Canvassing is the time-honored tradition of going door-to-door through the neighborhoods in your community in an attempt to connect directly with voters.
It is a painstaking but rewarding part of the political process that generally can’t be avoided. We’ve been to enough doors to know that every interaction isn’t a picture perfect two minutes of discussing the issues and securing support, but often more along the lines of a people-watching adventure at your local mall. We’ve pulled out ten people you’re guaranteed to come in contact with while canvassing, and what you should do when you meet them:
The Voter Who’s Actually Paying Attention
We’ll start with the easy one – the voter who’s educated on the issues that your campaign wants to talk about – in hopes that many of the doors you knock on will yield one. In many cases, your community issues are not top-of-mind with the average voter, and in many more cases, people really can’t tell you the difference between a local, state or federal issue. If you meet someone with whom you can engage in substantive conversations on issues you can affect, have a good conversation and then FOLLOW UP!
The “One-Issue” Wonder
People vote the way they do for many reasons, from liking the candidate’s hair to recognizing a name more than the opponent’s. Some voters, though, are very passionate about a specific thing that either affects them directly or doesn’t, and will carry that issue into the voting booth with them regardless of anything else that might be going on. If you meet one of these voters at the door, what they want is for you to demonstrate that you care as much as they do about the issue. Offer to take action, and if you can’t affect the issue in the role you’re running for, you can always call back with a contact name and number, or send a note to the appropriate official on their behalf. Easy.
The FOX News/MSNBC Armchair Politician
This voter is a common one, and generally knows more about politics than you do (or, at least, thinks he does). Problem is, getting dragged into a conversation about national partisan politics can derail your evening of doing door-to-door – and it matters very little for your campaign. Less than your agreement with what they’re saying, these voters want your respect for their opinions, so listen to what they have to say, but attempt to bring any possible segue they give you back to what’s happening locally.
People like to talk, especially about themselves. When you’re going door-to-door, that’s exactly the opportunity that you’re giving them – and boy will some of them take advantage. With a voter standing in front of you, it’s important to give them the attention they want because it builds trust, the hallmark of winning votes. But bear in mind that one vote isn’t going to win the election. Get good at using pauses in the conversation to move toward an exit. If that turns out to not be enough, turn the conversation around and ask them for something – a lawn sign is the easiest thing. If you’re investing the time, make sure that your campaign is getting value out of the conversation, too.
I don’t know about you, but when my children were young, I never let them answer the door. Apparently, as I’ve learned on many campaign trails, some people do, which creates an incredibly awkward interaction. The natural instinct is to resort to the “Is Mommy (or Daddy) home?” but without question your targeted voter is named Chris, so you don’t know if it’s Mommy or Daddy, and when you ask the wrong question, you’re going to get the story about how Daddy lives somewhere else, and Mommy got married again, but the babysitter is here now, and so on. Grin and bear it, use your best negotiation skills to get to the right person and, if you can’t, wait until the door is closed to leave your literature in the door (meaning, don’t give it to the child, because no one’s going to see it again!).
Very often as you’re going door-to-door, the right person won’t be the one who answers the door. In many cases, it’s the family’s older kids, especially as you’re canvassing right after business hours or approaching dinner. Without intentionally stereotyping, while answering the front door is the promise of some kind of adventure, once teenagers see it’s you, they lose interest. But… teenagers are opinionated and they do talk to their parents, so make sure to treat them respectfully. Don’t let the teenager’s first impression of you be the one that is translated to the voter you’re trying to reach – e.g. “That guy was a jerk.” Don’t use first names when asking for their parents – say “Mr. or Mrs. Smith.” And like the toddler, don’t trust that if you give a piece of literature to a teenager whose parents aren’t home, it will get to them. Because it probably won’t.
The Husband/Wife of Different Parties Combo
This is always a fun one, because you have a 50% chance of getting the wrong spouse (and anyone who’s walked door-to-door will tell you that even though it’s a coin-flip chance, you get the wrong spouse 95% of the time). It’s not that the intro isn’t cordial, but there’s usually a moment of, “Oh, you want my husband.” It’s important to remember that for a husband and wife to be of different political persuasions, it means that they’re each probably pretty rooted in their individual dogmas. This isn’t the opportunity to try to change the other spouse’s mind, and rarely will they both stand there and talk with you together. Get to the right person and deliver your message.
The Mad-as-Hell-and-Not-Going-to-Take-it-Anymore Voter
A lot of times, this voter is interchangeable with “The Talker.” They have their issues with government and they’re fed up. Fortunately, if they’re on your walk list, that means they vote – so they’re not that fed up that they’ve waved their hands in disgust. But to these people, politicians, including you, are all scumbags. Your job, as the scumbag standing in front of them, is to hear them out, and then offer reasonable solutions. Emphasis on “reasonable,” because these voters believe they’ve heard it all and have been let down time and time again. The good thing is that you, especially as a challenger, have a great opportunity to connect with these voters because you’re both trying to change things. Take deep breaths, and work on relating to their emotions.
The “I Went to Middle School with Your Opponent” Voter
In local elections, this voter is unavoidable. Relationships can be difficult to overcome no matter what your party affiliation is, and they are prevalent. You’ll run into personal, business and family relationships when you’re fundraising locally, but also when you’re walking door-to-door. In many cases, the person will tell you early on in the conversation that they “go way back” with your opponent, which helpfully gives you notice to move on. If they’re sly, they may try to delay you at their door for a little bit, but rarely will you come across voters who are that politically sophisticated. This is another instance where you don’t want to waste a lot of time or leave literature. Just be polite, thank them for their time, and go find another voter who doesn’t bowl on Friday nights with your opponent.
The “Good Story”
These are the fun ones, and anyone who has done door-to-door canvassing has some good stories. Scantily-clad people coming to the door, people with 37 cats and “interesting” smells emanating from the kitchen are among the favorites. My personal favorite story was when we had a team out collecting petition signatures and we had a pretty, young college intern helping… She knocked on some random door to ask for a signature and it turned out they were having some kind of frat party inside. Dude after dude filed out the front door to, you know, take part in the American political process. I think she gathered 30-some signatures at that one house and was the hero that day. We were standing across the street watching it unfold and laughing. In any case, the more you campaign, the more chances you’ll have to see some really crazy stuff.