10 ways to get more people canvassing

It’s turned out that my main activity during this general election campaign is helping run training events around the country designed to get people out canvassing for the very first time.

By the end of the campaign, it’s looking hopeful that the number of people trained up through these events will get well above thousand. Which is great news… but also means there’s plenty of opportunity for people who don’t make it to one of these sessions to be trained up.

So here are the key tips I’ve learnt so far, applicable also to anyone interesting in putting on similar sessions too:

  1. Set the cultural norm that canvassing is what everyone can do: not everyone wants to canvass, and we should respect that – but it’s striking how often local parties fall into a culture where leaflet delivery is what they ask everyone about, but canvassing is something kept off for special occasions and long-standing members.
  2. The best way to get new people into canvassing isn’t to invite them out on a canvassing session Rather, it’s to invite them to a briefing session that explains the how and why, and then is followed by a short canvass session to get them to try out their first doorsteps.
  3. Don’t make the session just about canvassing: make it a broader briefing session, as that both helps attract people and sets canvassing in the wider context of why people should be motivated to do it.
  4. Double-down on explaining how important and effective canvassing is – if they’ve got an hour to spare for a bit of campaigning, for most people canvassing is the most valuable thing they can do.
  5. Keep it simple. For someone who hasn’t canvassed before, the best way to get them going is to keep it really simple: asking the one key voting intention question, a simple follow-up and handing over a calling leaflet. There’s plenty you can learn and add to that as you get better, but please, don’t do what one local party did – where well-meaning people each kept adding ‘one other thing’ and ended up drowning the would-be new canvassers with a complex long list of things to do.
  6. Hold off more advanced canvassing for when people get more experienced: there can be great value in getting into discussions about issues and persuading unsure voters. But you don’t have to do that for canvassing to be useful. If you’ve never canvassed before, one of the greatest fears is about how much policy or politics you might have to know. So don’t scare off new people by making canvassing sound far harder than it is – rather getting people going with the basics and help them up their ante over time.
  7. Get people using MiniVAN from day one, if they have a smartphone.
  8. Spread your invitations widely: don’t just invite members; include also registered supporters and the huge pool of national petition signers in your parch (e.g. those who have signed the party’s national anti-Brexit petition).
  9. Email people a reminder about attending the day before: sounds obvious but does seem to make a big difference to turnout.
  10. Give people a good handout – and here’s one I prepared earlier.

Oh, and have fun!

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2 responses to “10 ways to get more people canvassing”

  1. Excellent Mark. But I would squeeze in a #11: Pub afterwards!!
    I remember my first ever canvass – many moons ago (Kincardine & Deeside by election, since you ask). I was, as you say, nervous beforehand but the local party was very good with encouraging me, and they obeyed most of your 10 points. I was with a group and had a mentor for the first few doors, and then I was let loose on my own and it was great. But when I finished, we all met up again and I handed over my cards, and they thanked me profusely. But then…. well, we all just sort of drifted away, and for me it felt very anti-climactic. I was full of adrenalin and wanted to talk about it and to celebrate the fact I’d done it. I remember walking back to my digs and thinking, well I did enjoy that but I’m not sure I would do it again.
    In the event, I did go back the next day, and this time we did all go to the pub afterwards and had great fun telling all our stories (dogs, letterbox brushes, half-naked householders etc). It made a big difference for me and kept me going back.
    The rest is history. God knows how many people I’ve canvassed since then! And a few years later when I was running my own campaign nights, the PCPD (post-canvass pub debrief) was always an integral part of every canvass session! Even if I couldn’t always attend it myself I made sure one of the other experienced team members invited them all to the pub. It was an actual point on our daily checklist. I’ve found it is an important thing, particularly for new canvassers.
    So yeah, I think I would merge your points 5 and 6 (they’re quite similar) and add a new point 10: Don’t forget the PCPD!

    • Very good point about post-canvassing social gathering. Pubs can be great for this, though also worth bearing in mind they’re not the place for everyone. Tea and cakes at a cafe or the Lib Dem office if there is one can be a good choice too.

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