Canvassing 101

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.

Canvassing Towards Success

"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.

Conversation Template

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.

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:

  • Supporter Level

Who does the voter support, and how committed they are to them?

  • Expected turnout

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 voters 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."

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.

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