Strong opinions, weakly held

Knocking on doors

The secret to winning campaigns? Knocking on doors. FiveThirtyEight.com has the gritty details. In short, researchers have shown that 12 successful face to face contacts lead to one additional vote for a candidate.

Let’s do a little math. 12 face-to-face contacts is one new voter who would not have otherwise voted that you personally generated. You just doubled your own vote by speaking at the door to twelve voters. Of course, then it comes down to contact rate — how often is the person home that you’re trying to reach. A very low contact rate is probably 10%, and that happens. A very high contact rate can be 50%. Average is in the 25% ballpark. On average, you’d have to knock on 48 doors to generate 12 face-to-face contacts and one additional vote. 48 doors is a pretty standard, approximate walk list.

So if you go out one four-hour walk shift every weekend between now and the election, you’ve generated — on average — six extra votes from people who would not otherwise have voted for your candidate.

That makes me feel guilty for not having knocked on any doors during this election. It sort of makes you wonder what would happen if every hour spent reading political blogs were instead spent volunteering for a campaign.


  1. My local member of parliament (NDP) just showed up personally at my door on Sunday. Well, she had a team actually handling the door knocking, but she was present for anyone that was home to shake hands and offer to answer any questions I might have about the campaign (election is October 14th). That was a bit more effective than the Liberal volunteers, who did not have their candidate backing them up. Or the Conservatives, who haven’t been by at all yet.

    Of course, since I just spent the last couple weeks helping build the election coverage site for one of the major networks up here, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the election than I usually do.

  2. If you had the presidential election in mind, do you live in a state where the election outcome is possibly uncertain?

    Someone running for state senate was hanging around the train platform on my way to work a few days ago. Not a totally unsmart idea, there are a lot of people mulling around with nowhere else to go for a few minutes.

  3. That’s a pretty high at-home rate. In Philly we take a whole division (some 800 voters, of whom a third are in inaccessible highrises) and maybe get 5 people home in one round of canvassing. Which can make it hard to keep putting in the hours (although a couple of positive receptions go a long way)…

    Plus, I’ve heard that it actually takes more than one contact (door, phone, mailing, etc.) to actually get that voter all the way to the polls. But that could also vary.

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