Campaign Primer: Canvassing

We’re about half way through the campaign. It seems like a good time to tell you about one of the most important aspects of any successful political campaign: canvassing.

To canvass is to solicit votes or opinions of electors. Throughout the campaign the candidate and volunteers will try to knock on as many doors as possible. The major goal of this exercise is to find out where your supporters are. Canvassers use the list of electors given to campaigns by Elections Canada and walk the streets with clipboards and brochures. There are great advantages to having a long list of previous supporters; strategically, we will return first to areas in which our vote was strongest last time around. Having run in 2008 I have a sense of the vote total in each poll.

We Greens just want to find out if you are going to vote for us. We then call you on election day and ask if you have indeed voted. If you say no, that you broke your leg and can’t get to the polls, we’ll drive you there. We need your vote. This whole exercise is called Getting Out the Vote – GOTV. 

This whole task takes FOREVER. It may take 4 hours for two people to complete a poll. A poll has anywhere from 200 to 600 voters. Polls can include apartment buildings, which can be difficult to get access to. In neighbourhoods where the homes are so spread out that you walk a lot for little data. There are about 220 polls in this riding. You do the math. There is no end to strategy about canvassing. I rember an evening some months ago when I was really studying the election results from 08 and 06. You can get all this poll by poll data from Elections Canada. After a couple of hours, my husband came into my office (worried that his wife who generally hates dealing with spread sheets had somehow morphed into an accountant). I told him that the numbers were starting to speak to me. They were telling the story of Green support across two elections, it was fascinating. I’m over that now and have left the serious number crunching to someone who is much more skilled than I.

Canvassing is the meat and potatoes of an election. It is the foundation of all successful campaigns. Like their fundraising, the Conservatives run their campaigns like a well oiled machine, often overpowering other competing campaigns. This time around they have an army of canvassers out walking polls.

When you see a canvasser, be kind: it’s democracy in action. We’re usually really tired but determined to get the job done.