Dr. Politics: The Art of Door Knocking

By Dwight Patel MCGOP First Vice Chairman*

Door knocking isn’t just a necessity, it is truly an art.  Door knocking is a key part of your campaign’s ground game, which also includes prescient organizations for poll coverage on election day.  I will be focusing on a few elements of door knocking that you should know about.

My mentor in 1994 – Sen. Marty Madden – advocated door knocking and told me that if you don’t go through 4 pairs of shoes by Labor Day, you aren’t knocking on enough doors.  Marty also made it a point to be consistent – Don’t tell people what you think they want to hear. When you get to a door, keep it brief and to the point.  Don’t ramble on or go overboard, and if you hit a door where they start to argue, move on.  They are keeping you from your job of hitting as many doors as possible.

Avoid These Mistakes

They Knock on Every Door: It’s amazing that in this day and age where campaigns have access to so much quality data on voters, that some campaigns still go door to door without targeting. They either hit every door in the neighborhood or they do the bare minimum of targeting by focusing on all registered voters.

Two things happen when you fail to use targeting before door knocking. You will be talking to a bunch of people who will never show up to the polls, and you will be spending too much time talking to people whose vote you can’t sway (either because they’re solidly behind you or decidedly against you).

For the most part, political candidates should be focusing on voters who they know are likely to show up on Election Day and whose votes are still up for grabs. The one exception occurs during your GOTV phase (Get Out the Vote). During the last 72 hours of a campaign, your door knocking efforts should focus on voters who you know will support you…there’s no need to remind your opponent’s supporters to get out and vote.

  1. They Don’t Collect Data:Every time a political candidate or campaign volunteer talks to a voter, they should be collecting information. Has the voter made up his/her mind about who to support? How likely is the voter to change his/her preference? What issues does the voter care about? Too many campaigns waste the priceless opportunity to collect the information that door knocking affords.

    In the past, collecting data was a tedious job, requiring pen, paper and shorthand skills. Now, with new technologies like Mobile Voter, data collection is as simple as a mouse click or finger swipe. Political campaigns no longer have any excuses for failing to collect data while door knocking. 
  2. They Are Unprepared:One Saturday morning, I showed up to go door knocking for a political candidate in a special election. The campaign was completely disorganized and failed to have the maps and literature ready for volunteers at the time they told volunteers to arrive. That morning, 20 volunteers lost 45 minutes each on the doors because the campaign was not ready. That amounts to 900 minutes lost in a race that was decided by 300 votes. Those 900 minutes of total campaign time that was wasted could have been the difference.

Respect your volunteers and campaign staff enough to be ready to go. It’s unfair to waste the valuable time they are giving up for your effort, and it is a potentially disastrous loss of opportunities to influence the voters who will decide the election.

  1. They Fail to Follow Up with Voters: This failing stems directly out of #2 & #3. Often times, voters will ask a question, request a yard sign or give some other indication that they would like further contact from the political candidate or campaign.

This is a great opportunity to win a vote, but it’s also a delicate and risky moment. If that voter doesn’t receive follow up from the campaign you might lose their vote, and by the end of the campaign you may even see the opponent’s sign in their yard.

No Brainers but Worth Mentioning

  1. Dress the Part – Experts recommend that walkers wear polo shirts or a t-shirt with the candidate’s logo or name on it when canvassing. Clean, nice jeans or khaki pants/shorts (not cargo) and comfortable, clean tennis shoes will complete your block-walking ensemble. Cover up tattoos, minimize jewelry (especially for guys) and take off your sunglasses when you approach each house. Carry a satchel or backpack for campaign literature, water, power-pack (in case your phone or tablet runs low) and a small first aid kit to treat blisters or sunburn.  Remember you can’t remake a first impression.
  2. Many People Won’t Open Their Doors – You will likely hit about 30% or so of doors. Most people in this day and age won’t open their doors.  Remember that when a door does open, make the most of the opportunity to not only convey your message, but also try collect data about the potential voter.
  3. Manage Your Time – Don’t spend more than one-minute waiting for someone to open the door. When you get to an “eager beaver” door, politely disengage in conversation, thank them and get their contact information. Don’t spend more than 3 – 5 minutes at any one door.  You should be able to hit 12 to 15 doors per hour.
  4. You Won’t Have All the Answers (this section is more for your volunteers). It doesn’t matter how well you know the candidate or how big of a policy wonk you are . . . You will not have a ready answer for all the questions you get.  There is no shame in getting their information and having someone on the campaign do some research and get back to them.  This is a good way to collect voter information as well.
  5. Have Fun - Effective door knocking is hard work and time intensive. You will probably sweat, get blisters, a sunburn and put holes in your shoes. Although dogs and mean people answer doors you knock on, that’s a pretty small price to pay for the most important donation you can ever give a campaign. Your reputation and work ethic are the most important assets you can bring to a campaign and spending your time knocking doors is your best bet for winning votes.

Voters are going to be able to tell if you’re having fun or not. Smile and be excited! Keep reminding yourself about why you chose to do this and communicate that to voters. Tell them how this candidate motivated you enough to donate your time to talk to strangers about how awesome he or she is.         

Finally, if you are not using the Advantage App, please download it and start using it.  You can find the Advantage App at the iTunes store or the Android Store

Final Thoughts

This is Fair Week in Montgomery County. Our agriculture fair started last Friday night. If you are running for office and haven’t been to the fair yet, what are you waiting for?  As always, if you have any questions or would like to meet, contact me at [email protected].

*Dwight Patel is also Candidate for State Senate, District 20

Montgomery County Republican Party