6 Keys to Effective Canvassing
Nothing Beats Canvassing!
Canvassing is critical to your campaign's success but too many campaigns don't give it proper attention. As long as politicians have been whipping votes, campaigns have been knocking on doors and it’s still the best way to grow support. Canvassing isn’t sexy or glamorous but it wins campaigns like nothing else.
I’ve been canvassing (also known as block-walking) for conservative candidates since I was 10 years old, have trained thousands of activists how to do it, helped tons of campaigns develop their walk-programs and have personally directed the knocking of over 350,000 doors. During that time, I’ve learned a thing or two.
Make sure you don't forget to check out our Volunteer Briefing Template! It's a great resource to help you keep volunteers organized and canvassing effective!
Before you start knocking doors or deploying block-walkers, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Look the Part
You can’t remake a first impression and people often base their votes on petty things. Whether your shirt is tucked in, tattoos are showing, you’re wearing sunglasses or, God-forbid, you’ve got big gauges in your ears, you are going to impact a voter’s decision to come to the door, let alone, vote for your candidate.
I recommend that walkers wear polo shirts or a t-shirt with the candidate’s logo or name on it when canvassing. Clean, nice jeans or khaki pants/shorts (not cargo) and comfortable, clean tennis shoes will complete your block-walking ensemble. Cover tattoos, minimize jewelry (especially for guys) and take off your sunglasses when you approach each house. Carry a satchel or backpack for campaign literature, water, power-pack (in case your phone or tablet runs low) and a small first aid kit to treat blisters or sunburn.
Every Door Won't Open
Only about 30% of the doors you canvass on will open. The precise amount is going to vary by the kind of neighborhood but 30% is the average you’ll find as you knock more doors. As a volunteer, the most important things you can do to maximize the voters you speak with are to knock later in the day and on weekends, as well as to dress well.
When doors do open, it’s game time. You only have marginal control over how many voters answer the door but your attitude, presence and salesmanship will determine how many voters you can truly interact with. Be funny, engaging and smile a lot. Also, don’t be afraid to use a bit of social pressure/guilt-tripping.
Steward Your Time
There are a lot of ways to waste time when you’re canvassing. Slow-rolling between houses, getting lost and taking lots of bathroom breaks are obvious ones. You need to be aware of some of the less obvious time-sucks though:
1. Don’t wait more than one minute at the door. If you knock a door and don’t see somebody coming within 45 seconds to one minute, leave. Keep your eyes open as you leave in case someone comes to the door as you’re walking away.
2. When a voter wants to bend your ear for a long conversation (whether positive or negative) politely extricate yourself and move on to the next house. If they’re a fan of your candidate, let them know that you’ve got a lot of other doors to knock and need more votes to get your guy elected. If they hate you and your candidate, invite them to contact the campaign office for more information or answers to their questions and move on down the road. You shouldn’t be spending more than 3-5 minutes talking to a single voter at the door.
Depending on the concentration of the doors you’re knocking, you should be able to hit between 12 and 25 doors per hour. I expect at least 12 doors per hour when walking doors for light turnout municipal elections and close to 25 doors per hour when knocking non-democrats in general elections. Your primary election average in most areas is going to be 15 doors per hour. Keep that in mind as you’re setting goals for walkers, especially anybody that you’re paying.
You Won't Have Every Answer
I don’t care how well you know the candidate or how much of a policy-wonk you are, you’re still not going to have a ready answer for all the questions that voters ask of you. Make sure that you have the candidate or campaign manager’s contact information so you can share that with voters. You can carry the message to the campaign or let the voter contact them directly. Either way, make sure you have your contingency plan in place for when you get stumped.
Effective canvassing is hard work and time intensive. You will probably sweat, get blisters, a sunburn and have mean people answer doors you knock on. That’s a pretty small price to pay for the most important donation you can ever give a campaign. Your reputation and work ethic are the most important assets you can bring to a campaign and spending your time knocking doors is your best bet for winning votes.
Voters are going to be able to tell if you’re having fun or not. Smile and be excited! Keep reminding yourself about why you chose to do this and communicate that to voters. Tell them how this candidate motivated you enough to donate your time to go talk to strangers about how awesome he or she is.
Don't Let the Campaign Waste Your Time
If your campaign is making walk-lists from excel files or manually routing voters off Google Maps, drag them into the 21st Century! Campaign Sidekick exists because I and a few others got tired of wasting our time, and our volunteers’ time with badly routed or un-routed lists, poor voter targeting and paper lists that never got entered into the database.
Your campaign needs a 21st century solution to those problems and Campaign Sidekick is the best in the business. We give campaigns the ability to run their entire voter contact operation (door-to-door, phones and mail) through one database. Automated route optimization, easy voter targeting, and an intuitive mobile application speed up your ground-game and keep your information flowing.
My canvassing teams have knocked over 300,000 doors with Campaign Sidekick since 2014. The system is reliable, fast and fully integrated with your other core campaign functions.
If your campaign, or one you’re volunteering for, is wasting your time with antiquated block-walking solutions, we want to give them a free demo of Campaign Sidekick and demonstrate what we can do for you.
Believe me. You’ll be impressed!
[…] but may not be prepared to commit to supporting your campaign. Use robo-surveys, live calls and door-to-door canvassing to complete a messaging survey and identify voters' concerns. You need to know what they […]
I was looking forward to absorbing some great information from this article, but was instantly repelled by the very first paragraph. While it is easy to understand that individuals with tattoos or stretched ears — like myself — may not strike that particular “professional appearance” at first glance, we still certainly deserve more than the negative connotation that “God forbid” we express ourselves this way. It’s 2019, and while my few tattoos and formerly stretched ears (from my teenage years) aren’t as dramatic as some, I consider myself an intelligent, honest, professional, and positive human being with more grace than to address readers with language that discounts and degrades people who choose to express themselves differently. It simply would have been better to leave out the “God forbid.”
Haley, Thank you so much for your comment! It seems like you believed my intention was to demean or cast dispersions on people such as yourself. That wasn’t my intention and I apparently failed to communicate a more accurate one.
As someone who has multiple tattoos and a rich appreciation of the beautiful ways people can be expressive with their bodies, I agree whole-heartedly about your assessment that intelligence, honest, professionalism and integrity are frequently descriptive of humans of all types. Most importantly, and I think it’s your point, I don’t believe that it’s accurate to make a snap judgement of someone’s internal characteristics based on their outward adornment.
However, in circumstances where snap judgements are a matter of course (such as this specific instance of a short canvassing encounter) I believe campaigns should be careful to put their best foot forward. This is especially the case when we’re talking about older voters who may have very different perceptions than you and I do about these things.
I simultaneously believe (and I don’t think it’s contradictory) that we as humans should be more open to our first impression being incomplete AND that when campaigning we should be very careful about the first impression we make.
The specific usage of “God forbid” wasn’t meant as antagonistic, just as a exclamatory reinforcement of a particular case that I’ve personally seen cause unique consternation among voters. I had a fantastic young man working for me who embodied all of the virtues you mentioned. In most cases, he left the gauges out of his ears but on one occasion he left them in. Doing so led to a number of complaints from a variety of older voters we were trying to contact. It led to them looking unfavorably on the candidate and the young man. Neither opinion was justified but that doesn’t matter in terms of losing those votes.
When canvassing, the focus should be on the voter and candidate. The canvasser should never be the focus. In my opinion, I think that means we stay away from clothing or other viewable adornments that might cause focus to be aimed at the canvasser.