New Campaigns, New Candidates – Brights Spots in 2022

Seal Beach pier and blue ocean in the foreground. Beach and snow-capped mountains in the background

I won’t lie. June has been a hard month. January 6th Committee hearings that reveal just how close we are to losing our democracy. Supreme Court decisions that recognize more rights for guns than for women. Inflation and looming recession. It’s a lot.

With federal elections and policy in such turmoil, I’m inspired by action on the state and local levels. There are bright spots.

I’m so excited to work with Stephanie Wade in her campaign for Seal Beach City Council. A new resident of Seal Beach, she chose that city on purpose – for the surfing, for the community, for the small town feel in the middle of hyper-urban Orange County. Like a convert to a new religion, she is more Seal Beach than many long-time residents. 💯🏄‍♀️

Stephanie is part of what is turning into a wave of visible trans political leadership. See Virginia Del. Danica Roem, Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton, Delaware State Senator Sarah McBride, Minneapolis City Council President Andrea Jenkins and many, many more.

She was inspired to run by needs she saw in her community.

“Seal Beach is a dynamic, beautiful community. To protect that special feel, we have to protect our beaches, keep our city safe and be strategic about housing,” Stephanie says.

The campaign will focus on the fundamentals – building relationships with voters, talking about issues and getting out the vote. Steph and I both believe that if we ask voters to vote for her, she might win. But if we build relationships with voters, she can win on the issues that inspired her to run in the first place.

Want to be part of this inspiring campaign? Donate to Stephanie Wade here.

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!

Five Secrets to Better Field Campaigns

With the 2022 primaries in full swing (goodbye Madison Cawthorn!), many campaigns are in canvas mode. To kick that outreach into high gear, here are Five Secrets to Better Field Campaigns. Subscribe to the Organizing to Win monthly newsletter for more! If the sign up box didn’t appear on this page, just click into any other page.

  1. Save the paper until the end. The door-hanger or palm card should be a voter’s reminder of their conversation with a canvasser, not a replacement for it. If a volunteer hands over the paper at the beginning of the conversation, the voter may read it instead of listening, at best! At worst, they will accept the paper, say “oh thanks,” and close the door.
  2. A voter isn’t “undecided” until you’ve asked at least twice. In theory, an undecided voter will get another knock, phone call or text later in the campaign. In reality, how likely is it that a volunteer will ever find that voter at home again? Seize the opportunity of the face-to-face conversation by giving more information and asking again. The script should always have a special Undecided section for this exact purpose.
  3. I’ll give you the short version.” When a voter answers the door with “I’m in a hurry. I don’t have time right now,” the right response is “Ok. I’ll give you the quick version,” then launch into the regular script. Because the real script is still only about two minutes long. Besides, when are you ever going to find that person at home again? Seize the moment!
  4. What have you heard so far about this race?” Use this question in a script just after the introduction and before giving information about the candidate. It provides for a tiny bit of interaction before launching into a couple of uninterrupted sentences from the canvasser. Plus, the canvasser can get an idea of whether the voter knows something already or has a particular issue in mind. 
  5. Almost every answer except Yes or No is Not Home. The guiding rule is that if the canvasser does not get to ask the question “Can we count on you to vote for our guy/gal?,” it’s probably a Not Home. Unfriendly voter? Maybe they’ll be in a better mood next time. Locked gate? Maybe another canvasser can get in or call. Too busy (and Secret #3 doesn’t work)? Try again next time.  The point is, coding that voter as a Not Home will put them back in the universe to try again.

PS. Undecided Not Home. A voter who is marked Undecided will be removed from the outreach universe; if you’re lucky, they will get a follow-up knock, phone call or text. But a Not Home will forever stay on the outreach list until there’s an answer to the question. 

Bonus: Deletes are rare. Only mark a voter delete if they passed away (and there isn’t a deceased option) or are so rude and obnoxious that you can’t subject another volunteer to their abuse. Sometimes, people are just having a bad day and they’ll be better the next time. (See Secret #5.)

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