Talking to voters is one of the most important things we can do to influence Swing District elections, particularly because turnout in House races is traditionally so low and the margins of victory are narrow. Research shows that face-to-face voter contact is by far the most effective way to communicate with voters and help get more Democrats to the polls on election day. Swing Left’s canvass program is about making sure we begin this critical voter-contact work early in order to ensure that we have the votes we need to win next fall.
Volunteers like you are already hosting canvass events across the country! It is easy to do, even if you have never gone door to door before. Here you’ll find everything you need to get started organizing your event.
What's in this Guide
- Overview: 5 Easy Steps
- Finding a Target Neighborhood & Creating Walk Maps
- Building for Your Event
- Getting Ready for Your Event
- Hosting Tips
- Sample Event Schedule
- Sample Speed Training
- Additional Resources
Step 1: Create your event.
If you haven’t already, create your event on Action Network.
Important Note on Action Network: If you are meeting and carpooling from outside of the district, mention it in the title of your event. An event called "August 2 Canvassing in CA-10" will show up on the CA-10 calendar regardless of the address of the event.
Look at the recommended neighborhood maps for your District. These maps pinpoint neighborhoods estimated to have a high percentage of likely Democrats and a high percentage of unregistered eligible voters. Read the section below on Finding a Target Neighborhood & Creating Walk Maps for instructions on how to create individual walking maps for your volunteers.
Step 3: Recruit for your event
Once you have created your your event, we’ll help recruit volunteers by sending them to search for events near them. But don’t just wait for people to sign up! You should plan to recruit your friends, neighbors, and family: Read Building for Your Event for more tips and tricks on recruitment.
Step 4: Prepare materials and send confirmations to your guests
See the section below on Getting Ready for Your Event for a full list of materials and other things you should bring to your canvass.
Step 5: Talk to Voters!
On the day of the event, you’ll meet up somewhere convenient and then head to a neighborhood in your Swing District. Once you get to your neighborhood, you’ll go door to door and talk to anyone who answers. If they’re planning to support the Democratic candidate next year, you’ll ask them to commit to vote using our new Vote Pledge Tool. This is a great way to increase turnout. We’ll also help them verify that their voter registration is up to date. If they’re not planning to support the Democratic candidate, you’ll ask them what issues they care about and then move on to find the next supporter.
You can run a canvass in any neighborhood you like, but since it is still pretty far from election day we'd recommend focusing on places that have lots of Democratic-leaning voters who may not be registered to vote.
We've provided a list of 25 suggested neighborhoods in every Swing District. You can find yours by entering your Swing District here: www.swingleft.org/canvass. We selected these neighborhoods by using census data to identify areas with a high percentage of Democratic voters and a high number of unregistered likely Democrats.
Here are some tips on using these pages:
- Each page has a "Canvassing Journal" linked at the top (see image in the appendix. You can use this to see where folks have already gone (or plan to go). As soon as you know where you plan to canvass, write it down here so others can make plans accordingly. Update it after you’re done canvassing.
- These neighborhoods are based on census data, not hard and fast physical boundaries, so don’t worry too much where one pinned neighborhood "starts" and another “stops”—just log the streets you covered when you’re done so others will know.
- If you’re feeling nervous about canvassing somewhere you’ve never been, use Google Street View to do a little scouting (click on the pin, click "what’s here" to activate Street View and then click around a bit).
To make things easier for your other volunteers, create simple walk maps. Here’s all you need to do:
- Determine how many "turfs" you’ll need. Each turf should have about 30 homes on it. That should enough for two canvassers to knock on doors for 2 hours. For example: 6 canvassers = 3 turfs of ~30 homes.
- Print out a Google Map of the neighborhood you’ll be canvassing.
- Create turfs by circling a set of streets for each pair. Don’t worry about counting homes too precisely. This is just to make sure your folks don’t run into each other.
- Once you have your turfs, print out maps for everyone who is coming and highlight the turfs. Write your phone number on the bottom so they can call you if questions come up.
Recruitment is simple: It starts with inviting a few friends and then asking them to invite a few more. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can fill a canvass caravan. Read our full set of tips in our Recruiting for and Promoting Your Events Guide.
RSVP for a training webinar. Online trainings will cover all the basics of the canvass program, tips for hosting your own event, and best practices for talking to voters at the doors.
Delegate tasks to other people: Give people roles so that you’re not the only one doing all the work. Ask someone to help prepare a pre-canvass training or assign someone as a "materials captain" who prints and compiles everything for the volunteers. Some POSSIBLE roles:
- Event Training Captain: Responsible for reviewing the best practices sheet, practicing the script, assigning neighborhood blocks and leading the post-canvass debrief.
- Materials Captain: Responsible for printing and organizing all materials (sign-in sheets, scripts, maps, etc.) prior to the event.
- Supplies Captain: Responsible for pens, name tags, clipboards.
- Snack Captain: Responsible for procuring bottled water, cooler, ice, snacks, etc.
- Confirmations Captain: Responsible for making confirmation calls 24–48 hours prior to the event; ensures all canvassers sign-in and is the primary contact for all canvassers both prior to and during the event.
Review the Sample Event Schedule and familiarize yourself with the materials. The more familiar you are with the script, the tool, and the schedule, the more comfortable you’ll be during your event. Be sure to share these materials with anyone helping run the event.
Do final confirmation calls. Both emailing and calling all of your attendees a day or two ahead to confirm will increase the likelihood that they will show up! Asking them to take on a responsibility is another great way to solidify their commitment to come. Reminder calls are also a great opportunity to clarify the meetup location, contact information, and confirm what volunteers should bring: water, snack, clipboard or binder, lots of pens, a fully-charged phone.
Don’t worry about making everything perfect! You’ll figure things out as you go. Don’t be afraid to tell people it’s your first time—there’s nothing wrong with making it clear that you aren’t a professional. We do this work because we believe in the cause and there is no message more powerful that we can send to other volunteers.
What You’ll Need to Bring
- Smartphones and/or tablets so you can collect data, gather "commit to vote" signatures from supporters, and help people check their registration status.
- Clipboards or binders with volunteer sign-up sheets and scripts, extra blue or black ink pens, tape, and name tags.
- Snacks for your team! It’s always great to have extra water and granola bars on hand.
- A fun option: you can ask everyone volunteering to wear the same color shirt on the day of your event (or a Swing Left shirt if they have one or want to buy one) so that you can easily keep track of one another.
A few documents to print:
- Sign-in sheet (1 copy)
- Canvass script (1 copy/ volunteer)
- Attendee Guide with best practices (1 copy/volunteer)
- Paper Data Entry Form (1 copy/volunteer)
- Swing Left Overview Flyer to give to voters at the door (10 copies/ volunteer)
- Maps for each volunteer with assigned streets All the material you'll need during your canvass can also be found at swingleft.org/canvassing-resources.
During the Event
Be inclusive and connect with volunteers. Talk to each person when they arrive and sign them in. Introduce people to each other and genuinely get to know people by asking a few questions.
Prepare your group before they begin canvassing. You don’t have to be an expert to lead a short training! Just review the best practices and ask volunteers to role-play the script together (i.e. find a partner and pretend that one person is the voter and the other is the canvasser). Keep your training brief: 20–30 minutes is ideal, and then you’ll learn even more about canvassing by doing it.
Clarify logistics.Check your street map and be ready to tell other volunteers which streets they should visit. It’s fine for volunteers to start off in pairs as they are getting more comfortable with canvassing. One person can do the talking and the other can jot down responses.
Set realistic expectations. Make sure volunteers know not to get discouraged if they aren’t getting a lot of people to talk to them. You may only register 1-2 people per canvass or get a few commit to vote signatures. That is OK—the few you get could be the difference between winning and losing on Election Day. It may feel slow, but you’re making a critical addition to the voter rolls.
Be communicative and accessible. Make sure someone on your team knows where you’ll be canvassing and keep a fully charged cell phone with you at all times.
Be positive and constructive. Keep the tone upbeat—this is an exciting, fun, and interactive event!
Get specific commitments. Don’t be afraid to ask for volunteers to sign up for upcoming activities before they leave for the day.
Huddle up with your volunteer team. Debrief the canvassing experience: What worked well at the door? What do you want to do better next time? What areas in this neighborhood didn’t get covered yet?
Appreciate and celebrate your work. Canvassing is important, hard work. Thank each volunteer.
Tell volunteers about the next event. The end of each event is an opportunity to check in about what’s coming up next and when you can all visit your Swing District again. Make a plan to check in soon if you don’t have something on the calendar.
Make notes in our online Swing District canvassing journal. In your District Resources page visit Recommended neighborhoods for talking to voters, then click on "Log your visit to the district" so we can all keep track of who is going where more easily.
Share your feedback with Swing Left. After you complete your canvass and click “I’m done” on the Swing Left Vote Tool, you will see our feedback survey. Please fill it out! We rely on your feedback to make improvement to our program and we take your advice seriously.
These are example times. Please edit based on the schedule for your event.
9:00 am Arrival and Introductions
- Give people time to sign in and meet each other. If you are meeting at your carpool locations instead of in-district, you can start getting to know each other on the road!
- If you have a small enough group, spend 10 minutes asking everyone to introduce themselves:
- Are you new to canvassing?
- What is motivating you to do this work right now?
9:15 am Speed Training- link to agenda below
- Briefly review the plan for the day and introduce yourself and your own motivation for organizing the activity.
- Give an overview of Swing Left and our strategy to take back the House.
- Show people how to use the Swing Left Vote Tool.
- Review the best practices for canvassing and the script.
- Quickly practice the script in pairs.
9:45 am Action
- Give people clear instructions about when and where to return and how they can check in with you throughout the event. Provide an emergency contact number.
- Send people out in pairs. If they came with a friend, encourage them to spend some time canvassing with someone new.
- Make sure that one volunteer in each pair has a smartphone so they can collect the voter signatures and other data.
12:45 am Group lunch and debrief
- Optional: Get back together after your canvass for a group lunch!
- What went well? What didn’t? What do you wish you had known?
- Review next steps:
- When are we all going to get together again? When would be a good time to schedule an activity in our district?
- Do a quick closing:
- Ask each person to name one person they are going to invite to join the movement and one hope for 2017 (in one sentence).
Keep an eye on the time if you’re running the training, or ask someone else to be a time-keeper. It’s easy to spend too much time on training rather than getting started with the real canvassing. Hold questions until the end so that you keep the training moving quickly through the agenda and try to keep everything to under 30 minutes.
9:00 am Gather your group together into a circle or huddle.
- Briefly review the plan for the day.
- Training for 15 minutes
- Pair up to go canvassing until __p.m.
- Gather back together to eat lunch and debrief
- Introductions. + Introduce yourself and your motivation for organizing the activity. + Ask everyone to turn to the person next to them and exchange names.
- Overview of Swing Left and our strategy to take back the House.
- Talking to voters is the most effective thing we can do to influence the 2018 Congressional elections. Since turnout in Congressional races is usually very low, a few thousand votes can determine the outcome. We need all of our supportive voters to get to the polls if we're going to win back the House next year.
- So today we’ll be canvassing likely Democratic neighborhoods and asking supporters to sign the "commit to vote" pledge on your phone and verify that their voter registration is up to date. When we come across a Republican or undecided voter, we’ll ask them to share their top issues so that we can better understand our districts and what they care about.
9:05 am Show people how to use the Swing Left Vote Tool
Ask everyone to pull up the tool on their phone and log in. Then ask them to sign the pledge themselves so they can see how it works.
9:10 am Quick Review of Best Practices for Canvassing
- Review expectations.
- You should aim to knock on about 30 doors while we’re out today. Right now we're just out here trying to find the supporters who want to talk to us at the door. So try a lot of doors. Don’t get hung up if you aren’t registering lots of new voters - the 1-2 you get could be difference between winning and losing on election day.
- Read the best practices together. + A list of best practices and messaging tips can be found in the Attendee Guide. Take a moment to review with the group and discuss.
9:20 am Practice the script in pairs.
Distribute the paper scripts and pair everyone up. Tell the group that one person should pretend to be a very friendly Democrat voter and one person pretend to be the canvasser. Give them 2–3 minutes—then tell them to switch who is practicing if they haven’t yet. When they switch, instruct the next person to pretend to be a very friendly Republican voter.
9:25 am Closing
- Share your contact info so volunteers can reach you during their canvass in case they have questions.
- Set a goal.
- 30 doors can be knocked on average per pair, so how many total doors is your group aiming to knock? Share this goal with the group.
9:30 am Head off to hit the doors!
- swingleft.org/canvassing-resources (all the materials that are on this page can also be found here in this guide)
- Swing District Resource Pages
- Communicate with other nearby hosts through your District Slack Team or your District Google Group
- RSVP for an upcoming online training