryan ZInke

(2017) Newsy

Video interview about Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

(2017) New York magazine

Quoted in story about voter mobilization and precinct parties.