Have you ever canvassed for a political candidate?

I’m going to do it for the first time this weekend. I’ve done a lot of political stuff before–phonebanking (from a script), stuffing envelopes, etc.–but never gone door to door for a political candidate before, and I’m wondering what to expect. Specifically, working w/o a script, having to improvise, I’m fearful that I’ll end up arguing with precisely the sort of voters I’m trying to reach out to. (There’s a great passage in PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT where Alex in 1956 is canvassing in Yellow Springs or Gambier, Ohio voters for Stevenson, and his girlfriend ends up telling him on the doorstep of some pissed off Ohioan, “You know, Alex, I think Mr. Yokel may be right–Adlai may be a little soft on Communism after all…”). If you’ve canvassed, what’s the tone of a typical conversation, and how do you turn off the part of you that screams “You dumb fucking asshole, open your goddamn eyes for the first time in your benighted fucking pathetic life and listen to me…”, which I don’t think will be a productive strategy.

I’ve done a little doorstep work this year. My best advice is to skip houses with campaign signs in the yard and if someone gets confrontational, thank them for their time, wish them a good day/evening, and move on. It is almost impossible to change someone’s mind this late. There are a few undecided voters out there, but not many.

Keep the tone light, but at the same time, tell them why you are supporting candidate X. Try and make a connection with them, whether it’s kids, the economy, the war or something else.

You will bump into some rude people. I have gone door to door this year for Obama. Some repubs are real nasty. Mostly old ones. They will slam the door in your face. One guy yelled he hates everything Obama stands for. Makes a discussion impossible.

Door-to-door canvassing is great craic. You get to meet loads of people, have interesting conversations, and learn new things.
By the end of it you will have loads of great stories to tell your friends.

I’ve done it for Kerry and Obama. In both cases we had lists of contacts, so most of the people I encountered liked my candidate, they just needed a kick in the pants to go vote. A few times I’ve encountered voters for the other guys, and they’re typically pretty nice about it. You just shrug and move on. The thing I’ve found is not really to worry about how you’re doing – you’ll get a lot better over the course of the day, and in almost no situation is your contact going to be worse than no contact.


I’ve done canvases for a number of candidates. For local or state offices, I’d often be working right with the candidate himself. So if ever there was a legitimate question that I felt could best be answered by the candidate I could say “would you mind if I actually gave him a call. He’s just a block or two over and would be glad to stop by in a few minutes and answer that question personally.” It really impressed people and I didn’t have to convey any false information.
Chances are you won’t get that opportunity though. Not on national level races.

So first suggestion is to read carefully the materials you’ll be handing out. It will not only give you a sense of the candidates’ stance on those issues, but also determine which issues the campaign is choosing to focus on at this point in the race.
If enough volunteers are available, go in teams across the neighborhood. At worst, you can each hit one side of the street. If you get stuck on a particular point, you have a backup who may know the answer to the question someone’s asking. Besides, it’s a good safety precaution.
Finally, if all else fails, plead ignorance. If someone came to my door sounding intelligent and sincere on why he’s supporting a particular candidate and I ask a question he doesn’t know the answer to, I won’t think less of him if he’s honest .
Just say “you know, I haven’t researched the candidate’s full opinion on that subject. It sounds as if it’s important to you to have a full understanding of what’s at stake in this election. I’ll be meeting with other members of our organization later today to find out for myself. Is it ok if someone calls you or mails you information regarding it?” If yes, make a note of it and be certain to get back with them!

Good luck!

ETA: Oh yeah. And NEVER EVER EVER stick campaign materials in their mailbox.

At this point, you may not even be talking to people. You may just be lit-dropping. And I’d suspect that you won’t be doing “persuasion” at this point, anyway. If you’re knocking on doors, it will be to noodge probably supporters to vote.

You will get full instructions and training when you get there. You will probably be given a “walk packet” with maps, tracking sheets, etc. If you’re talking to people, you’ll be given a script.

I’ve been canvassing and training canvassers this year. Here are my top tips.

–Do NOT put anything in the mailbox! Federal offense time. If you can’t hang it on the door, be creative. Stick it in the door frame, curl it in the door handle, whatever. If the mailbox is your only choice, then don’t leave anything.

–You can always walk away. You don’t have to engage with anybody who is rude or threatening or unpleasant. Never understimate the power of a smile, a wave, and a pleasant “Okay, have a good day!” while you simply walk away. If a situation seems dicey, just walk away.

–Do not enter anybody’s house.

–If there is something that makes you uncomfortable about a house, you don’t have to knock on the door. Twice, I’ve brought back tracking sheets with “Creepy House” written next to an address.

–Don’t get into long conversations. You’re there to canvass, not hang out in Great Debates. Take a few minutes if you wish, but then move on.

Remember to bring a pen and a clipboard if you have one. Makes life easier. Water is good too. Try to look respectable–dress nicely. Smile.

Overall, I’ve found people to be quite nice, even if they’re for the other guy. Often, I’ve run into someone who just tells me matter-of-factly “I’m voting for McCain.” One time I ran into a guy who was phone-banking for the Republican congressional candidate right then. We had a nice chat. We both ended with “well, I can’t really wish you good luck, but…” :slight_smile:

And thanks for doing this.

I went door to door for a friend who was running for a position on our city council. His budget was really tight, and if he could get a certain percentage of registered voters to sign a petition he didn’t have to pay the filing fee. So all I was doing was asking for signatures and explaining who it was for. Most folks were nice. Only one person refused to sign, because it turns out they were acquainted with my friend, and disliked him because he was gay.

Shrug. I don’t know what difference my friend’s orientation made, his primary concern was property taxes, which were high and getting higher.

I canvassed for Obama just last weekend. Going door to door, probably 90% of the conversations were

Me: Hello ma’am (or sir) I’m with the Obama campaign for change, and I was wondering if I could have a moment of your time to ask you a few questions?

them: Yes you may.

Me: I was wondering if you know who you are planning on voting for yet . . .

After this last point of the conversation they would tell me if they were voting for Obama or not. If they said Obama I would ask them if they knew where they were voting on November 4th, and then say “have a nice day!” That was the typical conversation.

Basically everyone was real polite, but I’m young so I doubt they would have chased me off with a broom or anything. Basically if they said they weren’t voting for your candidate there’s no reason to talk to them much longer. They would say “no, sorry I’m planning on voting for John McCain” and I would just say “Well, alright, thank you for your time and have a good day” and leave. There’s no reason to argue with a person at their door, especially while volunteering to help a candidate.

Volunteering this weekend, at least at the Obama location I’ll be going to, will strictly be going to houses where they have already previously said they are voting for Obama and you’ll be basically making sure they vote that Tuesday, and sign them up for someone to drive them if they need. I imagine it’s the same for the McCain campaign at this point (if your that’s who you will be campaigning for). With the election so close, there’s no reason to be calling or visiting any new people, the whole local level campaigns groups are strictly trying to get every pro-Obama (or pro-McCain) voter to actually go vote on November 4th.

Ages ago while living in Chicago, I volunteered to work for McGovern.
They plunked my white ass in the middle of a pretty mean ghetto area and had me pass out fliers.
Every single person in that neighborhood was polite and encouraging.
It was a great experience.