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The Most Common Dos and Don’ts of Canvassing for Political Campaigns: A Last-minute Checklist

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Published: Mar 8, 2022

A research conducted to examine the impact of canvassing showed that successful personal contact through door knocking raised the probability of voter turnout by 8.7%. 

Clearly knowing what you should and shouldn’t while canvassing can 

  • Make those interactions more meaningful
  • Expand your support network
  • Improve voter turnout, and 
  • Earn donations that help achieve your mission.

How do you succeed in canvassing?

First, canvassers need to be trained well on the talking points and must be able to answer the commonly asked questions. Initiating a fruitful conversation and keeping the momentum going can be difficult for some canvassers. Pairing up an experienced canvasser with these canvassers can be a good way to maintain the balance. 

Providing your canvassers with the essentials is a must. These essentials include petition papers, campaign literature, scripts, etc. For effective canvassing, use a canvassing app.

In this guide, we have covered the dos and don’ts of canvassing to make your canvassing campaign efficient and result-oriented. When you’ve made sure all the basics are in place, go through this final checklist to ensure things are in order. 

Canvassing dos

Know your voter’s interests before you knock on their door

Your voter could be someone who votes in every midterm or only during presidential elections. 

Categorize these based on 

  • Their level of knowledge about politics. 
  • Your candidate.
  • The issues you are solving, and so on as needed. 

Have a script for each category and personalize your interaction based on their knowledge and interests.

💡Pro tip: If there was a yard gate you had to open, close it behind you. This indicates thoughtfulness and respect.

Keep a target for the day

It’s common to waste time during canvassing by taking multiple breaks. Keeping a daily target for the number of doors to knock helps stay on track.

Look cheerful, motivated, and presentable

If your voter is not familiar with your party, this is your opportunity to create the best first impression. Smile, dress appropriately and wear formal shoes. Your interaction is a deciding factor in if their vote goes to your candidate. 

👉 Important reminder: Stand in front of the door where people can see you from their peephole.

Knock every door from your list

You need to reach out to as many voters as possible before your opposition does. Knock every door, even if it looks like they’re not home. This is where turf cutting helps organize you into groups, so you don’t miss any house.

💡Pro tip: Wait for 20 seconds after knocking on the door, and if they don’t answer, try the doorbell.

Update the status after each door

Record results from each house. For example, NH- Not Home, MO- Moved Out, and so on. 

The data you collect needs to be as up-to-date as possible for your campaign to make quick and informed decisions. A mobile canvassing application like miniVAN helps take the information straight into your system. This helps you easily update the status on the completion of turfs.

Use scripts and rehearse them

So, what to say when campaigning door to door?

Understand and remember the important elements of the script and practice it with your canvassing partner. Some questions are common during a canvassing campaign, and covering them in your scripts as FAQs helps volunteers be better prepared.

During volunteer training, make sure they are ready to answer these common questions and know the key phrases and notable facts in and out. 

Follow the best practices while creating your canvassing scripts

Here’s a guide on what to say when canvassing with the four most common scenarios.

Plan your route and stay on it

Know how your canvassing lists are divided and plan your route. This will help you stay organized and make the data entry smooth.

Stay polite and positive

You may encounter people who support your opposition. Many may not even answer the door. Respect their choices and stay polite. Your best bet is to move on to the next door. If your voter is undecided, nudge them in your candidate’s direction. Don’t argue to put forth your point, and don’t get pulled into discussions that may cause trouble.

Remember, every volunteer represents your candidate and party.

Although, sometimes, it may just be bad timing. In such a case, try getting their contact details so you can reach out to them later. 

👉 Important reminder: Wear your mask throughout the day.

Speak clearly

It may be slightly challenging to understand every word you say with the mask on. So, remember to speak clearly and a little louder than usual.

Bring your own supplies

Take water bottles, snacks, bags, notepads, pens, etc., depending on your needs.

Read the room

If a voter seems visibly busy, say, on a phone call, hand out the literature and move to the next house. 

💡Pro tip: Leave a personal note along with the literature with something you’d like to convey.

Have the answers

Know your candidate’s achievements and have some pointers ready to talk about why you’re supporting them. Add them to your script, so you are well prepared.  

Collect feedback

Always seek out potential volunteers, supporters, and donors when canvassing. Collecting their feedback gives you a fair bit of an idea of where each of them stands.  

Leave your contact details instructing them on how to reach out.

💡Pro tip: Collect contact information and follow up with potential supporters.

Thank them

End every interaction by thanking them for their time.

Stay connected with your canvassing partners

Keep your canvassing partners’ contact information and exchange updates.

Canvassing don’ts

Stay at unanswered doors for too long

Not every house will answer the door. Stay for not more than a minute at every unanswered door.

Engage in extended conversations

Limit your time with each voter and stay within that time. For example, between 3 to 5 minutes is a good cap. If your voter wants to discuss more, politely let them know that you’ve got a long day and that you’ll get back to them. 

It’s also a good idea to leave your contact information so they can reach out to you later.

Use paper lists or excel sheets

If your campaign is making walk-lists using excel sheets, it’s time you make things efficient. There are many tools for automated route optimization, voter targeting, and more.  

Check out this list of 17 political canvassing software and apps to accompany your campaign, from when you make walk lists to when you follow up with supporters. 

Start interacting without confirming their name

Always introduce yourself, confirm your voter’s presence with the person who answers the door, and then talk to the right person. Also, request to speak to every voter from that household.    

Leave your campaign literature in a mailbox

Although you can leave your campaign literature at your voter’s door, never leave it in their mailbox, as it is a federal crime.

Give incorrect answers

If you don’t have the answer to a specific question your voter asks, direct them to the right source, such as your website, or offer to get back to them with the correct answer.

This is also an opportunity to collect their contact information.

Be too pushy

Your goal is to be persuasive but not pushy. If a voter says they’d like you to leave, thank them for their time and leave the premises. 

Presume relationships

Do not presume relationships between people on your list and people living in the same house.  

Stand too close to the door

How to knock on a door the right way while canvassing?

Knock on the door and take a couple of steps back to maintain a healthy distance.

Go inside the house

From a safety perspective, it’s not recommended to go inside the house even if the person invites you in. Thank them for inviting and politely decline by saying you’ve got a long list in hand. 

Initiate physical contact

Don’t initiate physical contact like handshakes, hugs, etc., with your voter.

Walk on lawns

Be respectful of people’s property and don’t touch or spoil anything. Use the path made for walking and don’t step on lawns.

Robotically read from the script

Don’t just read from your script word to word. Make eye contact with your voter and have a normal conversation.

Give them the option to get out of the conversation

Don’t give people a way out by asking questions that may have an unfavorable answer. For example, “Are you busy?”.

Approach people at odd hours

Later in the day before the sunset, and the weekends are a good time for knocking doors.

Pass negative comments on the opponent

Stay away from discussions around your opponent, especially if you don’t have all the answers ready.

Here’s a quick summary of what we’ve discussed so far:

Canvassing dos Canvassing don’ts
Know your voter’s interests before you knock on their doorStay at unanswered doors for too long
Keep a target for the day to help you stay on trackEngage in extended conversations
Look cheerful, motivated, and presentable to create the best impressionUse paper lists or excel sheets
Knock every door from your list even if it looks like they’re not homeStart interacting without confirming their name
Update the status after each door to inform your future campaign strategyLeave your campaign literature in a mailbox
Use scripts and rehearse them, so you cover the important elements and answer the common queries Give incorrect answers
Plan your route and stay on it for an organized and smooth executionBe too pushy
Stay polite and positive even if you encounter oppositionPresume relationships between people on your list and people living in the same house
Speak clearly and a little louder than usualStand too close to the door
Bring your own supplies like water bottles, snacks, bags, notepads, pens, etc., depending on your needsGo inside the house
Read the room and if a voter seems visibly busy, say, on a phone call, hand out the literature and move to the next house.Initiate physical contact
Know your candidate’s achievements and have some pointers ready to talk about why you’re supporting them.Walk on lawns
Collect feedback to get a fair bit of an idea of where each of them stands.Robotically read from the script
Thank them for their time after every interactionGive them the option to get out of the conversation
Stay connected with your canvassing partnersApproach people at odd hours
Pass negative comments on the opponent

Get started

Add these canvassing dos and don’ts to your current plan. For more canvassing tips and tricks, check out our guide on political canvassing tips for campaigns.

Featured image: Photo by Jonathan Simcoe on Unsplash

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