Canvassing is the bread and butter of many political campaigns but it isn't as straightforward as simply knocking. Check out our guide to perfecting your canvassing technique.
"In the past, campaigning always suggested actively going out and delivering a message. Recently, however, we have found success in doing the opposite, staying indoors, running great operations from behind our computer screens and focusing on data. This year we want to encourage you to do both. Let’s bring our technology outdoors and reap the rewards."
Let’s operate on a strategy of mobilizing your team beyond social media. For some that will mean extra training to reintroduce them to face to face conversation (we’re not even kidding). We need to not only pound the pavements but we need to be enthusiastic about it. So, best smile forward guys and knock.
A canvass is a conversation between two people. There are of course some differences, but there are many more similarities!
Introduce yourself, and tell them why you’re there (your candidate and party). Establish yourself, ask for whichever resident is on your list and just begin a normal conversation. If the initial reaction isn’t overly positive (which we can’t blame most for), clarify quickly that you just want a minute of their time, the “I’ll be quick” trick.
Discuss the key policy points as prescribed by your Lead Canvasser. You will find a helpful reminder on your mobile app. These talking points will ensure you stay on track even if you find yourself under pressure.
Ask the voter if they have any concerns or policies they would like to discuss. This invites engagement and interaction. The more you get them talking, the more it feels like a conversation and less like a sermon.
Remember: You’ve knocked on their door and asked for some of their valuable time, don’t make voters feel that you’re rushing off. If needs be, bring the conversation to a close at a natural break in the conversation. You should be able to read their reaction and determine if you can count on their support for this encounter, albeit brief.
Never be argumentative or antagonistic. A respectful discussion will win over far more voters; and in jurisdictions with preferential voting, may significantly help boost your transfers.
Thank them for their time, and advise them how they can get in touch with the campaign.
Canvassing Towards Success
Focus on Data
The campaign’s strategy team will have outlined to you how they wish for you to approach a canvass. This may involve asking particular questions or probing for feeling on a specific policy. While each campaign will have its own strategy and needs, you’ll likely be looking to gather most, if not all, of the following:
Who does the voter support, and how committed they are to them? At a minimum, get a star rating for your candidate here, for example, 1 star for weak support, 5 stars for vote pledged. However, you can be as detailed as you like and capture reasons for support pledged or reasons for voting against the candidate.
What are the expected votes cast in this election? Not every voter will vote. Often you can determine how many voters will vote by looking at past similar elections. If there was 60% turn out in the last city election and there are no added factors this time to change the situation, you might figure that about 60% would vote in the city election this time.
Their specific feelings on your candidate
If a supporter might be interested in getting involved in the campaign.
What particular policy areas is a voter passionate about?
Are there any potential issues that might prevent a supporter casting their ballot. Perhaps they might need assistance with transport to their polling station, or with attaining a postal/proxy ballot.
If a supporter is wavering, what can we do to make them more solidly support us?
It might be further information on a particular policy; showing them public statements to reassure that our candidate is genuinely committed to a policy; or maybe a phone call, or visit, from the candidate themselves.
"It will often not be possible to do all of the above, but a candidate isn’t elected from one interaction. By working your way through interactions like these, you will be able to segment your voter database, identify supporters and key trends; as well as ensure that your canvassers can have meaningful engagements with voters, on topics that they care about."
Ask yourself, how many interactions need to take place before you are satisfied that you have done enough?
This, of course, is all dependent on your team size but we should all aim to canvass everyone on the electoral register at least once.
For larger campaigns, we advise drafting up a simple plan like the one below, where you can track dates and receptions at the door. If using Ecanvasser software this can all be tracked on your mobile app.
How many votes are needed to win?
What you are looking for is the total number of votes needed to guarantee victory in your race. If you need a majority of the votes to win, this would be 50% of turnout plus one vote. In many cases, you only need a plurality of the votes cast or more votes for your candidate than any other candidate in the race receives. In the case of multi-candidate races, you may be able to win with 35%, 30%, 25% or less of the vote. It is important to convert this percentage to a real number. How many actual votes will guarantee your victory?
"Doing the math and having a solid outreach plan will put you in a healthy position come polling day. If your run into an election is 8 months or 8 weeks, make sure you
are prepared. If you need any help with planning your canvass, don’t be afraid to drop us a message."
Consider canvasser tracking
Tracking canvasser movements and activity is a necessary part of any field canvassing operations. In an ideal world, this involves nothing more than sitting at your laptop and seeing canvasser activity coming through to you.
Why we do it?
Acting as field director or campaign manager you really want to optimize your canvassers time in the community. By viewing real-time data on canvassers and tracking what they are doing you can view:
- What ground isn’t being covered
- Which canvassing teams might need backup
- What areas are being missed
- Where to meet for debrief
- Where to send cars to pick up canvassers
Field canvassing means your team will be out in the community in traffic, in different weather and in potentially dangerous neighbourhoods. It is critical to be able to see, for example:
- Where they were last?
- Have they gone off their canvassing route?
- Have they stopped in one place for a long period of time?
- Have they stopped canvassing?
Understanding returning data from voters is obviously hugely important for a high-functioning campaign but what is often overlooked is understanding the data coming back about canvasser workflows.
A careful review of canvasser activity can tell you a lot about the best canvassing techniques and the most effective messaging for voters.
Who’s canvassing technique is working?
John could be knocking on 50 doors a week but the reception at the door indicates we aren’t doing well. Perhaps you need to talk to John and take him through some more training. It’s good to work with your canvassers and analyze what they think could be improved on an ongoing basis.
What messaging is working?
If you are using A/B testing on the campaign trail, it will be interesting to see which messaging is performing better than the other. Testing messages at the door is often the best way to check which campaign slogan resonates more with the voters.
If partners need to be changed?
More times than not, volunteers will come from various different areas. We often pair up new canvassers with older ones, simply because experienced canvassers are like fountains of knowledge when it comes to technique and the locals. Canvasser tracking can easily show the Campaign Manager if this system is working going by the quality of canvassing being done. Sometimes it may be necessary to make swaps midway through an election run and this is often a seamless transition.
Every field director wants to get the best out of their team, even if they are just casual volunteers. Setting key performance indicators KPI’s and tracking them is one of the most important things that you can do in this regard. The most obvious KPI would be number of doors knocked but you can also drill down to number of surveys completed with voters, contact information taken, vote pledges gathered, and so on.
Equally, you should be taking note of canvassers missed doors or low percentages of voters canvassed to doors knocked. The average time spent on each door can also be tracked to get a sense of the interaction taking place.
How we do it?
Ecanvasser can help you stay on top of all the work your volunteer canvassers are doing in 3 easy steps.
• Go to the Campaign Page on your Ecanvasser Dashboard and navigate to the Activity Feed. • Click on the Filter Activity button, and from here select the Canvasser history that you would like to see, as well as the Canvass Type. • Once you’re the canvasser has been selected, click the Filter Activity button once more. The Canvassing Timeline will then be filtered according to all the canvasses that this canvasser has carried out. • Feel free to add or remove any other filters to review general activity. In particular, the last filter provides the chance to filter activity by date.
• If you wish to take a more detailed look at your canvassing data, you can export canvass data as raw CSV from the Results tab.
If you'd like to learn more about Ecanvasser, why not get the app and dashboard for free and see what it can do for your campaign.