Anyone who works in the field doing door canvassing or face-to-face engagement with citizens will be acutely aware of the challenges posed by Covid 19. Our recent guideline paper on social distance canvassing has been helping political campaigners, advocacy groups and nonprofits to train their field workers to operate safely. You can access those guidelines through the download form at the end.
Outside of the medical guidance and the protocols for face-to-face engagement we should also look at strategies for canvassing that will apply for the foreseeable future with the need for social distancing. Here are some tactics we are seeing being used by campaigners.
Since March this year, campaigns and field workers have been grounded or have moved to phone and SMS canvassing to continue their work. This blended canvassing approach sees any touchpoint with a voter as being part of the overall outreach effort. A lot of campaigns are doing a round of canvassing by phone or SMS first and then door knocking with the people that responded to the phone work. This fieldwork strategy does require you to have up-to-date phone information but it has been shown to be very effective, especially as open rates on text messages are as high as 80%. Using the alternative tactic, campaigns are doing a round of canvassing in an area and then following up with those people by phone or SMS to reduce the amount of face-to-face contact required.
Sweep and collect canvassing
Sweep and collect is being done across the US currently and it is particularly useful for ballot initiatives or petition drives. It involves a sweep of an area and dropping campaign materials on doorsteps for collection later that day. It can be augmented by an SMS broadcast to all the intended recipients in advance so they know what is coming. A typical sweep and collect will drop petition sheets in see-through bags in the morning and the team will then sweep to collect any signed sheets that evening. It is popular because it reduces all contact down to just the petition sheet itself. In some cases campaigns are leaving sachets of hand sanitizer with the petitions to ensures hand cleaning can be observed on the spot by the citizen.
Pen and paper canvassing with clipboard, printed walk-lists and printed instructions are being abandoned this year in favor of canvassing apps. Social distancing is facilitated by canvassing apps in the sense that there is no transfer of materials from organizers to canvassers. All instructions are delivered directly to the app including the walk-lists and navigation. All information captured during a canvass is automatically synced back to head office, and training can be done online by the canvassing app vendors themselves. In theory nobody in the chain of organizers, canvassers and citizens need to breach the 2 meter distance rule. Technology really is coming in pretty handy in this new normal.
Safe campaign materials
Brand awareness or name recognition is a key tactic in all campaigning and campaign materials play a big part in that. However, campaign materials like flyers and door hangers can be dangerous even when people are observing social distancing rules. Paper materials can be contaminated and potentially pass on the virus, so we need to have some strategies to avoid this. Firstly, think about laminated door hangers which can be wiped down with disinfectant wipes as they are being hung. Secondly, we are seeing campaigns rely more heavily on lawn signs instead of flyers as they increase name recognition without having to be touched by the person hosting the lawn sign, they are dropped off and installed by the campaign delivery team.
Zero-touch social network canvassing
A recent article entitled, “Connecting with voters in a time of social distancing”, by political campaign researcher Donald P. Green in the Scientific American journal looked at the relative effectiveness of social network canvassing for GOTV. In interviews with over 700 individuals, it found that using local grassroots organizers to canvass their own social networks of friends and family, they were able to reach citizens with a zero-touch approach. Every grassroots member was asked to reach 10 people in their core network through social media, messenger groups, sms, phone or face-to-face in order to advocate for the campaign. This method was found to be 4 times more effective than traditional canvassing at getting out the vote. Ironically, we are probably closer to our core networks in recent months while under movement restrictions and this is why this method is becoming so popular with all types of campaigns.
You can download Ecanvasser's full guide on social distance canvassing here.