Effective Political Canvassing Techniques

Political canvassing is the process of directly engaging with voters to gather information, like registration status or candidate support levels, for a political campaign or organization. This vital information informs campaign strategy, like where and how you want to allocate resources.  While we typically think of door-knocking as the canvassing method, it is only one of the available methods available. However, there are many other creative (and sometimes even more effective and efficient) ways to canvass voters. Here are four effective political canvassing techniques you can use without ever knocking on a stranger’s door:

4 Effective Political Canvassing Techniques That Don’t Involve Knocking on Doors

Relational Organizing

Relational organizing is an outreach tactic in which supporters engage their personal network to gather information and mobilize support for a campaign or cause. It can be an extremely effective strategy for your campaign because voters are more likely to respond to political canvassing attempts by people they already know. With record levels of distrust in mainstream media sources, media ecosystem fragmentation, deep voter skepticism, and rejection of spammy calls and texts from random phone numbers, a trusted messenger is often the only way to get through to a voter. It’s also one of the most impactful ways to get voters to take action and has been proven to increase voter turnout!

What this looks like: Your campaign has 50 loyal volunteers who want to get the word out about your candidate. You can encourage each of them to use a relational organizing app to gauge candidate support from five people they personally know in your target district — friends, colleagues, fellow parents in their PTA, and other community members. If these efforts receive a 100% response rate, your campaign has information on 200 new people who have been contacted by someone they trust. Even if some target contacts aren’t fully persuaded to vote for your candidate, you can now send additional persuasion messaging through their friend (AKA your volunteer). 

Community Canvassing

Community canvassing is a political canvassing strategy that leverages community ties to organize for your campaign. This is most effective when you have volunteers with strong ties to a community they can use to advocate for your campaign. These volunteers can be part of a neighborhood, residential building, faith-based organization, school, or even online community. (It’s reported that over 30% of people prefer online communities!) By assembling their community for your campaign, your volunteers become canvassing leaders who can prompt others to get involved. 

What this looks like: You have several volunteer leaders who are part of a local faith-based community that advocates for increased support for public schools. They suggest hosting a barbeque where they can invite their community members and talk to them about supporting your candidate, who also advocates for this cause. During this event, your volunteers can answer questions from community members and help them register to vote. While engaging with their community members, they can send information back to your campaign using a canvassing app to search for the voters they’re talking to and send in new responses and contact information. After the event, you have contact and location details for these contacts, which you can later use to increase your volunteer base.  

Crowd Canvassing

Crowd canvassing is a technique in which your campaign volunteers set up a stand in a public area to engage with people passing by. Some examples of places where crowd canvassing can be especially effective include streets, parks, farmers’ markets, state/county fairs, sporting events, shopping centers, grocery stores, parades, rallies, transportation hubs/stops, college campus quads, and more. Although this political canvassing tactic doesn’t allow your team to target specific contacts, it offers unrestricted reach. You will find that the voters who are willing to walk up to your table and engage with you are essentially self-targeting and many campaigns even find this to be more effective than targeting based on complex data models and synthetic scores. Crowd canvassing is great for campaigns that want to canvass and raise awareness for a candidate or cause in high-traffic areas. It can also be a game-changing tactic for campaigns in rural areas where it may not be practical, efficient, or safe to visit individual homes and knock on individual doors. Crowd canvassing is an innovative way of blending what would traditionally be thought of as “visibility events” with canvassing work that collects real, useful data.

What this looks like: Your grassroots campaign is organizing to elect a new progressive mayor challenging an incumbent candidate. You want as many people as possible to get to know your candidate, so your team sets up a booth in the local community center, which is the social hub of your city. Your team uses a canvassing app to search for each voter they meet and distribute flyers outlining your candidate’s proposed policies. During the next few hours, you have face-to-face conversations with a whole spectrum of people, including strong supporters and inactive or unregistered voters. You end up persuading dozens or hundreds of people to vote for your candidate in the same amount of time it would have taken you to talk to six people by knocking on individual doors.

Deep Canvassing

Deep canvassing is the process of having prolonged, empathetic conversations with people who disagree with your campaign or cause. The goal is to understand their experiences and beliefs rather than getting a quick read of their level of support or voting plans. Born out of the LGBTQ civil rights movement, this political canvassing strategy seeks to reduce prejudice and bring people to a common ground. Of course, this doesn’t always have positive results — and canvassers need to be highly trained to navigate conversations with target contacts. However, if the connection goes well, it can be a big win for your campaign. This was a key tactic for political organizations working to bridge the political divide in 2020

What this looks like: You’re running a campaign to increase support for immigration reform legislation to be presented in Congress in a few months, but you know that your community is heavily divided on the issue of immigrant rights. You set out to break down anti-immigrant misinformation and prejudices while increasing awareness about the benefits of this piece of legislation. You train a group of empathetic volunteers to have genuine conversations with target contacts and incorporate key campaign points while sharing their personal narratives. They can use a canvassing app that supports long-form open-ended survey responses to search for the voters they’re talking to and submit summaries of their conversations. In the end, your volunteers have reached some level of understanding with a group of voters, and some have even been persuaded to contact their Congressmembers in support of the legislation. This jumpstarts conversations between new supporters and their friends and family. 

How do I start canvassing? 

You’ll need a voter list to start canvassing. These are sometimes available for free or cheap from your local or state government but are limited in what data they include. If you are running as a Democrat in the US, you can often get access to voter data from your State Democratic Party. Alternatively, several data vendors provide well-maintained voter file data to Democratic campaigns. If you’re hoping to use Reach and don’t know where to get your data, the Reach client success team can help you understand your options and can even provide the voter file to you for use in Reach directly from State Parties or data vendors. 

From there, you can use any of the political canvassing techniques above — we recommend combining techniques to ensure you’re effectively contacting your target contacts. For example, you can use street canvassing to kickstart your campaign while using relational and community canvassing to organically reach as many people as possible. Then, you can create a door-to-door knocking list to cover any voters you haven’t yet contacted.

Most importantly, you can use a political canvassing app like Reach to start canvassing instantly. Reach allows your volunteers to engage in all of the above canvassing techniques in one feature-packed app. Using Reach’s Relational Organizing features, you can start your campaign with just a few volunteers, and it can be as (or even more) effective than any other outreach method. Encourage your volunteers to download the app and sync their phone contacts to the app, which allows them to match their friends and family to your campaign’s voter data. They can then send scripted relational outreach messages (provided by your campaign) to target contacts. Or, they can even share campaign media you’ve uploaded to Reach on their own social media networks. Plus, they can log anyone they meet during Community Canvassing and Crowd Canvassing by using the app to look them up in your voter dataset, making an impact anywhere they go. And throughout your campaign, you can use Reach’s Team Management features like chat, user groups, push notifications, leaderboards, and action cards to keep your volunteers engaged, connected, and up to date with your campaign.

Effective political canvassing takes time and resources, but it’s ultimately the foundation for success. Fortunately, you have multiple ways to do it. Choose what fits best for your campaign, and win your campaign!

About Reach

Reach is a progressive technology start-up building tools for political campaigns, labor unions, non-profits, and activists around the united states. Read more about us here.

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