Block walking is nothing new, it's canvassing, it's door to door outreach, it's the conversations we should be having with voters. No matter how you are running your community engagement canvassing the outcome should be better relationships with voters and, ultimately, more support for your campaign.
Block walking is a new way of packaging an ancient practice. I spoke recently to Irish TD John Lahart about his take on canvassing. In Ireland, we don't regard the streets as blocks just yet but the premise is still the same. Lahart spoke highly about the importance of canvassing. There is almost an intimacy to the art of a conversation where action is almost guaranteed to be taken (if you are campaigning effectively). Lahart referenced the fact that he had been canvassing since he was 18 years of age, another confirmation that it was a process worth investing time in as he now sits as an elected representative in the Irish Government.
So, ok, canvassing and block walking are one in the same, but why do we care so much about it?
Institutional factors like what day an election will take place or how long polling stations will stay open are insignificant when it comes to voter turnout according to Dr.Stephen Quinlan, manager of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems project at GESIS Leibniz Institute in Germany.
Voter turnout is always a hot topic around election time and thanks to advances in the field of mobile technology, campaign managers and consultants are now looking towards customized political software tools to help them make the most of their resources. Software solutions that capture canvassing data offer a more streamlined way of overseeing the entire ground game but, why is voter canvassing still so damn important?
Dr.Quinlan spoke last year on RTE 1’s Morning Ireland show and emphasised just how important interaction between Candidate and Voter is. “You are substantially more likely to vote if you feel you have been engaged with, either through canvassing, reading a leaflet or even watching a political debate”, the electoral expert said.
It has been shown that just one in-person conversation had a profound effect on a voter’s likelihood to go to the polls, boosting turnout by a whopping 20 percent (or around 9 percentage points). The research which resulted in the above was conducted nearly 20 years ago by Alan Gerber and Don Green in 1998. The professors randomly assigned voters to receive different political campaign messaging techniques to vote: some received leaflets, some received phone calls, some received a visit from a canvasser, and some received nothing.
Plenty of political campaigns make a lot of noise regarding the number of doors knocked on a particular night. But the reality is that these large stats can paper over the cracks of an average election campaign. Why so? Well, a truly successful field canvass depends on the number of relevant conversations on the doorsteps, not the number of doors knocked. Studies of the 2004 US Presidential campaign showed that the quality of the canvass was far more important than the number of canvasses.
Canvassing voters in-person is strategically essential and financially beneficial to every political campaign, the sooner we forget conventional wisdom such as “young people don’t vote and old people do”, the more efficient our political representatives will be. Voter canvassing works because it simple and cuts through the noise. People need to be asked for their vote, as obvious as it may seem. Engage the public on the block, invest a little time and the results will come.