Canvass Training Guide
Click here to let your FM know you’re planning a canvass.
- What is Canvassing?
- What is Canvassing?
- Benefits of Canvassing to Campaigns
- Why Do We Canvass?
- Why it makes an impact and is so important
- The 3 types of Canvassing
- What type of Canvass will we be doing?
- The Direct Benefits of Canvassing
- Keys and Tips to Canvassing
- General Best Practices & Tips for Canvassing
- How to Plan a Successful Canvassing Trip
- Process for planning a successful canvassing trip: before, during, after
- Additional Resources
What is Canvassing?
Canvassing refers to going door-to-door in a neighborhood and having conversations about important issues with community members. It is used by political parties and campaigns to identify supporters, persuade the undecided, and it is central to get out the vote (GOTV) operations. It is the core element of what political campaigns call the ground game or field.
Why Do We Canvass?
It is an essential component of organizing. We use canvassing to talk to voters about issues that matter to them, spread our message and recruit new volunteers. The results of every conversation are recorded so we can make sure we are organizing in the most efficient way possible and focusing on what’s most important to voters.
There are 3 types of canvassing: ID/Petition, Persuasion and GOTV. ID/Petition canvassing is the campaign’s way of ID’ing voters and supporters, and sometimes this is done along with a petition drive early in the cycle to get a candidate on the ballot. ID canvassing is also an effective tool campaigns use to increase Voter Registration early in the cycle as well. Persuasion Canvassing is when canvassers go door-to-door delivering a persuasion script meant to “persuade” a voter to vote for a particular candidate. GOTV (Get Out The Vote) Canvassing is geared toward increasing voter turnout among already contacted voters; GOTV walk-lists will include the voters polling location as well. As of August, campaigns are generally in the ID or Persuasion phases and will transition to GOTV approximately 2 weeks before Election Day.
What type of canvassing will we be doing? Sister District volunteers should expect to do ID or Persuasion canvassing before Oct 21st, and GOTV Canvassing from Oct 22 until Election Day.
It’s helpful to remember that strong supporters are usually the first people a campaign identifies. So, if you’re door-knocking for ID or Persuasion, you are often skipping supporter’s houses, and going only to houses of people who have not yet told the campaign who they are supporting, or have not yet made up their minds. This can sometimes be disheartening because you might not get a lot of people telling you that they love your candidate. That’s OK, and doesn’t necessarily mean that your candidate is doing poorly or isn’t going to win. Your efforts talking to voters are incredibly valuable!
Direct benefits of canvassing include:
- The opportunity to convince voters to come out and vote for the candidate/issue
- An average 8-10% increase in voter turnout
- Increased credibility for the candidate or the campaign
- Facilitates GOTV efforts on election day
Keys and Tips to Canvassing
- Knock every door! Even if you don’t see lights on or cars in the driveway, knock or ring the bell anyway. Someone may be home, so try anyway. And if you can’t hear the doorbell from the door, knock loudly. Leave literature at every listed door, even if the person is not home. Try to talk with the voter listed on the sheet and only visit the houses on the list.
- Make a good first impression. Position yourself so that the voter can see your friendly smiling face as they come to see who’s knocking. Most people will look through a peephole or the screen door and see you before you see them. Also we recommend taking a big step back, usually onto the first or second step to make the person feel more comfortable.
- Make sure that the person on your list is the one that you’re speaking with and only put that person’s data in their place. Separately ask if the other people in the household arehome and ask to speak to them, only marking for those actually spoken too. No, “oh my sister will vote too”…
- Data matters. Clearly mark your results for each door. Usually your turf sheets will also come with a key to all those two-letter and number codes: NH=Not Home; MV=Moved; 1=Supporter; 5=Supports Opponent; RF=contacted but Refused; MV=Moved; IN=physically Inaccessible; LG=Language Barrier; DC=deceased
- Be patient. People usually take a lot longer to get to their door than you think, especially senior voters. After you ring the doorbell or knock, wait a good minute. You can listen to hear if someone is coming to the door, or sometimes you’ll see the blinds move or see the pressure on the curtains change as someone approaches to see if you need to wait a bit longer.
- Use the right door. Some people don’t use the door to their house that faces the street. If you don’t see a mailbox on the front door, or it seems unused (check for lots of old newspapers or flyers; a pathway or driveway that leads to a side door) and there is an accessible side door that looks well-used, try that door instead. This can especially be true in larger houses that have been split into apartments. Make sure you stay visible from the street, and don’t go around the back of the house alone, even if that is the more-used door.
- Manage your expectations. Whatever day it is, most of the people on your list are not going to be home. Another reason why it’s important to volunteer– it may take 3 or 4 visits before someone from the campaign talks to that voter. But you have to keep trying to reach them.
- No mailboxes! You cannot leave literature in a mailbox – it’s illegal. If you have a flyer or pamphlet to leave, close it into the storm door. Sometimes you can curve the literature and wedge it between the door handle and the door jamb, or under an open lever-style handle.
- Don’t pretend to be an expert. Sometimes a voter will ask you questions about your candidate that you don’t know how to answer. Mark their question down and have the campaign or candidate themselves get back to them. Thank them for their interest in learning about your candidate. Sometimes, as I did when I was asked a question about a national issue while canvassing for a state Senate race, you can remind the voter of the scope of the office and the types of issues the person will face.
- Canvassing is not soliciting. You can still ring bells or knock on doors with “no soliciting” signs. However, if a person asks you not to come onto their property or to leave it, politely comply.
- STAY SAFE. Don’t go inside houses, even in a group. Don’t knock on a door you feel uneasy about. Its recommended that people canvass in pairs using the leap-frog technique (where 1 canvasser is next door, and they do every other door). Don’t canvass homes where there is a dog, or anything else that would make you feel unsafe.
- Smile! When you’ve talked to someone, remember to be kind to them, to thank them for their time, and to wish them a nice day. Most of us rarely get kind treatment from strangers, so be the exception! Always be polite, even if you get a bad reception and remember to thank people for their time.
How to Plan a Successful Canvassing Trip
So your team wants to plan a canvassing trip to knock doors and help flip a seat blue, Awesome news! These are the steps and procedures to follow:
Before – Prep Work
- Internally poll your team and get numbers for how many people are expected to make the trip on the date selected and nominate a canvass coordinator/point person.
- Notify your FM that your team is wanting to canvass with this link.
- Your FM will put you in direct contact with the person from the campaign on the ground to help facilitate the canvass trip (Campaign Coordinator).
- Start to plan transportation and lodging in the district you’re canvassing.
- Have volunteers who are attending download the Mini-Van App and be sure they have an Action ID. Everyone who has phonebanked already has one.
- Ensure volunteers attending are notified of the trip, send reminder emails and make sure they know to dress comfortably and appropriate per the weather conditions for where you’re traveling.
During – At the Doors
- Meet the Campaign Coordinator at the meetup site. Welcome all volunteers at the meetup location, encourage them to have fun and set expectations.
- Only about 30% of the doors knocked will open.
- The Coordinator will then disperse walk-lists, campaign literature and other materials. If you have Mini-Van tell the campaign coordinator (they will rejoice) and they will give you a list number to load into Mini-Van instead of a paper list.
- Review the script and role play with a partner (5 min) – Have all your volunteers take some time and read the script out loud and ask if anyone has any questions. Practice what you are going to say when you knock on the door. Let people know that it’s alright to share their story in order to personalize the message, but that they should try to stick to the script.
- Plan your route. Know where the starting point and the meet-up location is for the end of the canvass shift and plan your route efficiently and accordingly.
- Hit the Streets! Canvassing with the campaign and its volunteers
After – Tallies & Debriefs
- At the end of the canvass have everyone tally up the number of doors they knocked and the number that were successful contacts. Mini-Van will automatically update this number, for those with paper lists a tally is fine. Remember to sync data for Mini-Van users at the end of the canvass!
- Don’t forget in your debrief to let people know about your next event or how they can get more involved in your local group.
- Celebrate! If possible, organize a social gathering afterward. Pizza/Ice Cream and talk about your success together!