One of the great things about living in the United States is the variety of methods of political engagement. We have protests, petitions, canvassing, writing letters to government officials, voting, etc. Most important of all forms of political engagement in America is of course voting, but an arguable contender for the second place position has to be canvassing in political campaigns. There are many reasons for this, but for now I am going to list 5 reasons why everyone should canvass with a campaign.
1. Canvassing is a Proactive and Productive Use of Political Energy.
Now I know I am going to run into some controversy with this statement, but protests are in most cases are useless as a form of political engagement. For the vast majority of cases, protesting only creates noise, “awareness” (by the quotations I mean awareness to those who are already aware of the issue), and excess costs to organizations. The only benefit of protesting as a form of political engagement is that it acts as a generator for more political energy that can be utilized if handled properly. One of the most effective ways this energy could be utilized is through canvassing.
The U.S. political system is changed most by voting and by who is voted for. Laws are changed by elected representatives, not by dictation of mobs. Therefore, canvassing which serves a dual purpose of both informing voters of upcoming elections and the chance to persuade voters to vote for certain candidates. Also, unlike protesting which is most cases is like being in a proverbial echo chamber of opinions, canvassing offers the chance for swing voters to hear about other candidates or other bits of information that may change their mind on certain issues. Canvassing provides the opportunity for civil discourse that is often lost when completing phone banks or utilizing social media.
Especially in local campaigns, where candidate exposure is not as prevalent, the role of canvassing plays an even more important role. In these smaller campaigns, canvassing might be the only form of exposure that a candidate may be able to create due to the financial cost of other forms of candidate exposure like television or broadcasting. For double the impact, most local election dates aren’t always advertised. Therefore as a canvasser you can increase the voter turnout for an election creating a more legitimate democratic process. Especially in these smaller elections as a canvasser, you can walk away with the satisfaction that you have created an impact on your community. This effect is more so in local elections where those elections can be decided by a handful of votes due to the smaller pools of votes available, and you could have been that individual that swung the election.
2. Canvassing is a Great Exercise of Civic Duty.
Every election, there is always mentioned fulfilling your civic duty with voting. Well with canvassing, canvassers have the opportunity to convince more people to join in voting especially if your able to persuade other voters to vote for your candidate. I have myself driven many people to the polls who I’ve had successful canvassing conversations with before. I also know many people who have had similar experience, where while they were poll workers that some people would say they voted because of a canvassing interaction. This type of canvassing (especially on election day) can lead to a feeling of individual accomplishment in the fact that you increased voter turnout, that you played a role in allowing another person to make their voice heard.
3. Canvassing is a Great Way to Exercise while Exercising Your Civil Rights.
For those of you who have never canvassed before, canvassing is a great way to get steps in. On my last canvass which was somewhat compact in a suburban neighborhood, I ended up walking close to five miles. The week before, I came close to 4 miles of walking. If you are looking for more intense exercise then just walking, I remember in 2016 I worked on a campaign with lots of apartment complexes nearby and definitely getting my stairs in. The distance isn’t as great, but I remember completing over 60 flights of stairs over the course of one canvassing packet. In fact, I have worked with some campaign workers who made the slogan, “a canvass a day keeps the doctor away”, and stuck that on signs in their respective offices.
4. Canvassing has Impacts on Elections.
As mentioned before, canvassing has a huge impact on local elections. This is often times one of the few and successful ways to guarantee candidate exposure in a community. Now I know there will be some who will say that votes don’t matter anyways, but in local elections they are critical. One example of this is Josh Cole’s race in 2017, who lost the local election for Virginia’s State Delegate seat by 72 votes. That is literally an average of five more canvassing packets canvassed. Imagine that potentially five more canvassing packets could have flipped an entire district (by the way if you are a Virginia voter, Josh is running again!). [Update as of 2019 VA elections, did win the Virginia State Delegate Campaign!].
Usually on a campaign, a campaign manager follows a few strategies for voter persuasion and candidate exposure. The main tending to be phone banking, digital ads, post card writing, canvassing, etc. I will tell you that usually the best method of outreach and persuasion is canvassing. This is because canvassers are able to engage voters that typically won’t or don’t attend political rallies and campaign events, or swing voters. Phone banks usually lead to only a handful of meaningful conversations, since majority of the time people will just hang up. I also realize that post cards are a great way to create energy for an election, but just like phone banking the contact rate just isn’t that great. Canvassers usually experience the highest rate of talking to a voter especially when it’s timed properly.
Another thing to think about with canvassing versus other methods of campaigning is that canvassing is a face to face experience. A voter will have a greater likelihood of remembering the interaction and information they learned from a canvasser then say a phone call or a post card. Psychologically speaking, that voter will be able to recall the information you told them due to that face to face experience with them. Phone banks don’t provide that same experience and are often uncomfortable and rushed talks due to the nature of a phone call with a complete stranger. This is made worse by the fact that a phone bank is an unsolicited call to a voter, which often is a negative experience to begin with. Post cards also have a critical weakness in the fact that they can just be thrown away quickly as junk mail.
5.Canvassing is a Great Way to Learn More About the Political World.
I have learned through all my time of canvassing quite a bit about the political process. You sometimes will be able to meet the candidates who will talk about their stances with you, about themselves more personally, what motivates them to run, and what issues are most important to them. This is also a great opportunity to learn more about voters in your community. You ca learn from them what are generally the most important concerns in the community, what motivates them to vote, or what sparks their interest in the candidates. The most important thing I have learned in this age of political tribalism is a grounding lesson that a lot of people are interested in solving the same issues, they just differ on what is the best way to solve those issues.
Apart from just learning about candidates and voters, canvassing is a great opportunity to meet campaign staff and volunteers who often are pretty well versed in all levels of politics and various fields of policy. I have met several people from various such as former State Department officials, former Department of Energy employees, former EPA, etc. That have all sorts of interesting and incredible stories from their careers in the federal government. For example, one of the volunteers that I had worked along side with during one campaign, told me about his time working in the State Department during the opening of diplomatic relations with the China. Of course there are other campaign staff who keep close tabs on local politics and could connect you with other candidates or share all sorts of political information or insights with you.
There you go, there are five great reasons that everyone should canvass on a campaign at least once. Candidates will appreciate all the effort that you put into canvassing and you can walk away confident in the knowledge that you have made a difference in that election. know you are certainly making a difference in politics by partaking in this activity. Canvassing is also a really fantastic opportunity to learn more about local politics, the issues concerning your community, and about the candidates. The best way to sign up for a campaign is to visit your local political party offices, who will be more then happy to get you started on a canvassing!