Door-to-door canvassing is the lifeblood of politics. Done right, it is the most effective method of political persuasion. But how is it done right? Here are ten tips:
(1) Dress like someone voters would want to talk to.
Most people are wary of anyone unexpectedly knocking on their door. Dress modestly, in a polo-style or office-style top, khaki or office-style pants (or that kind of image), and comfortable walking shoes (sneakers are fine). You want to present yourself as “one of them” or, if you’re the candidate, as how an officeholder would look. Also, wear a button, sticker or campaign shirt to tip off residents that you’re with a campaign—rather than a door-to-door salesperson or solicitor for charity.
(2) Make sure to carry what you’ll need.
You should have a walk list and map. If you’re seeking petition signatures, you’ll need a clipboard and a couple of pens. If you’re seeking votes, you’ll need campaign literature and a pen. If it’s summer, carry some water and a handkerchief to wipe away sweat. If it’s winter, dress in layers so you can take something off if the exercise makes you too warm. Always have your cell phone.
(3) Walk during the most productive hours.
Generally, weekends and holidays are best because you can walk from around 10am to around 8pm. On weekdays, unless it’s a development for senior citizens, you can generally only walk from around 6pm to 8 or 9pm. Don’t walk in the dark—it will scare residents.
(4) Expect fewer than half to answer their doors.
A lot or residents aren’t home for one reason or another and, even among those who are home, a substantial percentage won’t answer the door. You just have to adjust your expectations. If one-third open their doors, you’re doing well. Once you’re talking, very few are dismissive or rude, and a fair number are unexpectedly welcoming.
(5) Be reasonably persistent.
If there is a doorbell, try it, but it doesn’t necessarily work. If you can’t hear it ring, wait about 30 seconds and knock. Perhaps a lot of doorbells don’t work or perhaps the knock makes residents less likely to ignore you, but it works. After ringing or knocking, back up a little and place yourself where you can be seen by the resident. How long should you wait before giving up? If lights are on and there’s a car in front, wait longer. If there’s a newspaper or mail on the ground outside, give up sooner.
(6) Know what you’re going to say.
Have an opening sentence that says who you are, what’s the campaign, and what you’re asking them to do (petition/persuasion/GOTV). You do this to assure residents that you’re not asking for money! Then, those who are persuadable will listen and those who are not persuadable will tell you so. It is traditional to give volunteer canvassers a script, but it’s important that they sound natural, so try to let them use their own words.
(7) If no one answers and you have a flyer, put it through the door slot or place it somewhere that’s fairly secure.
Never put campaign literature in a USPS mailbox; that’s illegal. However, if a house has a door slot for mail, you are allowed to use that. (See: “delivery notes” on the USPS website.) If there is no door slot, then try to wedge the literature somewhere on the door or screen door where it will be seen. (Some fliers are cut into a door hanger shape.) If you leave it on the ground, preferably inside a screen door, make sure it’s as visible as possible.
(8) Record the information you get.
On a paper walk list, or preferably, using a canvassing app like MiniVAN or ECanvasser, record whatever information you get, including “not home” or “refused.” The campaign needs this information to follow-up.
(9) Don’t waste your time.
Don’t get into long conversations and certainly not arguments. You should spend about one-to-three minutes at a door, which will allow you to visit about 20 doors per hour. It’s not worth confronting hostile dogs but don’t be stopped by “no soliciting” signs. You’re not soliciting.
(10) Always be positive.
Smile, be friendly, and seem confident. More than ninety percent of communication is a matter of facial expression, body language and tone of voice. Pay attention. Expect residents to say something interesting—they often do! And always, always thank people for their time, whether or not they’re on your side.