Campaigning 101: Our Guide to Canvassing in the General Election
By Iona Gaskell | 31 May 2017
It’s now just over a week until election day. The last manifestos have been launched, postal votes are being dispatched, the gloves are off.
Thousands of people around the country are out knocking on doors, or holed up in phone banks, helping their local candidate's campaign - and in the final 7 days of the campaign this activity is going to reach boiling point.
More United already has hundreds of volunteers across the UK who are helping us support candidates in whatever ways they can.
But most people aren't seasoned activists - for most people terms like 'canvassing', 'phone bank' and 'GOTV' are meaningless wonk-speak. When politicians talk about getting out on the doorstep, what do they actually mean?
Well, Leah's been volunteering with More United over the last few weeks to help us coordinate our on-the-ground campaign efforts. She was out last weekend to help Rosena Allin-Khan in Tooting, so I chatted to her to get the layman's low-down on canvassing.
Read on for easy explanations and top tips, and then find a campaign day near you to try our your new-found knowledge...
So Leah, what actually is canvassing?
It’s when a team of volunteers directly connect with voters on behalf of a candidate. That could mean knocking on doors – “getting out on the doorstep” - or it could be done via a phone bank, where lots of volunteers call voters. Closer to Election Day, you might also hear terms like “GOTV”, which means Get Out The Vote. This is simply candidates and their teams working to get as many people as possible out voting for them on polling day.
Why do candidates do it?
It helps candidates maximise the contact they have with their constituents. With a real, regular person on the doorstep chatting through the issues, constituents can develop a more genuine connection to that candidate.
And what does it actually involve for the volunteers?
It’s pretty simple really: you’ll either be delivering leaflets or speaking to people, in person or on the phone, to ask them how they’re planning to vote. You might be given a short script to help with this.
Different campaigns have slightly different approaches to canvassing, but don’t worry, you’re not expected to know anything in advance! They’ll explain everything at the start of the session and if you’re unsure about something you can always ask your Lead Volunteer or one of the campaign staff. We've got action days happening around the country so you can find one that suits you.
Does it really make a difference?
Yes! Direct contact with voters makes a massive difference, especially in the most marginal constituencies.
So if I go along to canvas for a candidate, how do I fit in as a More United supporter?
Trust me, the campaign will be very happy to have you! For most campaign activity, it’s a decent turnout to get 20 people - so the addition of even 3 or 4 makes a massive difference to what they can achieve! Just bring lots of enthusiasm and get stuck into the day.
Top tips for election canvassing...
- Shut all gates and doors behind you - you don't want any stray pets following you down the street!
Be open, polite and friendly in your tone and body language.
- Take any litter away with you.
If you’re new, let people know that it’s your first time campaigning so they can show you the ropes.
Mind blanks happen and they're not a big deal. It’s always worth writing down a few opening lines so you can prompt yourself: “Hello, my name is Iona, I’m here from More United and we’re supporting your local candidate Jane Blogs…would you be able to spare a couple of minutes to chat?”.
If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s okay to say so. Call someone over from the campaign – or even the candidate themselves – to speak with the voter. Both will welcome the opportunity to talk.
- It’s okay to feel nervous, but try to relax and enjoy yourself - have fun with the group you’re out with.
Keep up the brisk pace of the campaign! The idea is to engage with as many people as possible.
Don’t worry if people are rude to you or don’t like your candidate. It’s not personal - you’re doing a great job!
Wear weather appropriate clothes and comfy shoes
Bring sunscreen if it’s a bright day or an umbrella if it’s not
A messenger bag or similar and a bottle of water can be handy
The campaigns will provide you with any stationery you will need – clipboards, pens, canvassing sheets, etc.
If you’ve got a More United t-shirt or badge, wear it! If you don’t, but you’re meeting other MU volunteers, they’ll be able to provide you with one.
We’ll also give you a flyer with More United’s core values on, so you have them to hand should anyone ask.
Fancy joining the team? Find a campaign day near you to get involved!