by Michael Beer
If you are thinking of door knocking this fall, this is what my experience has been like this month.
For the last three Saturdays, I drove from Arlington to Prince William County, parts of which are in the new 7th Congressional district, whose Congresswoman is Abigail Spanberger (D).
For orientation, we gathered on a sidewalk near Woodbridge High School and got preparation from Spanberger’s top-notch team. Today, we had 70 folks at 10am, with contingents from Bethesda, Rockville, DC, Arlington and more locally situated. Mostly gray hairs.
Because early voting has started in Virginia, we are already starting to do Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) canvassing. The spiel is to vote early…and then you won’t have people knocking at your door for weeks on end to remind you to vote on election day! As soon as people vote, their names will come off of the lists. This is a marked change from days of yore, where GOTV was done just the four days before election day.
I knocked on townhomes with an astonishing diversity of peoples – from Ethiopia, India, West Africa, North Africa, the Caucasus, Latin America, as well as European Americans. The ages skewed quite young with many children and families. Strongly Democratic territory.
Education comes up as the top issue that people talk about. I didn’t talk to many Republicans, because our lists have filtered them out, but I did run into two Republicans who are deeply concerned about “parental choice” and “wokeness.” I did not try to awake their consciousness, but instead moved on.
The biggest change from 50 years ago is the use of a phone app (Minivan) rather than paper maps and clipboards with lists. Minivan is easy to learn and has all the info one needs. I don’t miss the days of paper lists (particularly in the cold rain). Nowadays, if you have a problem in the field, just give a quick call to the canvass coordinator and you will get the support you need.
Many doors now have a new type of doorbell that has a camera, speaker, and is connected to the internet. Often they will not answer the door, but talk to you through this intercom-like apparatus. I can actually hear their voice muffled through the window, as it comes through the loudspeaker. Sometimes they are travelling in Mexico…and answer the door virtually. This doorbell canvassing is akin to phone canvassing, but you can let people know you are leaving campaign literature on their doorstep (and compliment them on their lovely flower garden).
Most people are not home, and so I write a message on the literature – “Anthony, sorry to miss you!” This is not a modern campaign norm, but it should be. They also don’t design literature with light colored blank section near a photograph of the candidate for people to write these messages. Sometimes I will also write, Early Voting has Started! Don’t forget the exclamation points! I love them!
The script we read, besides confirming their support for our candidate, is to get them to make a plan to vote. This has been the norm for GOTV scripts for at least 20 years. We are told that helping folks make plans to vote, increases voter turnout. This seems like believable social science to me.
Rep. Spanberger’s opponent had faded literature on some stoops. One African-American woman said she had been canvassed by the opponent, and was glad to see Democrats knocking on doors. Seems like Republicans are working hard.
One of the best features of the Minivan app is the “notes” section, where one can talk into your phone and transcribe all kinds of information about the family that could be of use in the future. Sometimes I will note their religious heritage, (Sikh, Muslim, Coptic, etc) or the names of other Dem voters in the household who are not listed on our app. Or if they might need a ride to the polls on election day.
So what can you expect? Generally, if people answer the door, they are reasonably polite. I tell them I am a volunteer from Arlington, and this tells them I am not a professional and I care a lot about this. About 80% of people are not home (or don’t answer). Most conversations are short. But occasionally they will want to talk, sometimes with a kid nearby who is listening intently. ALWAYS involve the kid in your conversation. I disregard all “NO SOLICITATION” signs and change my script to “this is a courtesy call to remind you that early voting has started” …as though I am doing a public service announcement.
Tell them this is one of the most important elections in the country and that their vote will have a big impact! Be prepared to recruit enthusiastic folks to volunteer and give money…or ask if they know anyone who may not be registered to vote.
In two hours and 10 minutes, I covered 42 doors. Now this is lightning fast. Three hours is typical. I solely use the map feature on Minivan rather than reading street lists. I write my personalized messages while waiting for the door to be answered. Don’t forget your pen! And when your are done, sync your data and you don’t have to go back to HQ and return your lists or extra literature; you can just go home. For those of you who cannot do the phone app, paper lists are still available. Just be aware that this is burdensome on the campaigns.
Democracy is not a spectator sport. And with so much at stake, don’t look back on this election with regrets. My spouse and I have committed to give more money in this election cycle than we have before. I hope to knock on the most doors. How about all of you?