Sunday, October 07, 2018

What is it really like to work on a campaign: Door knocking


The first thing to know about looking for voters by knocking on their doors is that, regardless of day of the week or time of day, no one answers at most doors. The conventional response rate is something like contact with a live human being at 15 percent of knocks. (Most are actual knocks -- you'd be astonished how few doorbells actually ring.) We're exceeding that rate, getting an answer at close to 25 percent of doors; this may mean we are unusually determined, or perhaps that the targets we're seeking -- infrequent voters -- work a lot of strange shifts.

Unfortunately, a good number of those people who do answer turn out not to be the voter the canvasser was looking for. Consequently, a strong canvasser who approaches 11 doors an hour and walks for 3.5 hours may talk with less than 10 targeted voters during her shift.

It takes a massive effort to reach a significant mass of voters. Door knocking is a volume game. With a 35 person crew, we're doing this in Reno, where in a month we've exceeded 40,000 doors knocked.

Then there is what happens when the canvasser actually finds her voter. Canvassers, both paid and volunteer, get over any shyness quite quickly. This work isn't about some polite little push to remember to vote. Nor do our canvassers give up easily. They are trained to be committed, a little intrusive, honest about what they know, very persuasive, and determined to get to a truthful "yes" to Jacky Rosen and Steve Sisolak. And they are damn good at it. (I've been door knocking off and on for decades and I learn from our UniteHERE worker team every day.)

Early in campaign season, many voters proclaim themselves "undecided." That can mean a range of things from "go away; you're bothering me" to "I really don't know enough" to "I'm afraid I'll look stupid if I talk about the election." The canvasser's job is to cut through to a conversation about what the voter cares about and to bring that back to the importance of the election and our candidates. It's not hard for our team to believe this election is vital to their own lives. They are working people from the bottom of the economic totem pole and mostly women and/or people of color. They get to "yes" more frequently by the day.

Nate Cohn in the Upshot recently shared some data collected by the pollster Siena about "undecideds."

In the aggregate, undecided voters don’t look very different from decided voters, either in terms of their attitudes or their demographic characteristics. They just aren’t as politically engaged.

... undecided voters just don’t know much about the candidates: 56 percent of the undecided voters don’t know either candidate, while only 17 percent of decided voters don’t know either candidate. ... A narrow category of undecided voters seems not to like either candidate: 11 percent of undecided voters don’t like either candidate, something true of only 4 percent of decided voters.

This probably isn’t unusual for these voters. Their lack of knowledge probably reflects a generally lower level of political engagement. A majority of the undecided voters in our polling have never voted in a primary .... Just 50 percent say they’re almost certain to vote in November, compared with 67 percent of decided voters.

This description fits the people we are targeting in Reno perfectly -- folks who are registered, but unlikely to vote without a strong push to engage with the election.

If we can find, identify, and turn out these citizens, our candidates win. The work is that simple.

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