The Best Way To Do Voter Outreach in a Pandemic

What do you do if you want to get more people voting, but you consider yourself an introvert?

Today, let me tell you the story of three such women.

I came across an invitation for a training a few weeks ago called “Phone Banking for Introverts” and reached out to the woman leading the training, Myra. I let Myra know that I was interested in amplifying her training here at Political Charge and would she be interested in interviewing with me. Myra looped in her co-leaders, Elizabeth and Debbie, and we arranged to have a chat together.

To say that I’m inspired and incredibly impressed by what these women are doing is putting it mildly. How did they go from being devastated by the outcome of the 2016 election (like the rest of us) to leading a session at the Training to Win 2020 Conference that was headlined by Rep. Adam Schiff, Rep. Karen Bass, Dan Pfeiffer, and others?

The origin story

After the election, they each independently decided they needed to do more before the next election rolled around and found their way to Swing Left and Sister District in the San Francisco area. One of the skills they learned through Swing Left was canvassing, the practice of going door to door for a campaign to have meaningful conversations with voters in person.

They travelled to sister districts in Central California to canvass, (and Elizabeth even did some canvassing in a key district in Virginia!), prior to the midterm elections. They each talked about how personally invested they were in each of those races, and how much satisfaction they derived knowing their conversations were one of the reasons why voters turned out.

Through their political involvement, the three women became friends and co-conspirators. Leading up to the 2020 election, they had been planning to do a training called “Canvassing for Introverts” but the virus upended those plans. They quickly regrouped and developed the phone banking training as the next best voter outreach tool.

Image via Swing Left San Francisco

Why phone banking is so effective

I asked them why phone banking is so important.

“The closer you get to the voters, the more effective the outreach is. You want to have a conversation that moves a voter. Other than canvassing and phone banking, a lot of voter outreach just goes in one direction. You never know if you’ve made a difference or not.”

As an example of one-way voter outreach, they talked about postcarding. They have all done postcarding, but the drawback, they said, is that you get no feedback from the voter. Also, when you are phone banking, you run into disconnected numbers, for example. Well, you can report those back to the campaign and clean up the lists, an option you don’t have with postcards. Several studies have shown that canvassing face-to-face is the best way to increase voter turnout, and phone calls help to boost turnout by 1.6-3.8% which is at least twice as effective as postcarding. Furthermore, postcarding has to stop a few weeks before the election, and what can you do then?

Myra, Elizabeth and Debbie say that having one-on-one conversations with voters is democracy at its finest. Especially at a time when Trump tries to divide Americans from each other, making that personal connection is a powerful challenge to that divisiveness.

They also all see phone banking as a service, not as something you’re imposing onto a voter. It struck me that this mindset is really important. As Debbie said, “I’m here to help. I’m offering something valuable to the voter. I’m not trying to get something out of them.”

For example, they often phone bank for local, down-ballot candidates. They like that there is a “reverse coattail” effect, where voters who are really invested in a local candidate will turn out to vote for them, and while voting, will likely vote in all of the other races, too. For these types of races, just making voters aware of the candidates is a huge plus.

The training

Their training is geared towards those folks who are on the fence about phone banking. They want people to know that the key skill needed is listening, not talking. And that, is something that introverts excel at.

As introverts, Myra, Elizabeth and Debbie all said they have to gear up for every phone banking session, but know that once they have what they called a “connecting conversation,” it will all be worth it. They acknowledge this in their training, too. They are honest that it might feel uncomfortable, especially at first, but that you will feel good knowing you are doing something that is positive.

For example, one of the exercises they go through in their training is to ask all of the participants what fears or concerns they have about phone banking. And then, they each take turns working through the concerns. One fear that always comes up is that folks are worried that they’ll be asked to call “Trumpers” and try to convince them to vote for Biden. To which, they reply that the lists they are calling from are Democrats and Independent voters; but on the off chance that you reach a Trump supporter, you simply say, ‘Thanks for letting me know.’ And get off the call.”

They walk people through what they’ll need to do a phone banking session, how to find phone banking events, how to get through the crucial first 15 seconds of a call, and the three magic phrases that they use to connect with a voter.

They send everyone a sample script ahead of time and after walking through the script, they role play through a few sample conversations. They then have all the participants on the call practice with each other. This is the part of their training that they feel is so powerful — by letting people practice these types of conversations in a safe environment, people start to get more comfortable with it. In fact, this is the part of the training that past participants have said should be longer!

Where you can sign up

If you’ve been postcarding, or if you’re ready to do more now that the election is so close, I hope you will sign up for one of their trainings. Consider checking it out. The next one is happening on August 22.

Sign up here: Phone Bank Training for Introverts (& Friends) I’d recommend signing up soon. The training that I attended earlier this month hit capacity. You can also find future trainings HERE.

Thank you for taking action!

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8 replies

  1. I took this training, too. It was easily one of the most useful 2 hours workshops I have ever attended, in any area of my life. And they are about training, not self promoting their org only.

    • Thanks for attending, Mary Ellen. I agree — all three of them were focused on one thing: Serving good, helpful information to their audience. Very refreshing.

  2. I have phone banked a lot and enjoy doing it. Your write-up is so thorough that I have signed up for this training as I certainly expect I have something to learn. Learning the 3-essentials was the hook for me.

    • You’ll love it. And the fact that you’ve phone banked before, you’ll be great when they give everyone time to make practice calls! Thanks for signing up.

  3. What if you don’t have a laptop? I signed up for N earlier training to do phone calling but needed a laptop. I only have an iPad.

    • That is a question for the campaign. For the two text banking platforms I’m using right now, they recommend a laptop but say it can be done on a phone/iPad.

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