Getting Started With Voter Contact

Who, Me?

It is completely understandable that you might find it unsettling to talk to people you don’t know -especially since you are either calling them at their homes or actually going to their door. Few people actually like phone calling or door knocking, but when it comes to elections or advocating for issues it is an essential part of winning.

And yes, that means you; there are never enough people to contact all the voters that need to be contacted. Think of it this way: this is where your values are tested. If you really believe in them, you’ll do the hard work of talking to voters. And it’s just talking; no need to argue –just have a short respectful conversation. You can do it!  Let’s take a look at common concerns and some things you can do to be effective and comfortable.

I’m nervous because I’m shy.

It may come as no surprise that shy people can often communicate more effectively that others. Shyness sets voters at ease and tends to forestall a negative response. Beyond that it takes a few calls to get comfortable -but you’ll get there! Two things you can do: be prepared and then just do it. After about four or five contacts you’ll feel like a pro!

Think about these things…

  • The campaign will give you talking points and basic instructions.

  • Ask who the best phone bankers or door knockers are and sit next to them or go with them. You’ll pick up talking and style points.

  • Be yourself. Tell voters you are a volunteer. Be conversational and friendly.

  • If you are calling or knocking into your neighborhood (you can request this) mention that you live in the neighborhood.

  • Most people are pretty polite; say goodbye if they’re not. Hang up or leave if they’re abusive.

  • Most people who will never agree with you will tell you and they’re most often polite about it. Thank them for their time, mark this on your call or walk sheet and and move on.

I’m not sure how to begin.

You’ll diffuse a lot of tension by identifying yourself as a volunteer and if applicable as a neighbor. They will be more comfortable knowing you are not a paid operative.

Don’t ask “Can I ask you about the upcoming election?” or “Is this a good time?”. Remember, the voter is also uneasy and it is too easy for them to answer your question with a “No”.

If you are making voter identification contacts (which way do they lean…) or Get Out The Vote (GOTV) contacts, your job is easy –ask them the questions from the script, thank them and move onto the next call. There is no persuasion involved and the conversation is scripted.

If you are making persuasion calls, let the voter talk a little. They may mention an issue you are familiar with. Take notes so you can come back to these points later.

Practice helps -and faster than you think. As you practice you’ll sound less scripted and more folksy. For most people, one shift is all it takes to get comfortable enough that you’d be willing to do it again!

What if I get a extreme conservative? Will they yell at me?

Even the most hardened extremists are much more polite face to face than they are behind the anonymity of the Internet. Hard righties may simply brush you off (no great loss -you wouldn’t have convinced them anyway). A few, however, relish the chance to throw their views at you. Arguing back is a waste of time and means fewer contacts with persuadable voters. Simply say thanks and goodbye.

I’m scared that I don’t know enough. What if a voter asks me things I know nothing about?

It’s unsettling when a voter demands facts on an issue you know little about. Hey welcome to the club, Sport; nobody knows everything. Remember, it’s better to say you don’t know than to try to wing it. You can’t know everything; try these things:

Start by asking voters what issues matter to them …and stop when they get to something you know! You might find one thing you are both passionate and knowledgeable about and you’ll feel much more confident!

Talk about values not facts! Facts will not win voters. I know it makes you want to scream when people ignore reality. Facts are important -they are after all the truth; but people see things from different frames of reference that are quite resistant to change. In fact, when it’s a cage match between facts and frames the facts will almost always lose (think climate change deniers). Values do work and they’re way easier -and way, way, way more effective- than talking about facts. Everyone including the voter can talk about values.

Re-frame the issue from our values and worldview.  We encourage you to study up on “framing” but here’s a quick cheat sheet. Frame your talking points around one or more of these core progressive values:

  • Empowerment and Protection

  • Common Good & Investment

  • Decency & Dignity

  • Equity and Opportunity

  • Empathy & Social Responsibility

  • Freedom & Equality

  • Public support for Private Success

  • Excellence & Fulfillment

  • Justice & Accountability

When a voter brings up an issue, stop for a moment and ask yourself:  “What is the underlying value?”. For example, when a voter asks about spending and taxes, the underlying value for progressives is investment. We hate waste as much as Republicans, but we feel it’s crucial to invest in things like roads, schools, the military, etc., that benefit all Americans.

Make the “Ask”:

This is important -you must ask “Will you be a voter that supports my candidate or issue)?” It’s a simple and necessary sentence that should always be asked in a way that requires a yes or no answer.

It will probably be difficult the first few times; it feels wrong. You just met this person and seem to be expecting a definite answer based on a minute or two of persuasion. The point here is not necessarily to get an instant voting commitment; a very positive answer identifies this person as in our camp and not an undecided voter. We’ll likely spend less time with this person as the campaign continues. A very negative answer tells us we probably won’t get this person no matter how many resources we use. Any kind of tentative or non answer tells us we need to go back to this person. This is all valuable information -and you should be sure to note this on your walk sheet or phone list.

And there are a couple of psychological nuances going on here: Cognitive dissonance: If a person says they’ll vote for your candidate, however tentatively, they are more likely to do so.  Second, note that the sentence does not ask “Will you vote” but “Will you be a voter?”. It’s subtle difference: the former asks if they’ll perform an action; the latter asks a question about who they believe themselves to be. How effective are these things? According to the studies, maybe a few percent. Ask any candidate that’s suffered a recount and they’ll tell you that small [percentages matter! And- there’s no reason not to do these things.