If you are running for state legislature, county or city council, or school board, you will need to personally talk to a lot of voters. These races for lower levels of government are not big, impersonal machines like presidential or congressional campaigns are. Down ballot races are won and lost by the outreach their candidates personally do.
The science is clear that the best way to persuade voters is to talk to them in person, especially by knocking on voters’ doors.
I know what you’re thinking: knocking on doors takes so much time. And that’s true. But there’s an easy way and a hard way to do door knocking.
The hard way to do canvassing
Let’s start with the way that most campaigns for down ballot offices approach canvassing. These campaigns start knocking doors about 8 weeks before Election Day. The candidate will spend a few hours each weekend afternoon knocking on doors and roughly 10 volunteers come out over the course of the weekend. We’ll assume that each person averages 20 doors an hour.
Over the course of 8 weeks, the campaign will knock on 3,840 doors in total.
That’s not a bad showing for a small operation. In fact, it may very well be more doors than your opponent knocks. But think about how much effort goes into this operation. To have 10 volunteers show up to canvass, you have to recruit 20 volunteers a week. (A 50% no show rate is considered standard for any type of campaign activity.) Twenty volunteers a week…every week…for 8 weeks. That’s 160 volunteer shifts!
Moreover, the last 8 weeks of a campaign may not be the optimal time to reach voters. They are likely being inundated with information from your race and other races on the ballot. Think about how many pieces of direct mail you receive in the last few weeks of a race. Now combine that with all of the digital ads, emails, phone calls, and text messages being sent by all of the campaigns. It’s hard to cut through all that clutter, even with a personal method like door knocking.
The better way to do canvassing
Now, here’s the easier and more effective way to canvass: start 6 months before Election Day and have a dedicated weekly schedule for when the candidate and other key members of the campaign will knock doors.
Before you write this off as a huge time commitment that you couldn’t possibly do, take a look at the math.
Over the course of 6 months (26 weeks), your campaign can knock 10,400 doors. To achieve this, your campaign would need to knock a total of 20 hours per week, which is fewer hours per week than the first option we explored. You can split this 20 hours up amongst the candidate and volunteers however you like. For instance:
- The candidate knocks Saturday and Sunday afternoons plus two weekday evenings.
- Ask your spouse/fiance/partner to volunteer for one afternoon each weekend.
- Ask two other people to commit to knocking for 2 hours a week every week.
I know what most candidates are thinking: 10-12 hours a week is a lot of time to spend door knocking, especially when I have a hundred other things to do. But remember the golden rule for political campaigns: a candidate should spend their time talking to voters and raising money. There is no better way to talk to voters than knocking on doors.
This schedule has the advantage of not needing to recruit massive numbers of volunteer shifts. It’s just three people, plus the candidate.
By starting early, you’ll be reaching voters at a time when there isn’t competition from other campaigns. And research shows that knocking sticks with a voter for months afterward, unlike direct mail or digital ads.
Your campaign will likely be the only one in the field for months, so your visit will stick out in voters’ minds.
You can test out campaign messaging long before you send the first piece of direct mail.
You’ll get practice answering every possible question a voter can throw at you, so you’ll be ready for candidate debates.
Make your campaign easier and more effective by starting early and making a schedule to canvass. By sticking with this plan, you’ll be on a winning path for your election!