Organizing a Super State Canvass
Thank you for organizing a Swing Left canvass! Below, you'll find everything you need to get started even if you’ve never canvassed before. No need to go to a field office or pick up any materials. You’ll get everything you need here or the MiniVAN app.
Why We Canvass
Canvassing—or going door to door to talk to people face to face—has been shown time and again to be the most effective way to reach voters.
Who We're Talking To
You will be canvassing in a targeted area of a Super State with other volunteers to knock on doors, identify and register potential voters (depending on your state), and ask them to commit to vote for Democrats up and down the ticket in 2020. These are voters who we believe are 80% likely to vote Democratic—if they vote. But they are either unregistered or they are registered, but they don’t always vote.
Before you go
- Remember to charge your smartphone or tablet. Bring a charging cord and battery pack if you have one.
- Bring water & snacks. Check the weather forecast before you depart and dress appropriately. Wear comfortable shoes for walking.
- Bring folks to canvass with you—and make sure to post it on MobilizeAmerica so other Swing Left volunteers can sign up to come! If other volunteers are coming on your canvass, share this Know Before You Go Canvassing guide with them.
- Your mobile device (e.g. smartphone) will be your main tool for your canvass. MiniVAN is an app that displays information on targeted voters who we want to talk to—and a script to guide your conversation. New to MiniVAN? Check out the Using MiniVAN guide to get started.
- Take time to practice the script—the more familiar you are with the script and the tool, the more comfortable you will be at the door. View the sample script—MiniVAN will show the full script.
- Make sure you are recording your conversations accurately with voters at the doors. Read the How to Code your Data guide before getting started!
- It’s fine to start off in pairs as you are getting more comfortable with canvassing. One person can do the talking and the other can record the responses.
- A list number is a unique code that tells the MiniVAN app the voters we’re targeting and the script to use.
- As canvass organizer, you’ll need to complete this form no less than 72 hours before your canvass. A Swing Left Field staffer will follow up to get you a list number.
- Each list number is specific to the targeted zip code you are canvassing (regardless of how many volunteers are participating in the canvass) and it expires in 30 days. That means that you can come back within a month to continue your canvass.
AT THE DOOR
Have realistic expectations
- Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t getting a lot of people to talk to you. You may only register 1–2 people per canvass or get a few vote pledges. That is ok - the people you talk to today could be the difference between winning and losing on election day. It may feel slow, but you’re making a critical difference.
- Take nothing personally. If somebody is rude to you, shake it off, say goodbye, and move on to the next door.
- Don’t worry about being perfect. If you are new to canvassing, don’t be afraid to say 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 voters.
Be the kind of person you'd want to talk to
- Smile a lot and be genuinely curious about talking with people you meet.
- Talk like a regular person. Don't be a robot or read directly from the script.
Have a conversation, rather than talking at people
- Find your own pitch. Experiment and figure out what works best for you. Remember that the most powerful tool you have is your own personal story.
- Think about a personal reason why you are engaging in this work and share that with the voter. That will help establish a personal connection.
- Ask questions and listen to the answer. Tailor your message to the individual.
- Stress the importance of their action. Tell them why they should commit to vote.
Be persistent, but not pushy
- Don’t worry about signs that say “no solicitors”. Always remember: you aren’t selling anything, you are giving people an opportunity to make their voices heard.
- Though the chances of finding yourself in an unsafe situation are incredibly slim, it’s wise to listen to your gut. If a conversation with a voter makes you feel unsafe, politely say thank you and move to the next house.
- Don’t only ask yes or no questions. Instead ask questions that open a conversation:
- Say “I’m only going to take a minute of your time…” instead of asking “Can I have a minute of your time?”
- Say “Let me verify that you are registered to vote” rather than “Can I verify that you are registered to vote?”
- If you’re registering voters, “I’m already registered” can often be an excuse. Ask follow up questions: “Are you registered at your current address?” “Have you moved since last registering?” For students: “Are you registered at your school address?”
Help register anyone who asks
- If you’re registering voters as part of your canvass, we’re legally required in all states to register anyone who asks to register, regardless of their political position.
Mosaab, a Swing Left volunteer, canvasses for Max Rose in New York's 14th District during the 2018 midterm election.
Huddle up with other volunteers
- Debrief the canvassing experience: what worked well at the door? What do you want to do better next time? Make sure everyone submits a canvass debrief.
- This is an opportunity to check in about what’s coming up next and when you can all canvass again. Make a plan to check-in soon if you don’t have something on the calendar.
What happens to the voters from my list after my canvass?
- Doors you knock on will not be canvassed again for two months. If voters haven’t been reached after several attempts, we’ll remove them from our targets.
There’s enough bad stuff in the news—don’t spend your whole conversation with a voter talking about how the world is coming to an end. This is an opportunity to inspire people to get involved and fight for the changes they want to see in the community. Smile a lot and have fun!
Don’t make assumptions
It is easy to make rash judgements about who you think will support us and commit to vote. But our assumptions can be wrong. Be open to talking to everyone on your list and you may find the most enthusiastic supporters or future Swing Left volunteers behind the next door.
Don’t pick a policy fight
Steer clear of heated policy debate. Door knocking with Swing Left is an opportunity to listen to voters and their concerns, not to promote a specific policy agenda. Remember: our end goal is to get voters to support Democratic candidates.
Swing Left Brand Guidelines: Design tools to help promote your event.
Know Before You Go Canvassing Guide: Door-knocking tips and a canvassing checklist.
Using MiniVAN Guide: Get started on the MiniVAN app.
How to Code Your Data Guide: Record the most accurate voter contact results.
Canvassing Script: Practice the script so you are more comfortable at the door.