Paid Field Teams: Three Red Flags You Can’t Ignore

Back in 2012, I was talking to a political consultant friend about checking nightly canvasser numbers to maintain the campaign data integrity. He didn’t know what I was talking about.

Wait. What? You don’t review every canvasser’s numbers every night? Total knocks? Dials? Contacts? Nope. He just looks at the totals.

Well, in that case, I can guarantee that those numbers are suspect. Someone is lying.

With planning underway for fall campaigns, it’s time to review the Three Red Flags You Can’t Ignore. The campaign is a race against time; ignoring these red flags could mean the difference between time well-spent in the field and time (and money) wasted.

Numbers are unrealistically high.

When a canvasser* reports that she had conversations with 50 voters at 100 doors knocked, she’s probably lying. How do I know? A good canvasser can knock on about 100 doors in a five-hour shift. Of those 100 doors, they will have conversations with 20-25 people. A canvasser who reports a conversation at more than 40 of those homes is making it up. 

If you suspect a canvasser’s numbers, call a few voters they claimed to talk to. It’s really important to call more than one or two and do it right away. Voters sometimes forget a legit conversation with a canvasser soon after they shut the door.

A canvasser once reported in with a yes, no or undecided for every single voter on whose door she knocked. And then she was indignant when I asked her how she found so many people at home. She was fired immediately.

*Volunteers lie too, but much, much less often and for different reasons.

High undecided or delete numbers.

As noted in Five Secrets to Better Field Campaigns, almost every conversation that doesn’t result in a yes or no is a Not Home. More than low-single-digit undecideds might mean that a canvasser is too timid. (It might also mean they’re trying to be clever about making up fake numbers.)

The script should include a standard Undecided section, so canvassers have an immediate resource to keep the conversation going. My guideline is that I don’t mark a voter undecided until I’ve asked the question “Can I count on you to vote for [candidate name]” at least twice. Also, to build canvasser’s confidence, conduct short drills on moving undecided voters. 

Locked gates, gated communities, broken doorbells or barking dogs should all be coded Not Home, at least for one round. Maybe the next canvasser is more comfortable following another resident through a gate. Maybe the next canvasser likes dogs (some even carry a few dog treats in their pocket!). 

Substance abuse

ICYMI, there’s an addiction crisis in the US. Most field directors find out about substance abuse on their campaigns because other canvassers tell them. (Once, I found out because a team lead found a packet of meth on the office floor.) 

The initial training should include an explicit spoken and written rule against alcohol or drugs at work. (Yes, there has to be a rule.) I usually say “Alcohol and drugs are prohibited here, inside your body or out.” Coming to work high, buzzed or otherwise under the influence is an immediate firing offense, as is carrying alcohol or drugs into the office or on a canvassing route. 

When you inevitably discover someone breaking that rule, the whole team needs the “come to Jesus” talk. Start by apologizing to the vast majority of the team for what you’re about to say; they work hard and obey the rules. Then read them the riot act. The message must be loud and clear that drugs and alcohol are not allowed. 

During this talk after the meth incident, I was touched when another canvasser said he appreciated my toughness because he was in recovery and struggling with his sobriety. He was working hard to win the election and his own health; he didn’t need to fight someone else’s addiction too.

Note: For many of us, this section probably sounds pretty harsh, for personal and systemic reasons. We believe that addiction is an illness that needs treatment, not isolation. But we’re not social workers and we’re here to win. Try including an offer of resources for addiction recovery in your come-to-Jesus talk. The national substance abuse referral and information hotline is 1-800-662-4357 (English and Spanish).

Most canvassers are a hard-working, honest, nice people.

Some do the work because it’s a job, but many do it because it also represents their values. It’s hard to talk to strangers for five hours a day if you don’t believe in the cause.

Unfortunately, there are exceptions. Even more unfortunately, those exceptions must be fired. Out of respect for everyone else. To maintain the integrity of your data. And because we’re here to win!

Need someone to design and run a strategic and rigorous field campaign this fall? Let’s talk!

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