Why It Matters and How To Do It
Why Canvassing Matters
Campaign research shows that person-to-person interactions are the most effective way to persuade people to change their minds or take an action. For candidates, it is important to establish that you are listening to voters and that their opinions matter. For getting out the vote, it is important to establish that every vote counts and participation in elections is key to making democracy work for all of us. Research conducted by The Progressive Turnout Project demonstrated a 12% increase in voter turnout among the voters contacted by canvassing versus a control group that was not contacted.
How Does Canvassing Work?
The sponsoring group defines a goal and a message strategy, along with the target audience. Information about the audience is provided from public voting records (who voted, not how they voted) and summarized in a packet prepared for each canvasser. There is a place to record the results of your interaction, e.g. were you able to talk to someone, what issues do they care about, who do they intend to vote for?
This Takes a Lot of Time, Isn’t Advertising Enough?
Advertising in traditional print, broadcast, and digital media is a one-way message that can be very persuasive, but it does not permit the voter to express an opinion. Listening to voters is critical to democracy and taking the time to do this will pay dividends.
I’m Not an Extrovert and am Concerned About Safety
Knocking on doors can be challenging for many of us. With the script provided, you will find it easy to start a conversation, usually short interactions lasting no more than 5 minutes. Working with a partner is a good strategy to ensure personal safety. See below about when to knock on a door and when not to.
How To Do Door-to-Door Canvassing (excerpted from the Swing Left Summer Canvass)
1. BEFORE YOU GO
- Remember to charge your mobile device / smartphone the night before your canvass event.
- Bring: water, snacks, and a fully-charged phone. Check the weather forecast and dress appropriately. Wear comfortable shoes for walking.
- Get comfortable with the Canvassing tool and district maps
- Your mobile device (e.g. smartphone) or a printed packet will be your main tool in today’s canvass. Take time to practice the script and tools with another volunteer – the more familiar you are with the script and the tool, the more comfortable you will be at the door.
- Your event host will tell you which streets and blocks your group will focus on. Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with your target neighborhood before you start walking.
- It’s fine to start off in pairs as you are getting more comfortable with canvassing. One person can do the talking and the other can jot down responses.
2. AT THE DOOR
Have realistic expectations
- Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t getting a lot of people to talk to you. You may only register 1-2 people per canvass or get a few commit-to-vote signatures. That is ok – the people you talk to today could be the difference between winning and losing on election day. It may feel slow, but you’re making a critical difference.
- Take nothing personally. If somebody is rude to you, shake it off, say goodbye, and move on to the next door.
- Don’t worry about being perfect. If you are new to canvassing, don’t be afraid to say it’s your first time – there’s nothing wrong with making it clear that you aren’t a professional. We do this work because we believe in the cause and there is no message more powerful that we can send to voters.
Be the kind of person you’d want to talk to.
- Smile a lot and be genuinely curious about talking with people you meet.
- Talk like a regular person. Don’t be a robot or read directly from the script.
Have a conversation, rather than talking at people.
- Find your own pitch. Experiment and figure out what works best for you. Remember that the most powerful tool you have is your own personal story.
Think about a personal reason WHY you are engaging in this work and share that with the voter. That will help establish a personal connection.
- Ask questions and listen to the answer. Tailor your message to the individual.
For example, if they are concerned about healthcare, you might respond with something like: “Affordable and accessible healthcare is incredibly important to me, too. If we can break the gridlock in D.C. by winning back the House, we will have enough representatives working, across the aisle, to get us to that goal of protecting you and your family. That’s why your vote is so important”
- Stress the importance of THEIR action. Tell them why they should commit to vote.
Be persistent, but not pushy
Pay attention to ”No Solicitation” signs. Knocking on these doors anyway may reflect badly on the candidate
Though the chances of finding yourself in an unsafe situation are slim, it’s wise to listen to your gut. If a conversation with a voter makes you feel unsafe, politely say thank you and move to the next house.
Don’t only ask yes or no questions. Instead ask questions that open a conversation:
- Instead of asking “can I have a minute of your time?”, say “I’m only going to take a minute of your time…”
- Say “Let me verify that you are registered to vote” rather than “Can I verify that you are registered to vote.”
“I’m already registered” can often be an excuse. Ask follow up questions:
- “Are you registered at your current address”
- “Have you moved since last registering?”
- For students: “Are you registered at your school address?”
For voter registration efforts, help register anyone who asks
- We’re legally required in all states to register anyone who asks to register, regardless of their political position
3. AFTER CANVASSING
Huddle up with other volunteers
- Debrief the canvassing experience: what worked well at the door? What do you want to do better next time? What areas in this neighborhood didn’t get covered yet?
- This is an opportunity to check in about what’s coming up next and when you can all visit your district again. Make a plan to check-in soon if you don’t have anything on the calendar.
4. MESSAGING TIPS
This is an opportunity to inspire people to get involved and fight for the changes they want to see in the community. Ask a simple question like, “what changes would you like to see in our country,” in order to engage with them. Smile a lot!
Don’t make assumptions
It is easy to make rash judgements about who you think will support us and commit to vote. But our assumptions can be wrong. Be open to talking to everyone and you may find the most enthusiastic supporters or future volunteers behind the next door.
Don’t pick a policy fight
Steer clear of heated policy debate. Door knocking and high traffic outreach are opportunities to listen to voters and their concerns, not to promote a specific policy agenda. Remember: our end goal is to get voters to support Democratic and progressive candidates.
5. HOW TO DO HIGH TRAFFIC AREA CANVASSING (EXCERPTED FROM THE INDIVISIBLE GUIDE)
1. Come prepared. Either you or your group leader should print some out and bring them along. You’ll also want a clipboard with a sign up sheet for folks who are interested in joining your group! You should definitely bring water and snacks because you’ll be outside. If you can bring a little card table to set up some flyers on (with a paperweight), great. But don’t sit behind it, stand in front of it; you’ll talk to way more people!
2. Put on a smile. It may sound silly, but having the right mindset and a positive energy will make a big difference in your conversations and will make passerby more likely to stop to talk with you.
3. Ask everyone. You should attempt to engage with every person that walks by, and be assumptive that they’re going to stop (even though you know lots of people won’t). If you’re in a really busy area, you may want to have a partner so that you don’t miss anyone. Try to make eye contact and start with a friendly wave and a greeting from 10-15 feet away.
4. Practice your hook. Chances are most of the folks you want to talk to are on their way somewhere, so you’re going to need to give them a reason to stop. Try to avoid yes or no questions and get creative. “We’re working to stop Trumpcare, come check it out,” etc.
5. It’s OK to get a lot of nos. If you’re getting a lot of nos, don’t worry about it. Canvassing is sort of like panning for gold, so keep it up! You’re going to be talking to a lot of people, so you’ll find a lot who you’ll have a great conversation with, but plenty who won’t want to stop. Don’t be discouraged! Keep your smile and keep talking to people.
6. Perfect your ask. Once you start a conversation, you’re asking constituents to call their Member of Congress (MoC). You’re also asking folks to come to an Indivisible meeting. Lastly, you’re handing them a flyer on our work. Giving folks the flyers is important because we want one of them to find its way back to MoC’s staffers, so they know what we’re doing. It’s nice to keep a little tick sheet where you keep track of how many folks you’ve stopped, how many called their MoC, and how many commit to checking out your group, so you can see how well you’re doing!
7. Don’t spend time with people who don’t agree with you. No need to spend time with folks who don’t agree, you have better things to do. If someone starts to really disagree, it’s OK to end the conversation quickly with “I guess we’ll agree to disagree,” or “OK, sounds like we’re on opposite sides of this, and we can both get on with our day!” No need to draw things out!
8. Approach groups and stragglers. If the foot traffic dies down, you should approach folks who are lingering in the area. Folks who are in line are great for this, they’re just standing around. Though it may be slightly intimidating to go up to a group for the first time, these may be some of your best conversations because you’re hitting multiple people at once and they’re not on the way anywhere so they’ll have more time to talk.
9. Debrief. Debrief with your group. What went well? What was difficult? What best practices can you all try next time?
10. Follow Up: Call and email the folks who signed up to come to the next meeting as quickly as possible, within the next couple days. Follow up within 48 hours greatly increases the chances that that person will remember the interaction and come to your meeting!
6. PRACTICE BY ROLE PLAYING
Practice dealing with a variety of responses with a partner. You are the voter and your partner is the canvasser. Choose from the following scenarios (but don’t tell your canvasser):
- Answer the door but refuse to talk to the canvasser (no time, not interested, don’t bother me, other)
- Be an enthusiastic supportive Democrat
- Language barrier
- Be a Republican
- Be undecided
- Be uninformed about the candidate or issue
- I don’t share my political views
- Not a citizen so can’t vote
- Have a felony conviction and can’t vote