Guide for Canvassing and Getting Out the Vote

General Election 2019  }

The Editors / December 9, 2019
We have to win. We will win. How to be an effective canvasser in the final days of the campaign. 1728 words / 7 min read

In the final days of the campaign, our key tasks as canvassers will be both persuading people to vote Labour and making sure those who already support us remember to vote. The level of enthusiasm for the manifesto has meant that engagement with this campaign is very high. This means that some canvassers this week are likely to be inexperienced. We’ve put together a few tips that may help new campaigners, as well as more experienced comrades who find themselves working alongside newcomers. We hope you find them useful. What we would really like to emphasise, however, is that what matters more than anything else is being pleasant, listening to people, and responding appropriately.

  1. Be clear with yourself and the group you’re with about what it is you’re trying to do. At this point, we’re probably going to be focusing on four things: getting out the Labour vote, persuading undecided voters, winning over some Lib Dems and other Remain voters in Labour/Tory marginals, and trying to win back some previous Labour voters who may be disillusioned and likely to abstain for various reasons. Prepare some lines with your group for all these scenarios. Particularly in marginals, make sure you know what the 2017 result was, and that you have a ready supply of leaflets to back this up.

  2. Work out what you’re good at. A good board runner should be attentive to people’s talents and capacities, but if they’re not sure, try to work it out together as a group. At this point we should have enough experienced canvassers to have a sense of what we’re aiming to achieve with each voter and to prepare canvassers for the conversation. Use the data on the board to decide who is best suited to knock on each door. Enthusiastic and inexperienced canvassers are probably best used in reminding Labour supporters to turn out, not least because these interactions are likely to be pleasant and confidence-building. More experienced or confident canvassers, and people who are calm and diplomatic, can be put to use at houses where conversations have the potential to be more complex.

  3. Every canvasser is different. This means that, as above, people have different skills; it also means that people have different abilities. Board runners should be aware of their pace as they guide the group through an area - not everybody has the same level of physical fitness or bodily ability. Efficiency is tempting, but board runners should try and stay within sight and earshot, and avoid disappearing down the street as soon as they’ve dispatched everyone to their houses. Be aware that canvassing in the dark can feel dangerous for some people – don’t send young women down dark passageways alone to drop leaflets, for example, and be attentive and responsive to people’s body language when you’re asking them to do something. Never make anybody feel like they have to do anything they’re not comfortable doing, and check in regularly with your group to be sure everybody is okay.

  4. We’re not entitled to anyone’s vote. People’s interests and needs may make us think they should vote Labour, and their reasons for being reluctant to do so might seem false or wrong, but don’t get frustrated! We have to earn people’s vote, and for a surprising number of voters on the doorstep, the process of having their votes treated as if they matter is crucial. Nobody wants to be taken for granted, and unfortunately the dominant political consensus means that many people feel that they are.

  5. If voters don’t want to talk, accept that. There are lots of reasons voters might not want to talk. Respect that. Smile at them and wish them well, and try to give them a leaflet if appropriate. Some will accept, some will refuse. That’s okay! Don’t get discouraged. We don’t want to get people to vote against us out of spite, or to discuss rude canvassing with their friends, colleagues, and family. The aim is to make everybody’s experience of the party a positive one, whether they’re voting for us or not.

  6. Listen. This is the single most important thing. Be attentive, and work out what the person’s needs and concerns are. A serious, transformative left politics means listening carefully to people, and good canvassing is exactly the same.

  7. Ask questions. If a person’s immediate response doesn’t make their needs and concerns clear, ask.
    “Can I ask you what’s most important to you?”
    “Can I ask you why you’re not so keen to vote Labour this time?”
    “What would help you in deciding who to vote for?”

  8. Act as if potential tactical voters know the situation in their constituency. “I’m sure you’ve seen that the Tories have a majority of only 353, and the Lib Dems only got 3,000 votes in the last election”.

  9. Be prepared to answer questions. Quite a lot of voters ask “why are you campaigning for/voting Labour?” This is a real opportunity to mention parts of our transformative programme that are important to you, and if you can link it to anything about the voter or the area so much the better. Use some of the amazing digital campaigning tools if appropriate: NHS Cuts allows you to input a postcode or location and find out how much the Tory and Coalition governments have cut from local NHS services. School Cuts does the same thing for local schools, but also shows how much extra funding Labour will put into those schools. Labour’s Personal Manifesto tool takes a bit longer but generates a version of the Labour manifesto personalised to an individual user’s concerns – perhaps not one for the doorstep, but you could certainly direct interested voters towards it if appropriate!

  10. Make a connection. What do you have in common with the voter, and how does this relate to Labour policy? If you can’t think of a policy link, share an experience – part of the point of canvassing is to show that we’re listening, and to normalise a democratised, open, left-wing Labour Party. If a voter can associate the Labour Party with that nice person who listened to their problems and shared something with them, this will really help.

  11. It’s not about you, and it’s not about beating someone in an argument. Gentle persuasion is good, but nobody is going to respond well to being told they’re wrong by a random person who’s just turned up at their house. If somebody is a bit sarcastic to you, resist the urge to respond in kind. We’re better than that.

  12. Be flexible. In a lot of cases, what’s going to work isn’t full-blooded socialist arguments or defences of Corbyn. If voters say they have a problem with socialism or Corbyn, that’s fine; make arguments based on what’s important to them. For Remain-voting waverers, emphasise that, whatever they think of Corbyn, a vote for Labour is a vote to stop Johnson’s Brexit and for a second referendum. For Leave-inclined waverers, emphasise that they will still be able to vote to Leave, but that Labour will negotiate a better withdrawal deal that won’t see workers’ rights slashed and the NHS sold off to Trump. Emphasise how good the local candidate is, and that voters are voting for an MP and Party as well as for its leader.

  13. Don’t lie. People can tell when you’re lying, and it’s wrong to treat people as a means to an end. It’s fine to say “I support Corbyn but I understand why you don’t” and move on to points that might persuade the voter. If voters’ objections to Labour include anti-migrant views, don’t agree with them (you’ll look dishonest as much as anything else) but either move the conversation on or try to find out what needs are underpinning those views.

  14. You might have to apologise. Labour and the left have not handled anti-semitism well. It’s not only fine but actively good to acknowledge that. Don’t dismiss people’s concerns or bully them with statistics – again, it’s not an argument, and you don’t need to win. A genuine apology may get you a hearing but it may not, and that’s fine – remember that we’re not entitled to anyone’s vote. Being open to critique and offering a sincere apology is worthwhile regardless.

  15. If you can (and particularly if you’re in London) consider going further afield. The numbers of people out campaigning in London have been phenomenal and deeply moving but some places are likely to be less well peopled on polling day. Labour’s support is already recomposing significantly and Brexit may well have significantly accelerated this, effective canvassing should be able to help secure some of our support. Comrades in the West Midlands in particular are in need of help and Momentum are running coaches to Birmingham for £3 from London. Comrades on the #sponsoralabourcampaigner hashtag or Facebook group will be able to help with costs if necessary.

  16. If you’re canvassing somewhere you don’t know well, make a virtue of it. Try to find out a bit about the area if you can, but, while you should have been briefed a bit, it’s also fine not to know. You’re canvassing here because a Labour victory is so important to you and this candidate is particularly good, and you can tell voters this. But make sure you have the necessary local information on hand like where to go to vote. If people have local issues, say you’ll pass it on to the local party/local councillor (and do it).

  17. Almost anyone can be talked to but not everyone can be persuaded. Don’t be hard on yourself. Most successful persuasion consists of encouraging someone in the right direction, not totally transforming their worldview in a five minute doorstep conversation. We don’t need to persuade every voter in order to win, and we will persuade enough.

  18. Finally, understand that what you’re doing is incredible. We’re facing the cohered and unscrupulous power of capital and the state, with no resources of our own on that terrain.The fact that that we’re in with any chance of a good result in this election is down to the movement and your heroic efforts. We’re all part of a democratic epic; we have to win; we will win.

If you’re able to help on polling day, use My Polling Day to find out where you could be most useful and to let local parties know.


The Editors (@newsocialistuk)

The New Socialist editorial collective.