Opinion: Letterbox v doorstep

 

I’ve been volunteering in my seat of Watford for Dorothy Thornhill since February, offering my assistance whenever I can. I’ve done my fair share of both deliveries and canvassing since then, and whilst I was doing some deliveries I got thinking.

Which way is the best way to attract voters and win people over?

The quality of the deliveries I’ve done is undoubtable; it gets the facts across nicely and you can spread that information across a street in the time it takes to talk to one voter at the door – if there aren’t any of those evil kinds of letterboxes (all deliverers know the kinds I’m talking about). Leaflets can be done (relatively) rapidly and even one person can do a good number of homes without taking out too much time from their daily lives. It’s also easy to keep up even outside of election time. As my girlfriend pointed out, it’s better for communicating with those with anxiety or in cold weather.

On the other hand there’s the “junk mail” effect where people may not bother to read it, and just throw it away without reading it. To add to that, repeated deliveries may just seem like we’re determined to fill up your recycling bin and bothering you without thinking about it.
There’s also the issue that it feels a bit artificial, a note through your door isn’t exactly connecting, some people may be more inclined to vote for someone they can actually talk to.

On the other hand there’s canvassing. Now I prefer canvassing, because I like the connection it brings. Call me idealistic (I’m only young) but I feel that actually getting to talk to someone you can see in person is a far more effective. I heard one story from one of our councillors who said that whilst telling at the polling station someone remarked that he’d won their vote because he was the only one who’d actually come and talked to them. People seem to like the ability to talk to, at the very least, a representative of some kind – their local politicians.

On the other hand for canvassing, it’s a lot more demanding time wise and you can end up wasting your time for ages at one door and not gain anything. And if you pick a bad time (a sunny Saturday summer afternoon for example) everyone’s out and you’ve made no connections other than the out slips you stick through the door, so you end up effectively just delivering and if you don’t have those slips you’ve just wasted time. It also takes up a larger workforce to quickly do a street. If you get responses it can take a group a fair while to clear a street.  It also heavily relies on the weather – on cold or rainy days people won’t want to be at the door.

Whilst the answer is clearly a mixture, which is best to focus your efforts on? Paper or people?

* Will Wilshere is a member of Watford Liberal Democrats. He blogs here.

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9 Comments

  • Doorstep. And that is where I am going now!

  • lloyd harris 27th Apr '15 - 12:21pm

    you need both but where we actually talk to a lot of people we are more likely to win

  • Ideal world – visit every doorstep

    Real world – not a chance, too many

  • gemma stockford 27th Apr '15 - 2:24pm

    Although I might agree with you I do think there are alot of people who are annoyed by having to answer the door and it is probably a fine line between canvassing helping and hindering.

  • Both are as good as each other – outside election period. Face to face on the doorstep wins hands down during the election period

  • I’ve found that visits outside election times are most useful of all. You have time for people when you’re not rushing around in election panic, and it reinforces our message that we work all year round, not just at election times. Knocking on a cold November afternoon is hard but makes a lasting impression. Even better, get hold of some casework to put in a future focus.

  • Both, because some people won’t open their doors and some people won’t read the leaflets, no matter how much you vary the format during an election to catch their eye. And making it “not look the same” but retaining your key messages is an art form that , fortunately, we in Watford have some real experts in.
    But every door knock out of election time, especially in winter, pays enormous dividends. I sent a reluctant Mark Oaten out in snow on his Watford Council re-election year in 1990 and it was remembered when we called back a few months later in a very tightly contested election. It also gives your target letters cred when you have done the hard miles all year round and kept up to date with your casework.
    With the decreasing hit rate on the door and people increasingly ignoring the printed word in favour of their phone or tablet, electronic media is now key. Councillors e-newsletters, Twitter, Facebook and now brief Candidates films that can be viewed on line are tools that are there to be used (and we use them!) but nothing beats that face to face chat to show that you are a real human being and, of course, to get that vote!

  • Canvassing was easily more effective than leaflets. Many people don’t read leaflets but those who do may easily get put off by how badly produced some of them are.

    You learn a lot as a local team even from people that don’t want to vote for you. People like to be listened to, and you may have been the first one. That matters a lot in sustained campaigning

  • The best combination is canvassing an area where you’ve been putting out regular literature with a strong campaign message. There’s nothing like the feeling when people are quoting your own lines back to you on the doorstep.

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