There is no getting around the fact that door-to-door canvassing can be uncomfortable. Knocking on someone’s door and asking them to stop whatever they were doing to have a chat with you about politics is awkward and seems unnatural.
So why go through all the trouble?
Because it works.
In a study on MoveOn GOTV operations, researchers found that contact with MoveOn volunteers increased voter turnout by approximately 9 percentage points. Because, unlike a conversation on a social media platform, face-to-face interaction is deeply personal. Two people having a respectful conversation on a doorstep are more likely to find common ground.
Related reading: 6 proven strategies to help you increase voter turnout
Why is it important to be prepared when canvassing?
Your campaign and your volunteers need to be in sync. That’s because successful canvassing involves:
- Conveying the right message to the right voter group (ex. GOTV for supporters)
- Collecting the data you need to facilitate further communication
- Making sure constituents have everything they need to cast a vote.
Hence this post on political canvassing tips.
So, all in all, how do you get better at door-to-door canvassing?
In this article, we’ve rounded up some door-to-door campaigning tips for both campaign managers and volunteers to help you maximize your success rate.
Door to door canvassing tips for campaigns
Set your objectives
When? Before planning your event and spreading the word to supporters.
Political canvassing is typically done to:
- Gather information on voters in a locality (Voter ID)
- Raise awareness about an issue
- Help with voter registration
- Persuade undecided voters to increase voter participation (Voter persuasion)
- Identify registered voters, likely voters, and residents that haven’t voted in a long time
- Convince supporters to vote (GOTV)
Your canvassing script and walk lists will change depending on your campaign objectives.
Learn more about creating a canvassing script for door-to-door campaigns.
Find your volunteer count
When? Before inviting volunteers to your canvassing event.
Before you arrive at your volunteer count, let’s find out the answer to an important question: How many doors can you knock on in an hour?
A typical canvasser spends around 1 to 3 minutes at a door averaging about 20 doors per hour (when we account for time spent walking). So, a single volunteer on a 3-hour shift can knock around 60 doors per shift. To knock on all the doors on your list, you will need to recruit an adequate number of volunteers.
To determine your volunteer count, you need to know:
- How many doors you will be knocking on
- How many hours you have
Volunteer count = (No. of doors)/(20 x No. of hours)
Related reading: How to recruit volunteers for political campaigns
Determine your budget
When? Before starting your canvassing campaign, deciding on outreach methods and choosing tools.
Answer these questions to determine the costs for your canvassing campaign:
- Are your volunteers going to be handing out flyers?
- Will they be wearing campaign merchandise like shirts, pins, and stickers?
- Do you need to provide transportation to volunteers?
- Will they be using software tools?
Use smart tools
When? Set up your tools before beginning your canvassing campaign.
Canvassing apps like Ecanvasser/MiniVAN allow organizers to sync your walk list to the app and locate voters on a map so your door-to-door canvassers can easily navigate to houses they’ve been assigned.
Here are two important things to remember:
- Ask volunteers to download the app on their phones before coming to the event.
- Make sure you have a CRM to sync data to your canvassing app. E.g., NationBuilder, NGP VAN.
Tip: NationBuilder allows you to segment your voter lists and cut turf using a mapping tool. Once you cut turfs, either by:
- Manually selecting geographies or neighborhoods,
you can print out walk sheets or import the turfs into a canvassing tool.
Provide a volunteer checklist
When? Let volunteers know about what they need to bring to the canvass right when inviting them to an event.
Give volunteers a checklist that they can refer to before setting off to canvass.
Here’s an example:
|☐ Make sure your phone is fully charged.|
☐ Wear comfortable and appropriate shoes and clothing.
☐ Bring snacks and water.
☐ Bring sunscreen for a hot day.
☐ Familiarize yourself with talking points.
☐ Follow the list of doors or the map you’ve been provided.
☐ Know what information to collect from voters.
☐ Get the contact info of your teammates.
☐ Pair up with another volunteer or bring a friend.
Ask your volunteers to go through the checklist before coming down to the event.
Train your volunteers
When? You can give a brief overview of the canvassing objectives and host a mock canvassing session for new volunteers on the day of the event.
Start a session by having the organizer give a short introductory speech.
The speech can reiterate the importance of canvassing and the campaign’s goals. The aim of this video or in-person introduction should be to get people fired up about volunteering.
Once your volunteers get comfy, get into the agenda of your training session. Fill them in on:
- What to say when campaigning door to door, i.e., the main talking points for the campaign
- The designated area they are canvassing
- How to answer questions from constituencies
- Splitting into teams for canvassing
- Where and where not to place campaign literature
- Keeping notes while canvassing
- The tools they will be using
Pro tip: Determine which language(s) will be the most useful to the communities you are talking to and have translated copies of your script for each of those languages. Train your volunteers to cater to these communities accordingly.
Provide campaign literature
When? Hand canvassers campaign literature right after your training session.
Flyers, posters, brochures, and signs can all increase the staying power of a door knock. They serve to introduce candidates and their major policy positions to voters (in an easy-to-digest format.)
Some canvassing events rely on campaign literature to do the convincing for them. Take this “Drop and Dash” event by a congressional candidate in Florida’s 4th District.
Note: In the case of literature drops, it is a federal offense to put campaign literature in a voter’s mailbox as per the law. Hand them literature during or after your discussion with them or at the door.
Follow up with the voters you contact
When? Assess the data that volunteers updated during the canvassing session right after it is over.
You can make it easy for voters from different communities to reach out to you with questions (by having volunteers give them contact details) or be proactive if they have agreed to be added to your contact list.
Depending on how they want to be contacted, follow up with voters from your voter database through:
- Calls – Make GOTV calls in the final weeks leading up to the upcoming election.
- Texts – Send peer-to-peer texts with polling locations.
- Email – Send mass emails reminding people to vote/asking for donations.
|Before the event||During the event||After the event|
|Set your objectives|
Find your volunteer count
Determine your budget
Use smart tools
Provide a volunteer checklist
|Train your volunteers|
Provide campaign literature
|Follow up with the voters you contact|
Door to door canvassing tips for volunteers
If you’re a volunteer setting off for your first canvassing event and are thinking about how to be a good canvasser, these tips will come in handy:
Rehearse your talking points
When? During the training session, you will have some time to get acquainted with the talking points for the event.
For first-time volunteers, rehearsing the conversations they will be having beforehand will make for more natural dialogue and help with jitters.
The canvassing coordinator should provide a script with the important points to make. Still, volunteers need to put across those points in their own words to have a natural conversation.
As mentioned earlier, an initial training session, where people can practice having conversations with fellow volunteers, is very helpful.
Tip: Noticing things about a voter before you knock (a pet, a yard sign) can help break the ice when starting a conversation and help you ease into the topic at hand.
Dress for the occasion
What to wear while canvassing?
An untucked shirt, visible tattoos, etc. can mean the difference between someone opening their door and not doing so.
If you’re reaching out to undecided voters, give the impression that you’re one of them who just happens to know of a great candidate.
- Jeans, Khaki slacks, or such semi-formal pants/skirts
- Polos, button-ups, plain t-shirts, blazers, professional tops/dresses
- Dress shoes, simple sneakers
When you’re canvassing for GOTV, be more overt with campaign merchandise to make an immediate connection since you are reaching out to confirmed supporters.
Adopt positive body language
“90% of communication is non-verbal.”
Volunteers are the face of a campaign, right after the candidate. That means it’s worth taking the time to make a good impression.
Thank voters for their time, whether a contact went well or not. Showing gratitude will keep supporters engaged and make them feel more involved.
In addition, a smile can help you start on the right foot.
Knocking on dozens of doors can be exhausting. This will show in your speech. Frequently remind yourself to smile and sound excited.
Related reading: Here’s an article by Harvard Business Review on authentic speaking.
Listen to voters
People will respond better if they feel you are listening to their concerns.
Several canvassing techniques focus on changing the mind of voters by having 2-way conversations. That means volunteers need to be as adept at listening as they are at speaking to voters.
Deep canvassing is one such technique.
In 2018, progressive group Changing The Conversation Together used deep canvassing to change voters’ minds in traditionally conservative Staten Island. They reached out to over 10,000 voters, with 27% of the voters contacted saying they were more likely to vote Democrat. This resulted in the first Democratic victory in that District in 40 years.
In a nutshell, the deep canvassing process involves:
- Asking for a voter’s opinion on a specific issue and exploring it
- Asking for their personal story or experience about the issue
- Connecting a personal story to the voter’s initial opinion
- Engaging with their initial concerns and opinions and giving them time to ponder
- Getting back to the original problem and seeking their opinion.
Learn more about employing deep canvassing in your voter persuasion efforts.
Stay safe during canvassing
Field organizers will generally go over safety guidelines during training. In case you miss it, here are the basic precautions canvassers must take:
Always canvass in pairs
When following a walk list, canvassers can lose track of their surroundings. Have one pair keep an eye on the road to prevent potential accidents. A pair of canvassers will also find dealing with guard dogs or belligerent homeowners easier.
Carry a cell phone
Make sure it is fully charged (should last you through the duration of the canvass). Note the contact details of your fellow canvasser and field organizer.
If a voter is not interested in talking to you, it is best to move on to the next door. Forcing the issue will only waste time better spent talking to receptive voters.
- Wear a mask, and ask the person you are engaging with to wear a mask.
- Maintain a safe distance from the people you are talking with.
- Carry sanitizer.
To learn how to canvass in detail, read our political canvassing post for a comprehensive guide on door-to-door canvassing, phone canvassing, and text canvassing.
If your volunteers are uncomfortable with door-to-door canvassing during the pandemic, look for other ways your campaign can engage voters. Phone banking and peer-to-peer texting allow your volunteers to interact with voters from the safety of their own homes.