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Thoughts and Tips from Three Weekends of Canvassing Voters in Fairfax County and Loudoun County


by Michael Beer

Here is a brief report on some of my door knocking this fall in Northern Virginia for State Senate and Delegate races.  My key observations and takeaways are:

  • Many voters are uniformed about state issues, candidates and races;
  • Many voters are unaware of the significance and importance of this November election;
  • We need to double down on Get-Out-the-Vote (GOTV) efforts; and
  • There are some tactics we can do employ to improve our success at motivating voters to turn out

I canvassed two weekends in September for Democratic House of Delegates candidate Dan Helmer in Fairfax County. I canvassed this weekend (Oct 5) in Loudoun County for Del. Wendy Gooditis (D) for and Democrat John Bell for State Senate. These are vital races to help flip both chambers in November.

As an Arlingtonian, I was off my home turf in areas of Loudoun County with big properties and long driveways that required me to drive up them. These were wealthy homes of mostly white Americans.

Unlike previous weekends this summer, the canvassing was about getting out the vote and not about voter identification and persuasion. So theoretically the list should have been pretty clean.

Responses were concerning:

  • “Is this a local Loudoun County race or what?”
  • “Who is my delegate and state senator?”
  • “Who is running?”
  • “I’ll take a look at the candidates the weekend before election day.”
  • “All I care about is getting rid of Trump”

And these were presumably the “high-information” voters.

Some people want to talk. And this can be fun. Many are impressed that I came all the way from Arlington to knock on their door. Just be prepared to have “asks” for folks that want to talk. Lawn signs, volunteering, donations, getting others to the polls, and nail down their plans for voting.

What are people’s concerns? Health care, taxes (among Republicans), “morals” (among Republicans), “big government” (among Republicans), gun safety. (As an aside, the “morals” issue raised by Republicans is flabbergasting. We need some social scientists to unravel this contorted/distorted worldview)

And dogs. I have never knocked on so many doors with dogs as in my Loudon County areas.  I think there are more dogs than voters.

My general impression was that people don’t know who their representatives are and what issues are important to them at the state level. Loudoun and Fairfax have many local races which seemed to grab more attention. For many, Richmond seems far away and trivial compared to local and national politics. Maybe this is because in previous generations, newspapers did a better job of covering state politics?
They don’t know the state House and Senate could flip to the Democrats. They don’t understand the big changes that could happen soon, ERA, Gun Safety, health care, education, environment, #LGBTQ rights, wages, etc. with the chambers flipping in November.

My takeaway from one weekend canvassing in Loudoun County and two weekends in Fairfax County is that we have a turnout challenge, with low-information voters (at least when it comes to candidates for the two state chambers). We need to turn up the heat.

I do have three door knocking tips that you won’t get from the campaigns:

1) Write  “xxxxx, Sorry to miss you!” on literature at homes with no answer. Sometimes I will circle November 5th. So bring a pen with you. And for those designing door hangers and literature, make sure there is some nice white blank background somewhere so we can write notes.

2) The Minivan canvassing app for cell phones is good. None of the campaigns knew that you can leave voice transcriptions in the “notes” section.  Do so with messages about folks who need lawn signs, who could use a call from the candidate, their big issues, or who might give funds if asked again. That means also checking the “notes” tab to see if any previous canvasser left information for you to read before knocking.

3) IF you run into push-back because you are “soliciting” or otherwise “bothering” people, I always refer to my GOTV visits in the following way. “HI, I am Michael Volunteering for xxxxxx.  This is a courtesy call to remind you that election day is Tuesday November 5. Can we count on your support for xxxx? The key phrase with telephone or door knocking (GOTV) is “courtesy call to remind you.”

I hope this is helpful and hope you’ll get out there to help knock on doors. It is a pleasure to talk with folks and tell them how important their vote is this November.

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