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How to Win a Local Election with Printed Door Cards

Sep 2014
Friday September 05, 2014
A guest post by Phil Van Treuren, a Print Direct for Less customer.

Door-to-door campaigning is something I enjoy doing, and it has helped me win three terms as a city council member in Amherst, Ohio. I call the technique I use "shotgunning,” and it's worked well for me and other local election candidates over the years. It boils down to this: quantity is more important than quality when it comes to door-to-door voter contact, and it's vital that you have a large, high-quality printed door card to leave at homes.

While it’s fine to spend a small amount of time at a voter’s home introducing yourself, you need to remember that you’re playing a numbers game: the longer you spend talking to one person, the less time you will have to talk to the rest of them. The more voters you have in your district, the more important this equation becomes.

Because of this, you need to jealously guard the amount of time that you devote to a single household. While it might not seem like a big deal to spend a few extra minutes with a homeowner who has lots of questions for you, those minutes add up. After several weeks, you can end up spending hours and hours talking to a relatively small number of voters.

That’s one of the dangers of actually knocking on doors and waiting for someone to answer: it takes a while for them to come to the door, and it could spark a long conversation that keeps you from interacting with more voters.
I live in a smaller city (about 10,000 voters), so I was able to hit every home in my targeted precincts four times in a several-month period. The first time through, I knocked on ever door and introduced myself to the voters if they were home.

If a voter answered the door, I told them something like this: "Hi! I’m running for City Council at-Large this year and I just wanted to introduce myself. My name is Phil Van Treuren, and here’s a flier with some more information about me.”

About 95 percent of the people who I met would simply smile back, take the door card and thank me kindly without a single question. Very few wanted to engage in a conversation, which was fine with me. Although I was happy to talk with anyone who was interested, I also knew that I needed to cover ground as quickly as possible.

Here’s the thing: most voters really don’t want to talk to you. They have limited time and will never be as interested in your campaign as you are. Rather than make them uncomfortable by keeping them too long, it’s better to just introduce yourself, emphasize your name, and hand them a large (at least 4" by 6") professionally printed door card with more information. Believe me, they will be thankful for your brevity!

If a voter does try to keep you at their door for more than a few minutes, politely remind them that you have more homes to visit and ask them if they would mind calling you to talk more later. Sometimes you have to be a bit insistent.

Remember: this person deserves respect and answers, but they are only one vote. From the perspective of your campaign, it’s very important that you hit as many homes as possible in the course of a day.

What ever you do, never, ever take a homeowner up on an offer to come inside and sit down unless you are good friends with them. Let them know that you would like to, but you really must be getting back on the campaign trail.

The second, third, and fourth times I did door-to-door work in these neighborhoods, I didn’t knock; I simply dropped my flier on their doors as quickly as I possibly could. This is where I got the term "shotgunning”. Rather than singling out the addresses of likely voters–which could take a while–I simply hit every home in my targeted wards, like firing a shotgun.

Of course, if you have the time and resources, you could take a "sniper” approach and only hit the addresses that you have identified as targeted voter households. I’ve actually found that this sometimes takes even longer than just dropping your literature at every door, though, since you end up spending a lot of time looking for addresses, crossing them off of your list and so on (it can be a great tactic to use in a lower-turnout primary campaign, though).

If you knock on every door in a neighborhood on your first time through, then drop literature at their door two or three more times, then they are definitely going to remember who you are . . . and they will take note of how hard you are working to get your name out there.

Here’s another thing that might make you understand the importance of dropping your campaign literature as quickly as you can: the expensive cost of bulk mail. Every time you drop your fliers on the doors of all the houses on your route, that’s like doing a district-wide mailer. Think of how much it would cost you to pay for postage on that amount of literature

Phil Van Treuren


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