There's a great diary on the rec list tonight, recounting zizi's first-ever experience canvassing, which (s)he did yesterday when (s)he traveled with a group of OFA volunteers from Kentucky to Ohio.
It's always incredibly gratifying and motivating to see new volunteers join the progressive ranks each election season, and to discover that their individual contributions in the field are not only meaningful, but play a critical role in the path to victory.
I have been on Daily Kos since 2003, and in the past have used this platform to help motivate and train field volunteers in a variety of ways.
There were times when I -- and several extremely knowledgeable and incredibly talented action-oriented kossacks -- used to post weekly action roundups and encourage commenters and readers to report on their election volunteering.
I've also been part of a group that has used this blog to conduct distributed phonebanks, which are phonebanks that use online tools and invite callers to use a designated diary to celebrate, joke, laugh, share, etc., as if they were all in the same room together.
I have also run a mentoring program, matching new volunteers with experienced kossacks and/or connecting them to resources and volunteer opportunities with candidates, organizations, etc. in their hometowns.
And finally, I used to drop in on action-related diaries to comment or lend a hand with field-related topics.
In 2010, I began to run live-blog training sessions for kossacks, with a particular emphasis on field and GOTV.
In honor of zizi's first canvassing experience yesterday, I've decided to resurrect the idea tonight and see if there's any interest in this kind of effort on Daily Kos...
So let's consider this a live, interactive, online training session on canvassing, phonebanking, field, GOTV, etc. I'll get the conversation going with an adaptation of some materials and notes that I have used when training in real life, and then take questions on anything and everything field-related.
Some Q and A to set the scene:
What is a field plan?Before we start, a few requests:
A field plan is a campaign's blueprint for calculating exactly how many votes it will take to achieve victory and identifying specifically where those votes will come from -- down to the level of household and individual voter, in every neighborhood, district, county, precinct, ward, state, etc. A field plan also covers the manner in which the campaign is going to mobilize its supporters and secure those votes (i.e. number of contacts needed, when contacts should occur, number of volunteers needed for how much time and when, etc.) Also commonly called "The Ground Game," it is the single most important component of the campaign. It is the activity that converts "maybes" into supporters, and supporters into voters. After all, it does not matter how many supporters a candidate has if they do not vote on or before Election Day. A field operation is completely dependent on the drive, effort and passion of volunteers like you. It is impossible to execute a successful field operation without YOU!
What are canvassing and phonebanking?
Canvassing and phonebanking are the primary components of a field plan. Canvassing involves speaking to specific, targeted voters face-to-face and having a conversation with them regarding the campaign, their support and their VOTE. Phonebanking accomplishes the same goals, though conversations are conducted over the phone.
Is all canvassing and phonebanking the same?
There are many different purposes to canvassing and phonebanking. Sometimes we are identifying supporters (known as IDing), sometimes we are seeking to persuade those still undecided or leaning our way. Sometimes we use voter-to-voter conversations to invite people to events or recruit volunteers. In the final days before Election Day, we use canvassing and phonebanking to remind our supporters to vote and to supply them with any final information or help they may need (location of polling places, transportation, etc.) At different times during a campaign, we may be involved in several of these activities at once.
Do canvassing and phonebanking work?
Canvassing and phonebanking are THE most effective methods of securing votes. The effectiveness of canvassing and phonebanking has been proven through more than a decade of empirical research, including over a hundred groundbreaking randomized studies reviewed by a renowned team of political science professors at Yale University (Get Out the Vote, Gerber and Green, 2nd. Edition, 2008). Many other studies have been done as well, the results of which are continually being incorporated into field plans and field techniques. (Exciting new research from 2008 is already being incorporated into this election cycle and has the ability to boost the effectiveness of GOTV calls to certain groups of supporters by approximately 9%!) An excellent clearinghouse for progressive research is The Analyst Institute in Washington, DC.
How effective are canvassing and phonebanking?
On average, canvassing by motivated, passionate volunteers results in approximately 1 additional vote for every 14 contacts made. The rate for phonebanking is approximately 1 additional vote for every 25 contacts made. Please bear in mind that this does not mean that we secure 1 vote for every 14 (canvassing) or 25 contacts made (phonebanking). This means that we secure one MORE vote than we would have if we had not canvassed or phonebanked. It's difficult to demonstrate the power of the math without having a flip chart or handouts, but suffice it to say that if the first 30 kossacks to recommend this diary had canvassed for Al Franken every weekend between Labor Day and November 4, you ALONE would have been responsible for his margin of victory in 2008.
What should I expect when canvassing or phonebanking?
When you canvass or phonebank, do not expect to contact everyone on your list. The number of voters you will actually contact will vary by neighborhood, time of the day, day of the week, and stage of the campaign. On average, a contact rate of 20% is an excellent result and you should not be disappointed by that in any way. Those voters who are not actually reached during a canvass or phonebank are placed back into the universe of voters that need to be contacted and will be placed into the pool for successive canvasses or phonebanks until they are actually reached.
During a canvass or phonebank, you are likely to come across voters who do not want to speak to you, addresses or phone numbers attached to names that do not live there, and leaners or supporters of another candidate. Please know that when you identify any of these situations, you are doing the campaign a huge service -- in many cases a bigger service than identifying supporters. First, you are assisting the campaign/party in "cleaning" its lists and maintaining the most accurate records possible. Second, every campaign has three finite resources -- money, people and time -- and by identifying these situations you are helping the campaign to most efficiently allocate its resources. In fact, you are providing information that will keep the campaign from spending any additional resources on that household/voter. This includes not only the energy and time of staff and volunteers but actual funds for direct mail, any paid canvassing or phonebanking, etc. These contacts may not be as much fun as talking to supporters but they are critically important to a field operation.
Finally, as the campaign progresses, you are going to encounter voters -- including strong supporters -- who are sick and tired of being called and canvassed. They may threaten to not vote if they are contacted one more time, or worse yet, they may threaten to vote Republican. Even if the campaign is extremely rigorous in maintaining lists and records, errors occur. Also, people are often contacted multiple times with a different purpose each time (ID, event invitation, recruiting volunteers, etc.) And of course, we try to speak to the "maybes" several times in order to convert them to supporters. Finally, as the race heats up, other organizations will be canvassing and phonebanking along with the campaign. These could include a local or state party, MoveOn, Democracy for America, and advocacy organizations such as NARAL, Planned Parenthood, Sierra Club, etc. There is no way to control all of these external efforts and in some cases, campaigns are legally prohibited from coordinating with other organizations. The best response to these complaints is commiseration and empathy. Most importantly, know that empirical research shows that threats to not vote or to vote for the opponent are idle threats, and that you have not jeopardized any support or votes for your candidate.
What if I can't answer all of the questions that I get asked by prospective voters?
You do not need to be an expert or policy wonk to be a great canvasser or phonebanker. In fact, the research shows that it almost doesn't matter what you say at the door or on the phone, as long as it is not offensive or patently stupid. It is actually the mere act of reaching out to voters that brings in votes. Further, the research shows that the most effective canvassing and phonebanking conversations are authentic, honest, and from the heart, and involve listening to the voter. There are many different ways that canvassers and phonebankers connect with voters, and policy is very, very, very far down on the list of ways.
Will people resent my canvassing or phonebanking if I don't live in the district/town/state, etc.?
It does not matter if you do not live in the area that you are calling or canvassing. In general, many voters will sincerely thank you for your efforts and volunteering (Remember: These are targeted voters and many/most are on our side). If/when they discover that you are from out of town, they will often thank you even more profusely for caring enough to help outside of your home turf.
What is Get Out the Vote (GOTV)?
Many people refer to a field operation as "getting out the vote," and in a very real sense, that is exactly what it is. But true GOTV actually refers to the final few days just before the election (always at least Saturday - Election Day) when we have finished identifying supporters and are completely focused on making sure that every single supporter that we have identified becomes a VOTER. An excellent GOTV program can add 3% - 5% to a candidate's total votes. As a point of reference, of the 31 congressional pickups we secured in 2006, 13 were won by margins of less than 5%. Several of those margins, including several of our most important senatorial pickups, were between .5% - 1%. In 2008, we won our 60th senate seat by a margin of 312 votes, or approximately .007% of the votes cast in MN. If you are still not convinced that GOTV is critical to our success, think Florida in 2000. Do I have your attention now?
1) Please be patient. If by chance this picks up steam, it takes a lot of time to answer questions and keep going up and down the thread to make sure that I haven't missed anyone or anything.
2) Please be forgiving. If this picks up steam, I will be typing as fast as I can and am certain to be making lots of mistakes and typos.
3) Please let us know about your canvassing and phonebanking activity this election cycle. It is very motivating for everyone to see how active we are and how much we care about getting the job done in November.
4) Please ask absolutely any and every question that you want. I can guarantee that if you have a particular question, someone else does, too.
5) If you are new to this topic, please let me know so that I can be sure to give you some extra attention and the clearest answers possible.
6) Because I am a field rat and focused on impact and outcome, please be certain to comment re: if this diary helped you, convinced/encouraged you to volunteer, etc.
Finally, we need an army of hundreds of thousands of people across the country to make the numbers work between now and Election Day. If you can take Election Day off from school or work, make plans to do it NOW. (And don't forget to vote absentee or early!) If you can dedicate only one day, ELECTION DAY IS THE DAY. And don't forget to ask everyone that you know to volunteer as well. We need help this week, next week, and until we win in November.
Field is about math and passion. Let's GOTV!