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April 21, 2023


What is deep canvassing and how does it help to reach more voters?

Jono Kupferberg

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As political campaigns become more competitive, effective outreach strategies are crucial for reaching more voters and winning elections. One proven strategy that stands out is deep canvassing – a conversational approach that builds stronger connections with potential voters with earlier and more frequent engagement. 

So in this article, we want to explore the power of deep canvassing and provide some suggestions on implementing it in your campaign.

Understanding deep canvassing

Before diving into the practical aspects of this method, you should understand the concept, history, and differences between deep and traditional canvassing.

Traditional canvassing is a crucial aspect of any political campaign. It involves reaching out to potential voters to persuade them to vote for a particular candidate or issue. However, traditional canvassing methods can be impersonal, ineffective, and even annoying to voters. This is where deep canvassing comes in.

What is deep canvassing?

Deep canvassing is a voter outreach approach focusing on meaningful, one-on-one conversations with potential voters to understand their values, motivations, and concerns. You want to build trust, facilitate genuine connections, and not just share your political messages. 

Instead of pushing a specific candidate or agenda, deep canvassing encourages empathy and active listening. It can be conducted in person, over the phone, or through other communication channels. 

Deep canvassing aims to persuade voters to vote for a particular candidate or issue and to engage them in a conversation that reflects their values and beliefs. Deep canvassing recognizes that voters are not just passive recipients of information but active participants in the political process.

These conversations last for significantly more extended periods compared to traditional canvassing discussions. As a result, deep canvassing pushes voters towards a particular campaign. 

The history of deep canvassing

Deep canvassing has its roots in the LGBTQ+ activism of the early 2000s. It was initially used to change public opinion and gather support for marriage equality. The success of this method in shifting perspectives and changing minds led to its adoption in other political campaigns, social issues and industries.

Today, deep canvassing has become a popular and strategic choice for campaigns across the United States that want to engage with voters more intimately and meaningfully.

The difference between deep canvassing and traditional canvassing

Traditional canvassing primarily involves distributing campaign materials and encouraging voter registration or turnout. It focuses on the number of interactions rather than the quality of conversations.

On the other hand, deep canvassing emphasizes quality – fostering genuine connections through listening and empathizing with voters. The primary goal is to understand the voter’s perspective, identify common ground and influence their vote through these thoughtful conversations.

Deep canvassing recognizes that voters are not just a collection of demographic data points but individuals with complex, unique experiences and perspectives. Deep canvassing builds long-lasting relationships and trusts between the campaign by engaging with voters personally and outreaching the community.

The benefits of deep canvassing

Deep canvassing has a significant impact on political campaigns and the democratic process as a whole. Its benefits include:

  • Stronger connections with voters.
  • Increasing voter turnout.
  • Changing minds and shifting perspectives and creating long-term relationships.

In short, deep canvassing offers a range of advantages that helps campaigns achieve their goals more meaningfully.

Building stronger connections with voters

One of the most significant benefits of deep canvassing is its ability to build strong, personal connections with voters. 

Rather than relying on impersonal advertising or mass outreach efforts, deep canvassing involves engaging with voters more empathetically and authentically. This approach cultivates trust and rapport between campaigners and potential voters. And this leads to voters becoming more receptive to the campaign’s message and supportive of the preferred candidate or issue.

By listening to voters’ concerns and experiences, deep canvassers gain a more profound and better understanding of the issues that matter most to people. This type of understanding is invaluable when shaping campaign messaging and strategy and building a more inclusive and representative movement.

Increasing voter turnout

Another critical benefit of deep canvassing is its ability to increase voter turnout. Deep canvassers ensure that a campaign’s voter base turns up on Election Day by directly engaging with voters and encouraging them to participate in the electoral process.

Other research has shown that deep canvassing can be particularly effective in increasing turnout among traditionally underrepresented groups, such as young people, minority groups and low-income voters. By building relationships with these communities and addressing the barriers that may prevent them from voting, deep canvassing creates a more equitable and inclusive democracy.

Changing minds and shifting perspectives

One of the most potent aspects of deep canvassing is its ability to change minds and shift perspectives on key issues. Deep canvassers challenge misconceptions and biases by facilitating authentic and respectful conversations and building understanding and empathy across different communities.

Deep canvassing is a valuable campaign strategy to build broader support or appeal to undecided voters. And through meaningful conversations with voters, deep canvassers break down barriers and build bridges across political divides.

Long-term impact on political campaigns

Finally, deep canvassing offers the potential for a long-term impact on political campaigns and the democratic process. The lasting relationships formed through deep canvassing could result in ongoing support for a political campaign and increased involvement in future elections and issue-based campaigns.

A robust and engaged base of supporters means that deep canvassing can create a more sustainable and resilient movement for change. This can be particularly important for campaigns that address long-standing social and political issues, such as racial justice or climate change.

Implementing deep canvassing in your campaign

Now that you understand the benefits of deep canvassing, it’s time to explore how to incorporate this strategy into your campaign. Deep canvassing is a powerful tool that can help you connect with voters on a personal level, build trust, and ultimately win their support.

Recruiting and training volunteers

The success of your deep canvassing efforts depends on the quality of your volunteers. Begin by recruiting dedicated volunteers who are passionate about your cause and possess strong interpersonal skills. These volunteers should be able to connect with voters personally, listen actively and respond empathetically.

Invest in comprehensive training to ensure your volunteers can effectively engage in empathetic conversations, navigate challenging discussions, and professionally represent your campaign. Provide them with the tools and resources they need to succeed, such as training manuals, role-playing exercises, and ongoing support from campaign staff.

Developing a targeted voter list

Create a targeted voter list, focusing on undecided or swing voters and others who might be receptive to your message or cause. Use data analytics and voter profiling tools to identify voters most likely to support your campaign and prioritize outreach efforts accordingly.

Consider partnering with community organizations, advocacy groups, and other stakeholders to expand your reach and engage with voters who may be missing from your list. These partnerships will eventually help build trust, establish credibility, and reach a wider audience.

Crafting effective conversation scripts

While every conversation in deep canvassing should feel organic and genuine, providing your volunteers with guidelines can help ensure that crucial campaign messages and goals are communicated. Develop phone banking scripts that enable volunteers to listen, empathize, and engage with voters effectively.

These scripts should be flexible enough to allow for personalized conversations that address each voter’s specific concerns and interests. Encourage your volunteers to ask open-ended questions, actively listen to responses, and respond with empathy and understanding. This approach can help build trust and establish a strong connection with voters.

Utilizing technology for canvassing

Leverage digital tools such as campaign management software, predictive dialers (such as HubDialer), mobile apps and data analytics to help manage and coordinate your deep canvassing efforts. These tools can streamline the process, keep track of voter conversations, and provide valuable insights for future engagements.

Use data analytics to track the effectiveness of your outreach efforts, identify areas for improvement, and adjust your strategy accordingly. Encourage your volunteers to use mobile apps to record voter responses, take notes, and provide feedback on their conversations. This can help you refine your messaging and improve your overall outreach efforts.

Implementing deep canvassing in your campaign requires time, effort, and resources. But the benefits are clear – when you connect with voters personally, you build trust, establish credibility, and ultimately, win voters’ support.

Case study: Using deep canvassing for alumni engagement

While deep canvassing often finds its usage with political campaigns, it can also be effectively used for alumni engagement.

For instance, the University of Notre Dame has worked with HubDialer for several years to power its alumni engagement center, ND Listens. This student-run engagement center is designed to listen and learn about Notre Dame alumni, parents, and friends.

The alumni engagement center wants to connect better and engage with Notre Dame family members. ND Listens tries to implement a deep canvassing model for more quality and long-term relationships. 

HubDialer’s predictive platform was a great choice since it provides pricing flexibility and customer service, and the tool is easy to learn. In other words, with the right tool, implementing deep canvassing tactics is much easier and supports engagement with your audience, regardless of your area of activity.

Measuring the success of deep canvassing

Deep canvassing has become an increasingly popular approach to political outreach, emphasizing building relationships and engaging voters in meaningful conversations. However, like any campaign strategy, it’s essential to measure and analyze the results of your deep canvassing efforts to understand its impact and make data-driven decisions.

Tracking voter engagement

One fundamental way to measure the success of your deep canvassing efforts is to track voter engagement. This includes monitoring the number of conversations you have with voters and the duration and key discussion points of those conversations. By collecting this data, you can understand how effective your deep canvassing campaign is at reaching voters and engaging them in meaningful dialogue.

Tracking voter engagement can also help you identify areas for improvement. For example, if you notice that many of your conversations are ending prematurely, you may need to adjust your approach to better capture voters’ attention and keep them engaged.

Analyzing conversion rates

Another essential metric to track is the conversion rate of the voters. This conversion rate is the percentage of voters who changed their minds or committed to your cause after engaging in deep canvassing conversations with your team.

When analyzing conversion rates, you can understand how effective your deep canvassing efforts are at persuading voters to support your cause. You can also identify which tactics and messaging strategies are most effective, allowing you to refine your approach and improve your conversion rates over time.

Assessing the impact on election results

Ultimately, the success of any political outreach campaign is measured by its impact on election results. Deep canvassing is no exception.

One way to assess the impact of deep canvassing on election results is to compare data from various outreach methods. For example, you can compare the turnout rates and voting patterns of voters engaged through deep canvassing to those reached through other methods, such as phone banking or direct mail.

By analyzing these data points, you can understand how deep canvassing influenced voter behavior and contributed to your campaign’s success. This information can help you make more informed decisions about allocating resources and refining your outreach strategies in future campaigns.

Measuring the success of deep canvassing requires a comprehensive approach that includes tracking voter engagement, analyzing conversion rates, and assessing the impact on election results. 

Overcoming challenges in deep canvassing

Implementing deep canvassing is not without its challenges, but with the right strategies in place, it is possible to overcome them and reap the rewards of this powerful approach.

Addressing time constraints

Deep canvassing is time-consuming, and volunteers may find it challenging to balance the demands of their personal lives. Be mindful of their availability and provide flexible scheduling options to ensure their commitment remains sustainable and enjoyable. 

If your volunteers use HubDialer for calling campaigns, they can access the tool from home and easily log in and log out as needed – calling shifts are flexible and perfect for busy volunteers.

Navigating difficult conversations

Not all voter engagements will be smooth or agreeable, so training volunteers to handle challenging conversations with diplomacy and compassion is essential. Encourage them to focus on the core message and find common ground whenever possible.

Ensuring volunteer retention and motivation

Deep canvassing can be emotionally taxing, and maintaining volunteer motivation is crucial for campaign success. Regular support, recognition, and encouragement will keep your team engaged and committed to the cause.

In HubDialer, for example, supervisors can write encouraging messages to the volunteers that will appear on their screens between calls.

Use deep canvassing properly and you will be rewarded

Deep canvassing presents an incredible opportunity for political campaigns to connect with voters on a deeper level and effectively influence their decisions. With a well-planned strategy, dedicated volunteers, and the right tools, your campaign can harness the power of deep canvassing to drive voter turnout and achieve electoral success.

When you use deep canvassing for your political (and other) campaigns, you will engage with voters more meaningfully and effectively. Empathy, active listening, genuine connections, and other deep canvassing tactics can help you build stronger connections with voters, increase turnout, change minds and shift perspectives, and create lasting change.

Or, differently, invest in deep canvassing and help build a more inclusive, representative, and effective democracy for all.

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