What is Political Canvassing?
We’ve all heard the term ‘political canvassing’ before, but many of us are unfamiliar with what it means. You might know that it entails talking to people, and maybe you have an image of someone going door-to-door in your head. But how exactly do you ‘politically canvas?’
Your mental image of someone going door-to-door and talking to people about politics is not too far off from the real definition. Political canvassing, according to Wikipedia, is ‘the systematic initiation of direct contact with individuals.’
This means that canvassers talk directly to citizens about a political issue. No matter why someone is canvassing, the goal is to contact a citizen regarding an issue personally.
Who Uses Canvassing
While any group can use political canvassing to raise awareness about something, the most common form of canvassing occurs around elections. Many Americans have had someone knock on their door around election time and ask about their party affiliation.
These canvassers are usually out to encourage people to vote or to persuade them to vote for their candidate. It’s the easiest way to communicate directly with voters. In some cases, the politicians themselves may visit citizens to ask for their vote.
The Benefits of Canvassing
For canvassing to be effective, canvassers need to have information about the people they’re going to talk to, or they could seem disorganized. However, with the right preparation, canvassing is a great way to connect directly with voters.
Citizens have the chance to discuss a candidate or issue with the canvassers. They can give canvassers insight into the effectiveness of their overall campaign, the citizen’s view of the candidate or subject, and the possibility that they’ll take action.
It’s also an excellent opportunity to persuade undecided voters to your side. Canvassers can pinpoint precisely what is keeping a citizen from agreeing with them and address those concerns. Unlike other forms of political surveys or data collection, you are directly communicating with someone and can have a conversation about the topic.
The most effective form of canvassing is encouraging people to vote. You can provide accurate information about polling locations specific to the person you’re talking to, and you can ask for a verbal confirmation that they will vote.
The Downsides of Canvassing
While canvassing can be useful, there are some drawbacks. The primary downside is that canvassing takes a lot of time and resources with limited results.
To ensure you have accurate information about the people you want to talk to, you could send canvassers out twice, once to collect information and then to discuss the issue. However, this takes a lot of time and effort.
You also need to manage your expectations. It’s not practical to assume you can reach your entire voting list. Instead, you should focus on one of two goals: encourage those who promised you the vote to get to the polls or attempt to persuade undecided voters.
Canvassing is expensive, too. It involves start-up costs, technology to organize and implement a canvassing strategy, and campaign gear, among other expenses. If your campaign is volunteer-driven, you have to effectively manage your volunteers to avoid exhausting or alienating them. If not, then you have to pay and manage your canvassers.
Make sure you consider relevant canvassing laws when canvassing. Ensure that anyone involved in your campaign is familiar with these laws and understands what they can and can’t do while canvassing.
Political canvassing is legally different from soliciting. The First Amendment protects non-commercial speech, which includes politics.
While canvassing is not the same as solicitation, not everyone sees it that way. Be careful when canvassing homes with ‘no solicitation’ signs, and be patient with homeowners. If they do not want to talk to you, respect their decision and move on. If a home has a ‘no canvassing’ or ‘no trespassing’ sign, you cannot knock on that door.
You don’t have to provide notice before canvassing a neighborhood, and it may be best not to. Many people try to avoid canvassers and could choose to be away when you come through their community.
Some cities and states include political canvassers in ‘no peddlers or no solicitors’ lists. This means that you can’t canvass, though your area may have rules that allow it in certain circumstances.
If you are ever asked to leave a property, you must do so immediately. Otherwise, it can be considered trespassing. Even if it wasn’t, you want to respect people’s wishes and leave them alone if they ask you to go.
Political canvassing can be effective if implemented correctly, but it does have its drawbacks. To figure out if your campaign could benefit from canvassing, examine your resources and audience. Develop a strong canvassing strategy and communicate directly with voters.