Who knew knocking on strangers’ doors could be such fun?

“I don’t mind delivering leaflets, but I wouldn’t want to do canvassing.” My thoughts exactly, a few months ago. I joined the Lib Dems in the aftermath of the EU referendum, determined to do something to demonstrate my frustration at the direction the Tory Government was leading us. Delivering leaflets was a positive activity and in the excitement of the 2017 General Election, I felt I was doing my bit. But over time, it has become clear that the task to influence public opinion and make the Government take notice of the 48% is huge. The leaflets were great, but I couldn’t help wondering how many of them went straight in the recycling bin. What could I do that would make more impact with my time?

I began to wonder again about canvassing. Research shows that people are 20% more likely to vote if they have been visited by a canvasser: even a just a smile and a friendly greeting is enough to make a difference. But I was worried about what it would be like. Would I be on the receiving end of angry householders determined to give me chapter and verse of their views, or would there be endless doors slammed in my face? Eventually, I summoned up some courage and went along to an action day to find out.

I was surprised to find how pleasant the experience was. When I arrived, I was paired up with an experienced canvasser and we went to each house together. We only called at houses where previous canvassing had shown that the owners were open to voting Lib Dem, which meant that we had a friendly reception at nearly every house. There was a list of questions to ask, depending on how much the householder wanted to chat: a surprising number were happy to stand on the doorstep and tell us their concerns about the local area and Brexit. It was fascinating to find out what people thought and how they saw the local scene and the national picture. When we found someone who was willing to join the mailing list, have a stakeboard in their garden or even become a volunteer, it was a cause for celebration! At the end of the morning, we all gathered at a pub for lunch and to share our stories. After that, I was keen to have a list of my own to do.

So if you want to make a difference, give the Government something to worry about and help the Lib Dems make their mark again, why not go along to your next local action day and have a go at knocking on doors? It’s the most effective way to gain the votes that will elect more Lib Dem councillors – the more volunteers we have, the more houses we can visit! And you may even find that you enjoy it!

* Claire Turner joined the Liberal Democrats in South Cambridgeshire in November 2016.

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  • It’s also great for practice for public speaking. If you can knock on strangers’ doors, giving talks to people who want to be there is suddenly much easier!

  • Great article – and also really good point from Stephen. I hadn’t really thought about it before now but experience of canvassing has actually been very helpful to me professionally. It’s a nice gentle way to build your confidence & it’s surprising how that life skill translates. I don’t think I’d feel as confident presenting to my board of directors if I hadn’t plucked up the courage to go doorstep canvassing many years ago.

    The only quibble I’d have with the article is that exclusively calling on past LD supporters doesn’t work for everyone. I find it depressing when previous supporters are now canvassed as backing another party, even if that’s only a minority of those I canvass. When you’re only calling on past supporters there can only be downside. For that reason I much prefer calling on lists of (say) Soft Labour supporters as it feels like there’s more upside potential.

    Horses for courses, I guess: just as well it’s easy to run different filters for different canvassers 🙂

  • John Marriott 23rd Mar '18 - 8:57pm

    I’ve done my share of door knocking over the years. Yes, it can be invigorating when someone tells you that you’ve got their vote – always assuming they don’t say the same thing to the next person to knock on their door!
    Given the lack of time and manpower my efforts over recent years had also tended to be concentrated on what we called ‘known support’ or people new to our electoral register. The last time we managed a ‘full canvass’ in my area was in the County Council Elections of 1993.
    To be brutally honest, unless you have a massive team behind you, trying to do a decent canvass during the limited election period has more to do with self indulgence than assessing your support. Doorstep conversions may happen; but the time required to achieve these is often at the expense of building up a picture of voting intentions in the wider area.
    There’s a lot of kiddology involved in canvassing. Where I live, the Tories largely don’t bother as they know that they would be largely preaching to the converted. They would appear to prefer the telephone. Labour’s tactic used to consist of their descending en masse (like half a dozen ‘canvassers’) at the end of a street, with one of their number peeling off to deliver a leaflet and then moving on to the next street – clearly an exercise that had more to do with image than substance. Nowadays, you will be lucky to see any canvassers, let alone, leaflet deliverers around here. Parties tend to rely on the media and to use local elections as a springboard to future success at Westminster. If you don’t believe me, look at what Corbyn said when launching Labour’s local election campaign the other day – words to the effect that people should express their disapproval of the Tory Government by voting for local Labour candidates, regardless of whether they or their party actually had a plan of how to make the council work better. So, knocking on doors wasn’t what got people like me elected over the years. No, what brought us success over the years were Focus leaflets, delivered with masochistic regularity, and the fact that we really tried to sort out local problems. If only we could have maintained that sort of effort up to the present day. Sadly, we weren’t and now, like the party nationally, we are back to single percentage points.

  • Angela Davies 24th Mar '18 - 9:39am

    I always loved canvassing. You never knew what reception you would get or what sort of character would answer the door. The majority were always nice to meet people but now and then you got a nasty one. You learn so much about people on the doorstep, no candidate should miss the opportunity to meet the people they want to represent.

  • suzanne Fletcher 24th Mar '18 - 10:21am

    A good article, too many people are worried about canvassing thinking they will meet nasty people, have to answer difficult questions about policy. I did it for nearly 40 years till it was physically too difficult (but now I phone) and I did enjoy having the chance, even privilege, to be able to meet so many people.
    Very very few were ever nasty, maybe about 5 over the years. Few have difficult questions, and you aren’t expected to be able to answer – just make a note and pass it onto the candidate or organiser.
    Excellent if you can do with other people, and important to start off with someone else, although I probably did 95% on my own as that was just not possible.
    so go on – nights getting lighter – have a go.

  • Simon Banks 9th May '18 - 4:12pm

    I think John Marriot has rather missed the point about canvassing. Yes, there are few doorstep conversions, though the candidate calling does make an impact. But as Claire says, the evidence shows canvassing increases the likelihood of someone voting, especially in local elections when the turnout is generally low. This does apply to phone canvassing as well as face-to-face, but other methods are not as effective. This is also why canvassing supporters is important, as well as genuine undecideds and soft other – but also wherever possible avoiding canvassing definite opponents. It’s just as effective in pushing them to turn out as in encouraging your own supporters.

    Finally, canvassing early in the election provides crucial ammunition on local issues and gives us an indication of where more resources might best be directed.

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