There is an actual winner. One that has stood the test of time, and been subjected to multiple research studies. The #1 most effective Get Out the Vote tactic is canvassing. Nothing beats one human being talking to another face to face.
In this post I’ll cover 1) why it is so effective, and 2) how to do it.
Why Canvassing is So Effective
One of the biggest challenges we face is that Democrats don’t always vote. We can be very sporadic. Canvassing can turn a sporadic voter into one we can count on on Election Day.
While other forms of communicating with voters gets the campaign information out there–think of commercials, billboards, pamphlets, mailings–canvassing ENSURES that your message reaches the voter directly.
A commercial or a billboard will be seen by many, but a campaign won’t have any idea how people feel about it. If you speak to registered voters, they’ll let you know. This feedback is invaluable to campaigns. It’ll help determine what is working and what isn’t — and give the campaign time to adjust their message.
Particularly in this age of disinformation, having an honest conversation with a voter in person is immensely powerful.
The primary purpose of canvassing right before election day is to knock on the doors of a candidate’s most likely voters and have them commit to voting. But how does the campaign know which voters are the most likely to vote for them? Well, from the canvassing that happened earlier in the year.
As Jane Palmer explained in this insightful interview about volunteering for a campaign, the canvassing that happens very early on is all about finding out how favorable (or not) voters are feeling about your candidate. Those efforts then lead to canvassers going back to voters who might be persuaded to be more enthusiastic about your candidate.
At a basic level, you would be surprised how many people–registered voters at that!–aren’t aware of when the next election is, know what district they live in or who is running to be their representative, or even know much about what’s happening in politics today. Your conversation helps get them that critical information.
And these days, you also have so many new tools you can bring with you when canvassing! You can show videos, get people connected to social media, take donations, or register other roommates at that address by using a phone or tablet.
Jane Palmer: I love canvassing. It’s really fun. I’m curious about people, and every neighborhood and household is distinctive. You learn a lot about your community, and it’s great exercise. It is deeply satisfying. I am often thanked by the people I speak to. People who didn’t know the candidates and were glad to learn more about them. People are usually gracious and kind.
How to Canvass
Get signed up! Get connected with your local Democratic party and/or directly with the campaign you want to help. Either one will have the super-specific voter data for your neighborhood. You’ll need that so you are knocking on the right doors.
Know what you’re going to say. Again, whichever group you sign up with will prepare you to talk to voters. They will have campaign messages, talking points, etc. for you to become familiar with. They will also likely pair you up with an experienced canvasser for your first outing so you can learn the ropes. Important note: If you are new at canvassing and want to go with a partner, keep in mind that the closer to Election Day it is, the more the campaign office is going to be running at 100mph. Go earlier in the campaign season, and you’ll get more training.
Get ready. Beyond the stuff the campaign will give you–voter lists, campaign material, talking points, etc.–be sure to take some water, a snack, and the cellphone numbers of fellow block walkers and the campaign office.
Get talking! Remember, the power of canvassing are two people talking to each other. Yes, you have information you want to convey, but be sure to really listen to the voters. Be honest. That respect that you show them is part of why canvassing can be so effective. Also, the enthusiasm you show for the candidate can influence the voters you speak to.
Share what you learn. The campaign will let you know what info they need you to collect as you work your way through a neighborhood. But when you get back to the office, be sure to share the details of the conversations you had with voters. What messages are they connecting with? What stories (true or false) have they heard already? How informed were they when you arrived? What are they likely to do on Election Day?
Once again — canvassing is the best thing you can do to ensure that Democrats get elected. Get involved as soon as you can to reach a maximum number of friendly voters!
Jane Palmer: If you give it a try, you will rise to the occasion. You will discover that you CAN do it. You gain the skills and become stronger, more powerful, more courageous, and more of the kind of citizen activist our nation needs.