In the federal elections of 2016, candidates and political parties spent a combined $6.4 billion on their campaigns, hoping that an investment of such an enormous amount of money would pay off and effectively persuade voters to vote for their candidate or party. Money aside, volunteer staff pour hundreds of hours of their personal time into these campaigns.
The most traditional way of campaign outreach is door-to-door canvassing. Canvassers knock on doors with the goal of persuading potential voters to get involved. Voters can either donate their time and skills to simply show up on election day. Vast numbers of active canvassing operations have acclimated most Americans to this type of organizational outreach. The average home owner has engaged with non-profit organizers, political candidates, and religious representatives from the comfort of their front door.
In tight elections, campaign staff must be mindful about the efficiency of their campaign fund allocations. Canvassing door-to-door volunteers hope to not only get their existing supporters out to vote on election day but also to persuade new voters to show up. Every campaign dollar counts. Candidates strongly rely on the strength of their canvassing operation to attract votes away from their opponent.
Partisan Barriers to Effective Canvassing
Social media and online platforms have had a significant impact on how we socialize and connect with one another; campaign staff now have to adapt to an ever-changing social landscape that revolves around online platforms. Campaigns are also having to deal with a growing sense of sharp partisanship in voter bases around the country.
Over the past twenty years, the number of “centrist voters”- voters who would vote for both Republican and Democratic candidates, shifting positions more than once in their political lives- has shrunk significantly. Only 39% of voters are considered to be in the middle of the political spectrum– a challenge for candidates slated in growing partisan districts.
Though canvassing is ubiquitous in the American political scene, some organizations have questioned the its overall effectiveness of persuading voters. Given the amount of time and money that goes into a canvass operation, political scientists want to know if this is still the most effective way of engaging the public in the political process.
In 2017, professors David Broockman and Joshua Kalla of Stanford and UC Berkeley, found that the total impact of campaign outreach efforts in general elections. These efforts include canvassing, direct mail ads, television commercials, phone banks, etc.- in some cases is negligible. The hundreds of individual hours many campaign workers and volunteers spend knocking on doors, passing out flyers, and cold calling can be useless.
Working in coordination with various political campaigns, Broockman and Kalla tested a subset of voters subjected to various forms of campaign outreach, including door-to-door canvassing, and surveyed voters too see if opinions on the candidate had changed.
The California experiment found that, if contacted within two months of election day, about one in 800 voters would be persuaded to change political views by the canvassing effort. This isn’t to say that campaign outreach is useless in gaining votes.
Related: the Democratic Race for 2020
Voters show up to support their base but canvassing isn’t as effective when it comes to attracting voters from opposite ideologies. This means campaigns have to make their canvassing operations that much more effective. Similarly, canvass teams can rally voters that they know are most likely to vote for their candidate and support similar issues.
Digital Solutions to the Canvass Problem
Luckily, campaign organization software makes it much easier for campaigns to be more efficient and organized in their canvassing efforts. For Democratic party campaigns, NGP VAN is spearheading the movement towards innovative and efficient campaign software. These digital tools can help make canvassing efforts much more effective in getting voters to the polls.
Quality access to voter data is imperative to run a successful canvassing operation. If campaigns have access to voter data in their areas, they can focus their time and energy focusing on canvassing with voters who are more consistently in ideology with their campaign. In other words, canvassers waste time on voters who already have hardened opinions on a certain candidate.
A data-driven campaign strategy results in strategic door-knocking. NGP VAN offers a wealth of voter data for Democratic campaigns. Campaign organizers more effectively target the voters they want to reach out to with these tools. Canvassing can be slowed down by the countless hours of printing routes, organizing volunteers, and trying to compile voter data. This task has usually been delegated to campaign organizers. NGP VAN’s MiniVAN application, however, completely streamlines the organization and preparation process for canvassers.
MiniVAN is a free mobile app for iOS and Android devices. It compiles all the necessary information that canvassers need on their route, from pre-designed maps, scripts for talking, and voter contact info. The mobile app uploads data from each canvassing interaction instantaneously into a campaign database. This eliminates the need for campaign organizers to have to pour over paperwork and sift through data by hand.
Cut-Out Cutting Turf
One of the most painstaking aspects of the canvassing process is what organizers call “cutting turf.” In other words, spending the time making walk lists and maps for canvassers. NGP VAN has developed a new MiniVAN feature, called Distributed Canvassing, that addresses this problem.
Instead of delegating the creation route preferences and walk lists to campaign organizers, Distributed Canvassing streamlines and automates this process. All organizers need to do now is specify the region they want to canvass in. A canvasser develops a script and then determines the number of addresses they want each volunteer to visit.
The application then automatically creates a list number that determines a walk route for each canvasser based on location. Distributed Canvassing saves campaign organizers hundreds of vital hours. Canvassers should then instead analyze voter data. With these sorts of tools campaigns run more efficiently.
Door-to-door outreach is even more effective when canvassers can present voters with an individualized message. Furthermore, NGP VAN can inform canvass staff what issues voters care about. If a household is marked with veteran’s status, a canvass team includes a candidate’s views on veterans’ affairs.
Sick of cutting turf? We are too. Never cut turf again with Distributed Canvassing: https://t.co/Nfmnxu2x9Z
— NGP VAN (@NGPVAN) April 14, 2018
Studies from academic institutions and voter data collected by software companies like NGP VAN, give campaigns sophisticated feedback on how to best attract voters. In a competitive and fast-paced political climate, it is difficult to win over swing voters. However, with the right data campaigns can compete by finding voters who already feel passionate about a candidate’s platform. Similarly, even mildly engaged voters just need the reminder to show up on election day.
Nevertheless, the art of campaign canvassing is not dead. A streamlined process with strategic organization wins with modern voter in mind. NGP VAN’s canvassing software completely changed how campaigns organize. Likewise, much of the inefficiency of canvassing stems from long, tedious hours full of organized and manual data entry and interpretation. NGP VAN’s software tools like MiniVAN and Distributed Canvassing lift a huge weight off the shoulders of Democratic campaign organizers.
Working with software streamlining, the canvass operations will save time and make for smoother running campaigns. With NGP VAN’s tools, campaigns can assure that reaching out to voters personally is still central to campaign goals.