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Deep Canvassing: Expert Tells How to Determine Success

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Published: Sep 28, 2023

Deep canvassing, a powerful method for engaging voters in meaningful conversations, has proven successful traction over the past decade. These 10-20 minute dialogues effectively sway undecided voters, bolstering your voter base one person at a time.

While deep canvassing proved its success, measuring its impact for every campaign is crucial. CallHub recently spoke with LM Davis, a seasoned deep canvasser and the owner of LM Engagement LLC, from Ohio. With a background in training and scriptwriting for canvassing, LM previously worked with People’s Action, a renowned national organizing community. Having transitioned from their former job to pursue grassroots organizing, LM finds fulfillment in transformative conversations that promote progressive decision-making.

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“It was really difficult to be on the political advocacy side of things when I lived in North Carolina because we tried to get policies changed, and elected representatives would say outrageous and ignorant things. I was shocked that that was the conversation happening in the state house, and I didn’t know how we were going to change policy on a higher level if people, on the one hand, don’t know what they are talking about and don’t know how to talk to each other. 

I saw these elected officials who are supposed to work together to come up with solutions just arguing and name-calling. But I looked at people that I knew, people in the local governments, community organizations, and neighborhood groups, and then I knew there are people who are ready to have a conversation- people who are willing to talk but don’t want to engage on a policy level. 

That is why I started deep canvassing,” LM tells CallHub.

LM helped us understand the intricacies of deep canvassing and measuring success. We concluded that success primarily depends on three main factors:

  1. The target audience
  2. Timeline
  3. Defining outcomes

Let’s take a look at how you must define each factor and measure success in deep canvassing.

But, basics first.

What is deep canvassing?

Deep canvassing is a technique of canvassing that uses emphatic 15-20 minute conversations to sway voters towards or against a certain issue. LM tells us that one of the main differences between traditional canvassing and deep canvassing is that the latter focuses on personal experience rather than hard facts. 

“Canvassers come with the mindset that people just need to be educated; we just need to tell people what the truth is. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work very well. You can talk at people all you want, and it doesn’t mean that your words, even if they are true, are going to have an impact. But what moves people is their own experiences. That’s why we ask questions like who do you know, what have you seen, how does it feel, and more to keep the focus on the voter rather than the canvasser,” they tell CallHub.

In deep canvassing, the voter should be talking more than the canvasser.  

– LM Davis.

The other main difference between traditional and deep canvassing is that the former lasts 2-5 minutes. A full conversation in deep canvassing is between 15-20 minutes.

Who is your ideal target audience for deep canvassing?

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Since deep canvassing is all about helping someone shift their beliefs to align more closely with yours, the obvious ideal target audience is that which has a chance of shifting their beliefs: the swing voters or on-the-fence voters.

To determine whether a person falls in this ideal category, canvassers rely on “the scale.”

“Pretty much every script includes a question at the beginning and the end that asks voters to put themselves on a 0-10 scale on how much they do or don’t support something. That scale rating is self-reported and subjective, but that is our strongest baseline,” says LM.

If someone rates themselves 0-1 on support, they’re too distant from our beliefs for meaningful conversations. Ratings of 9-10 mean they’re already aligned; a deep conversation is unnecessary. Targeting those at 5-6 is ideal, as they’re actively considering the issue.

LM says that even if a person moves from a 6 to a 7 at the end of the survey, that’s a win. “It may look like it’s just a one-point difference, but in the larger scheme of things, they are now closer to supporting us than they were previously.”

Kalla and Brockman’s research reveals deep canvassing’s influence persists for around nine months. 

However, you’re not the sole contact for swing voters; various forms of political outreach seek their favor. TV ads, door knocking, phone banking campaigns, mailers, podcasts, and political literature and campaigning are looking to sway voters to their side.

So, while your canvasser reached them first and shifted the scale point, another campaign could very well overturn this impact.

Which brings us to the timeline of deep canvassing.

Deep canvassing timeline

“If the first contact is just a week or two out, maybe that moment of motivation is not going to happen soon enough. But if it is too far out and you don’t have a reminder in between, they may be motivated at the start, but that wanes over time. So I think there’s a sweet spot to talk to people early so you can have a persuasive conversation and that effect takes place and have another contact to ensure that the effect stays,” LM tells CallHub.

Let’s put the first contact to 2-3 months before election day- depending on the issue and if there’s a buzz about it already. 

Contact pointTimeline
First contact at the door- ask for contact details if the person falls in your target audience2 – 3 months before decision point
First follow up [ideally over text or email, thanking them for their time]Within 24 hours of first contact at the door
Follow-up call- Check where they stand on the scale now3-4 weeks before decision point
Voter persuasion call [If they have changed their mind and fallen back on your scale]3-4 weeks after the last call
Last contact [over text or call]1-5 days before decision point/election day

How do you define the outcomes of a deep canvassing campaign?

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In a deep canvassing campaign, goals hinge on the win number, i.e., the people needed to take action (e.g., collect signatures). With a lower win number, persuasion is the primary goal. For a higher win number, outreach becomes a measurable outcome, although persuasion remains the bottom line.

Outcomes can include: 

  • Contact rates (partial or full conversations versus total reached) and 
  • Persuasion numbers (those persuaded versus total contacted).

Door-knocking contact rates

Speaking of their experience in door-knocking, LM says that a canvasser knocks on 10-15 doors an hour on average. Of that, 1-2 result in complete conversations and another 1-2 in partial conversations. The rest are either refusals or no-answers.

Persuasion numbers

Typically, campaign managers don’t set persuasion rate goals but rather an overall goal of how many people the team has to persuade. The number of doors to be knocked on is reverse calculated from that point, keeping in mind the typical contact rates. Sometimes, if the persuasion rates are lower than expected, the canvassing turf is expanded to achieve the bottom line.

Deep canvassing: Cannot stop at the doors

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To sustain the impact of your canvassing efforts, it’s crucial to extend the conversation beyond the doorstep. Phone canvassing serves as an effective solution, especially when dealing with extensive contact lists and limited resources.

While phone canvassing typically yields lower contact and full conversation rates compared to door-to-door efforts (around 1-2 full conversations per 30-50 dials from a phone banking software), it offers unique advantages. 

It’s a trusted canvassing method that provides a non-intrusive yet personal touchpoint, especially with previously surveyed individuals.

By integrating tools like CallHub with canvassing apps, automated follow-up messages and calling campaigns can be scheduled weeks after the initial contact. This holistic approach ensures the lasting impact of your deep canvassing efforts and guards against opposition interference.

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