Canvassing 101: How to Knock Doors

Talking to voters is one of the two most important things a campaign does, other than raising money. Speaking to voters at their home is an effective and low cost way to distribute your message, persuade voters to vote for you, and identify supporters. Research consistently shows that door knocking is the best way to earn voters and to increase voter turnout.

Canvassing can also be an efficient way for a candidate to learn about the concerns in the community and to begin to formulate policy positions. It’s also a great way to prepare for candidate debates, as you never know what a voter may ask you at their door!

What to Expect During Door Knocking

  • A canvasser can reach 20 doors per hour in a suburban area

  • One in three doors will be answered

  • You’ll need to contact 15 voters to generate 1 vote, plus a spillover effect of 1-2 additional vote from others in the household

Who to Canvass

Don’t knock on every door on a street! Your campaign needs to focus its time and resources on the people who actually vote and who you have a chance of persuading to vote for you.

The one exception to this rule may be if a person is outside their home, for instance working in their yard. It doesn’t take much time to approach them and to make your pitch.

Where to Canvass

In most local races, especially in odd year elections, there isn’t much competition in terms of voter outreach. That’s especially true in turns of door knocking. Just think about your own home: how many times has a campaign knocked on your door in the past two years? It’s probably not very many times.

This empty playing field means that you have a lot of flexibility in terms of what areas you prioritize for knocking first. You may want to start in your own neighborhood, as you’ll likely know some of the people. Familiar faces may make it easier for you to master your canvassing script and to get into a canvassing groove.

After you finish your neighborhood, you might want to prioritize neighborhoods that have higher voter turnout or more visibility from roadways (think yard sign placements). Or you might want to knock where your opponent(s) live to give them a sense of how far reaching your campaign is. Alternately, you might want to stay under the radar and avoid the neighborhoods where your opponent(s) live so that they are less likely to know that you are knocking doors already.

As your campaign continues to progress, you may want to geographically distribute your knocking throughout the district as opposed to starting at one end of the district and working towards the other end. That way, you’ll get a better sense of what’s on the minds of voters throughout the district.

When’s the Best Time to Canvass

Don’t go knocking before 10 am or after 8 pm. In the fall and winter months it gets dark long before 8 pm. It’s your call whether to continue after dark or not, but your response rate at the door may decline.

Don’t knock on a door that you feel uncomfortable about, for instance if they have a ‘no trespassing’ sign.

What to Say When Knocking Doors

Develop a script before you head out canvassing for the first time.  In general:

  • Introduce yourself. “Hi! I’m Mark and I’m running for Broadwood City Council.”

  • Ask to speak to the voter(s) on your target list. If they aren’t available, you can talk to the person who answered the door, but don’t stay too long.

  • Engage the voter about an issue they care about. Find out what their interests and concerns are. It's especially important to engage the voter in a real conversation; a heavily scripted monologue is otherwise like performing a TV ad live and in person at the door.

  • Talk about how you will address the issues they care about. If you have personal or professional experience with the issue, tell them.

  • If the conversation is going well, ask for their vote. “Can I count on your vote on November 6th?” If they say ‘yes,’ you might ask them to put out a yard sign for you or to volunteer for your campaign.

  • If the conservation is not trending in a positive direction, thank the person for their time and move on.

  • Thank them for speaking with you and tell them to have a great day.

Don’t be discouraged if no one answers the door. You can expect about one in three doors to be answered. If no one answers the door, leave your literature rolled to fit behind or next to the door handle/knob. Don’t ever leave your literature in a mailbox; that’s a federal crime!

Candidates can write a message on the lit leave at households where no one answers, such as “I’m sorry I missed you! -Susan”.

Recording Your Interactions with Voters

It’s vital to make notes about your interaction with each voter. With Victory Guide, you can easily capture important information and have the data summarized into easy to interpret graphics.