From Academic Kids

In an election canvassing is a method used by a political campaign to directly speak to large numbers of voters.

There are three basic goals of canvassing. The first, but generally not the most important, is to try to convince voters to vote for a candidate. While converting voters would ideally be a central goal, it is difficult, requiring knowledgeable and charismatic canvassers, and time consuming. To reach every voter in a district a canvasser cannot spend more than one or two minutes per person, rarely enough time to have a significant discussion.

The second goal is thus just to get a candidate more name recognition. This can be done quickly and easily and is effective. Voters are far more likely to pay attention and vote for a candidate they have heard of. The canvasser also delivers literature, usually a leaflet that contains a picture of the candidate and a few highlighted issues.

Of great import, especially in North America with low voter turn-outs, is using canvasses to draw up lists of supporters. On election day these form the centerpiece of the get out the vote efforts that are crucial in modern elections. Thus canvassers will mark down each voter as being a supporter, an opponent, or undecided. The list of undecideds can also be used to focus later canvasses.

There are two basic types of canvassing: field canvasses and phone canvasses.

Field canvasses are done by going door to door to every home and apartment in a district. They have the advantage that people are generally more open to talking to someone in person and literature can be delivered and lawn signs put up at the same time as the canvass. A field canvass can also guarantee completeness as each house can be accounted for. A field canvass is done by one or two individuals, especially popular is to bring cute young children.

A variation of the field canvass is a candidate canvass; these are done with the actual candidate in a district. These have great potential as people are far more likely to vote for a candidate they have seen in person. With only one candidate, however, time is a valuable commodity. The candidate is thus usually accompanied by a half dozen or more volunteers who knock on doors. If they find no one home the candidate does not go to that home. If they find a person the volunteer finds out if they would like to meet the candidate. If they would the volunteer signals the candidate. This technique maximizes the amount of time a candidate spends speaking to potential voters.

Phone canvasses can reach more people more quickly than a field canvass; messages can be left on answering machines and there is far less exertion on the part of volunteers. A phone bank environment also means knowledgeable coordinators can keep far closer track of what the volunteers are doing. In rural areas phone canvasses are the only method efficient enough to reach most voters. Apartment buildings are also often better reached by phone canvasses as residents there are unused to and discomfited by opening the door to strangers. There are a number of disadvantages, however. Many voters are put off by anything resembling telemarketing. Getting an accurate and up-to-date list of phone numbers for everyone in a district is very difficult with a considerable percent of numbers becoming out of date in only a few months.

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