Canvassing in 2018 is a whole new world compared to canvassing last cycle. Door knockers can now show videos at the door, they can engage with people on social media, they can take donations from enthusiastic voters, and in many states, they can even register voters at the door. A smart door-knocking strategy is like a smart digital strategy — it’s data-driven, strategic, and constantly being tested.
With more than $646 million already raised for congressional candidates, campaigns need to decide quickly where to spend their money to best ensure a win. It may seem tempting in the digital age to spend that money on TV and online campaigns, but door-to-door outreach is still the only way to engage sporadic voters and ensure that a campaign message reaches the 51 percent.
The 2018 campaigns that have started the strongest are engaging in a mix of voter outreach methods, beginning with face-to-face contact. Groups like Indivisible and the Congressional Leadership Fund that started knocking doors in 2017 are actively learning from and listening to voters. These groups are knocking doors and then using the collected data to follow up with the same voters via phone calls to confirm support and issue awareness. They are then able to digitally target voters with messaging on issues they actually care about, so that voters feel heard and included in their elections.
The key to running campaigns with precise coordination is data feedback. The past few cycles have been about big data, but 2018 will be the first election focused on smart data. By understanding individual voters and campaign-wide trends, organizations should have the resources to spend their money efficiently and ensure that voters feel individually connected to their campaigns instead of simply collecting as much information as possible and never using it.
So, how can campaigns manage their canvassing outreach and monitor their data to ensure a win in 2018? Prospect voters with high quality data.
We know from experience that canvassers who knock every door waste on average 30 minutes per hour at houses unlikely to vote or support their candidate. Moreover, they often turn out voters directly opposed to their candidate. In order to avoid this waste of time and efficiency, campaigns should leverage existing data to target who to talk to and what to say. Here’s how data can help enhance the effectiveness of your canvassing:
It tells you who to talk to.
In a perfect world, campaigns would be able to talk to as many, if not all, of the active voters in their district. Because this isn’t a perfect world, campaigns need to understand that time is their scarcest resource.
Therefore, campaigns should target primarily consistent voters with shared or similar ideologies to their candidates. The number of voters a campaign needs to target can be determined by using a voting calculator like the one we created here.
It helps determine what to say.
In order to win, campaigns need to craft individualized messaging so that voters feel listened to and respected. Door-to-door outreach isn’t like TV where you spray a general message and hope for the best. Targeted messaging at the doors — like you do online — gives canvassers the highest chance of a successful interaction each time they talk to a voter. Targeted messaging should focus on shared backgrounds, neighbors’ supports, native languages at non-English doors, and issue-based advocacy.
To be clear, a campaign’s stance on an issue cannot change based on who they’re talking to but messaging should focus on topics people actually care about based on the data a campaign has. For instance, you may have a voter’s veteran status and may want to direct your messaging to your candidate’s policy on veteran’s assistance and foreign policy rather than environmental issues. On the flip side, if you know someone has donated to an environmental cause, they’re likely more interested in your candidate’s environmental policy.
Quality data helps make effective canvassing possible.
So where does a campaign get its door knocking data? There are many sources of voter data available to campaigns. States and counties aggregate voter data and often give it to campaigns for free, but the quality is hit-or-miss depending on how often it’s updated.
Similarly, NationBuilder’s free election system arms campaigns with basic data that is a great place to start for smaller campaigns looking for an affordable way to start door knocking. Higher quality data can be purchased or received from the parties (particularly after a campaign gets through a primary) via NGP VAN (for Democrats) or the GOP Data Center (for Republicans), or it can be purchased from independent sources like the Data Trust (for Conservatives), L2 (for anyone), Polis (for anyone), and TargetSmart (for Democrats).
Kendall Tucker is the CEO and Founder of Polis, a startup working to revolutionize mobile canvassing and improve in-person analytics.