The following essay on Canvassing was published on Daily Kos and reprinted here, in it's entirety, with the permission of LaughingPlanet:

Canvassing 102: School of Hard Knocks

by LaughingPlanet

Fri Sep 24, 2010 at 10:35:48 AM PDT

Welcome back, class.

If you are here, that means you have already passed the intro-level course taught by Mrs. noweasels. She even made an exception allowing weasels into her class for that one.


Our job, right now, is to tell our story and get our voters to the polls.  If we are able to get our voters to the polls, we have a chance to hold our majorities.

If you have been drinking too heavily all summer and forgot everything you learned, please take a moment to review before you waste all of our time with remedial questions.

Those of you just looking for an easy credit should GTFO and instead consider posting poutrage/navel gazing diaries that do next to nothing to help our cause.

Others, grab your comfortable shoes read on.  OK, so those of you still here are serious about this topic and the electoral success it generates.

It's time to get into action.
Less yakkin', more crackin'.

Some of you may remember me from such educational films as "Lead Paint: Delicious But Deadly," and "Here Comes the Metric System!" my previously published works on this topic. In fact, today is the 2 year anniversary of the 1st post tagged canvassing I put up at Daily Kos (to very little fanfare).

It has become clear that I might indeed be one of the foremost experts on this field on this site. With this in mind, it is a duty of sorts to try and share with my like-minded cohorts some of the tricks of the trade so they are not secrets, but tools we can then all use to continue to crawl out of the smoking crater exploded upon this country by 30 years of Reagan/Bushism.

So, why canvassing?

If you're asking: "how can I be most effective in helping my candidate win the election?" then an organizer's answer is going to be: knock on doors.

This, via Nate Silver, is why:

For every twelve voters who you talk to at their doors, one voter goes and votes who would not otherwise have voted.

Read that again.

For every twelve voters who you talk to at their doors, one voter goes and votes who would not otherwise have voted.

Got it?

From someone who has knocked on literally tens of thousands of doors over the past decade in support of candidates and causes, let me tell you this:

• Canvassing is fun.
• Canvassing is not as hard as you think.
• There is no more rewarding feeling than when you connect with someone who would have not otherwise been contacted.

There are other "fringe benefits" too.

• Canvassing is good exercise.
• Canvassing precludes the need to sit at home worrying.
• You are guaranteed to have a laugh or two while on turf.
• You get to see some nice neighborhoods & pretty views
• You will meet fellow canvassers who are also cool people, maybe even (almost) as cool as you!

Finally, and maybe most importantly -

• Canvassing is patriotic
What is more important to a Democracy than educating and registering voters?
Be sure to have this fact in the forefront of your mind if anyone tries to give you a hard time. They merely support the other candidate (almost certainly) and are trying to bring you down. Remind them you are doing your civic duty as a patriot and they will clam up right quick.


Many (O.K., most) people have an innate fear/loathing of reaching out in this door-to-door fashion. I implore you to overcome this aversion. Perhaps you believe contacting voters actually Dissuades them to support your candidate. Rest assured the data and research most thoroughly disproves this hypothesis. Anyone with such capricious voting trends is an aberration.

The challenge of canvassing is not for everyone. There are many obstacles that might push some over the edge. The stuff that comes out of people's mouths can be shocking. I set aside the fact that many voters are disgusted with Obama, and not shy about saying it.

Focus. It's over 2 years from his re-election anyway.

When you are working on a single issue or campaign, it's best to not get distracted by the offensive remarks made at the door that are not directly related to your cause. If an indie hates one of your candidates but likes 1 or 2 others, be sure you get them committed at least to voting for them.


Where do I begin?

My recommendation is a retirement community, if you have one nearby. I have had amazing success with septu- & octogenarians. They listen. They smile. And they vote. In fact, for anyone who is leery about canvassing, this type of community is about the best place you can go, because you will feel safe & relaxed, and you are sure to get a few takers.

Blockquotes below have some of the best stuff from section one of this course, Canvassing 101 and input about each of those elements follows. The essentials were there, but the PROTIPS and more details will get you seeking your PhD in Canvassing in no time.

Get your comfortable shoes.
On one really tiring afternoon, I was assigned to 32 four-floor walk-up apartment buildings . . . do the math.  I was glad to have my comfortable shoes on and not to be carrying anything I didn't need.


Good shoes are key; it's all about the shoes. A shoulder bag of some kind is useful. Backpacks are not easy to access. You want as little in your hands as possible. If you are giving pamphlets away, keep but a couple on the clipboard at once; reload often.

Carrying some water is also crucial. Some doors will give you some if you ask, but you hate to be dependent upon their kindness; it might not work out so hot.

... put all your canvass sheets on your clipboard.  (You will probably also be given a map of your area – which will allow you to put your canvass sheets in order.  Take a few minutes to do this, using your map.  It saves time.)

PROTIP: Be ready for shortcuts. And take them.

If you have walked to the end of a cul de sac and there is a path to a different street, it makes sense to take the path, canvass the next cul de sac backwards, and return to the other part of your turf in a looping fashion.

Sure, sometimes there are no street signs at the and of a block, but you use your map to problem solve, peek at the address on a mailbox or newspaper, etc. You can also can ask someone ("I'm a bit lost" is a great sympathy line).


Have the person/people's names ready before walking to the door.

This is critical. If you are done at one door, mark your sheet, and prepare for the next one ASAP. They might be in the driveway. Know three things about every door -

  1. The first name(s)
  1. Their party
  1. Their age(s)

The last one is only because you don't want to mix up calling a 50 year-old daughter by her 20 year-old daughter's name.

Get the 3 essentials in your head and repeat it as you're walking to the house so you don't have your face buried in my clipboard as you approach or await the door opening.

Jackie, 54, indie.

Jackie, 54, indie.


Richard, 44, Gooper
Elizabeth, 39, Dem
Richard, 44, Gooper
Elizabeth, 39, Dem

If you have a decent memory, it will be easier than you think to have this locked in your head just long enough to be useful.

Do be sure to use their first names whenever possible. It is disarming. To the 5% who freak out (How did you know my name?), simply say "Voter rolls are public information."

Do also use their full (first) names; don't call Charles "Chuck" unless he tells you to.

If the name is too hard to pronounce, try to use the Mr. Xxx/ Mrs. Yyy approach instead. Pronunciation can be tough; try hard to get it right, or failing that, skip the name part instead of butchering their name badly.

If the people have a storm door, you will open it to knock or ring, and then close it and wait for them to answer, because you do not want to be in their personal space when they open the door. And when they do open the door, smile! Introduce yourself, cordially.  Say: "I am (your name) and I'm canvassing today on behalf of (name of your candidate)." Then follow the script your HQ has given you or, if you have a compelling story to tell, tell your story.


While you await the door being answered, stand at ease, looking forward, with a calm expression.

People use those peepholes; if you are scratching your nose, looking around, writing on your clipboard, - anything - some doors have all they need to ignore you. But if you look pleasant and confident, their curiosity will get the better of them more often than not.

This is a census year, so the clipboard is not as "red flaggy" as it is the other 9 years. Most folks don't know census work is (mostly) done already. However, I suggest keeping your hands down holding the clipboard near your waist. It is the most disarming posture.

What if someone asks a question I can’t answer?

Say, "I don't know."


Take along a personal story. I will be wearing a button (I have yet to make) with a picture of my niece, Kate, on it. One of the reasons I will be canvassing this fall is that I am so grateful for the health care bill – a bill that means that my niece, Kate, who was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age 16 months and would never be eligible for any health care coverage, will now (thanks to the bill) be able to stay on her parents’ plan until she is 26 – by which time, she cannot be denied coverage.


Do also come armed with a short version. Some (okay...most) people will have an ultra short trigger on the door closure. If you can get in 50 words in 30 seconds, you might impress them enough to listen for that extra minute or two that closes the deal.

Have 3 main talking points ready that you can blurt out without thinking. I mix up what they are depending on the nature of the door (Dem vs. Gooper, pleasant vs. scowling, etc.) Try to ask a question of some kind before too long, such as "Have you heard about Mr. XYZ candidate?" Only your most apolitical door will not reply in the affirmative, and this give you a chance to be positive back: "Good! SO you might know about the good work he has been doing regarding A, B & C."

They will usually glaze over before too long, at which point you drive home your final money quotes and then ask if there is anything they are
especially concerned about you can address. Be prepared for your typical Fox News line of complain (Health Care is teh evil, etc.) and have a terse reply and pivot ready.

My favorite line these days is to point out how easy it is to focus and criticize about a tiny thing, but instead to think about the bigger picture is important. Supporting our veterans, getting off foreign oil, whatever talking points are good for your candidate must be mentioned at the end for max effect.

Finally and most importantly: Ask if they are planning to vote.  If they say 'yes,' thank them and remind them of the polling hours and their polling place.

It's still a bit early for this, but it is never too early to remind Americans to vote. We take this right for granted and tend to forget way too often. This year, the vote happens on the earliest possible day of November (the 2nd), so it will take even more nagging to get mommy to stop thinking about Halloween, and start thinking about voting.

At this stage, encouraging everyone to become an absentee (vote by mail) voter is recommended. Sell the benefits of doing so. You can read everything on the couch! You can vote any time you want! We will stop pestering you by phone and at your door once you have voted!

It is still early enough to register new voters too. Nothing is more rewarding than getting someone signed up for the 1st time. If a kid answers to door and says his folks aren't in, ask if he is old enough and wants to register. I got one registered as a Dem yesterday and it sure felt good!

Similarly, if the voter you came to speak with isn't home, don't be shy to try and chat up the person at the door. Begin with, "Well, are you a registered voter?" so you don't waste your time on a Canadian.



Murphy's Law applies to canvassing.

If you are doing townhouses, 2 of 3 doors will be on the 2nd story. Roll with it. If we wanted to be lazy and selfish we would become Republicans.

• People will be juuuust pulling in or out as you show up. Hit them anyway. I see you are just leaving, BUT....

• The best time to canvass (besides weekends) is dinner time. People are busy/cooking/eating. Acknowledge their issue and say "I'll be really quick" or tell them you'll come back later.

• As for yard signs/No Soliciting signs, base your action upon how you feel that day. If a door has a sign for the opposition, I often try to canvass them anyway just to prove to them I am bold and proud. They often find it amusing. But sometimes you actually get the daughter who thinks her dad's views are too extreme and you have scored a victory in enemy territory.


Et Cetera:

Wear comfortable clothing and shoes.
Don't dress to the nines, but also don't look like you are heading to Burning Man once you're done for the night. I suggest you not wear "Vote For Mr. X" shirts and buttons so as to draw in the people you would have preferred to remain ignorant once they knew why you were there.

Knock first, ring later.
And don't do the cheeky "Shave and a haircut" knock either. Just 4 or 5 firm but not overly loud knocks. Then listen quietly. If you hear no rustling, ring after 10 or 15 seconds. The knock 1st, ring later method shows them you really want to talk, and that you aren't shyly shilling something.

Do both sides of the street at the same time.

There is a maddening vestigial tail tactic in the canvass world to separate odd and even numbered homes onto different pieces of paper. If your office does this, beg and plead with them to join the 21st century and put both on the same page. It is almost always easier, and it saves paper. If the street is too big or busy, it is very simple to go back and fill in the blanks later.

Stay balanced and focused on the big picture.

There will be bad doors; it happens. Shake it off and move on. Save your energy for those who need it. When someone is clearly entrenched in their beliefs, it helps no one by trying to change them. Canvassing is about maximum utility. If you get shaken up by one door, it costs you down the road.

Stop and smell the flowers.

Literally. So many homes have nice gardens in front. Enjoy them. You can even compliment the person on their green thumb as an icebreaker. If you come across a city park on your turf, take a 5 minute break and relax on a bench. You have plenty of time.




Your assignment:

You must go out and knock on 500 doors in the next 5 weeks. That may sound daunting, but it can be done in 3 Saturdays, or 6 dinnertimes if your neighborhood isn't too McMansiony. Use the tools you learned here, change some hearts and minds, and report back when you are done, after which time you can return to bleating on the blogs about how everything sucks in the world.


The following essay on Canvassing was published on Daily Kos and reprinted here, in it's entirety, with the permission of LaughingPlanet:

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