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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Walking the Streets: First Time Canvassing

The last two Saturday mornings I have been walking the streets of my precinct with lists of Republican voters with a history of skipping midterm elections. My assigned task is to ring doorbells and encourage the targeted voter to pledge to vote early; secondarily, I provide information about our congressional candidate. The goal of early voting is simple. During the early voting period, the GOP congressional campaign checks its list of each day's voters against its list of all GOP voters, especially pledged early voters. Volunteers then email or call to harass pledged voters who are procrastinating. The more voters who vote before election day, the easier the Get Out The Vote effort on November 2nd.

My first time out, approximately half of the voters I visited answered their doors. I assume many more were there but did not answer a stranger ringing their doorbell. I often refuse to open for visitors bearing clipboards; so, I can't fault others for ignoring me. I decided it was a bad idea to ring twice after this produced a few women not yet dressed for the day and obviously annoyed at being pulled to the door dishabille. I won no new voters at those houses. Those who did answer their doors (on the first ring) were almost uniformly enthusiastic. They pledged to support the GOP candidate. They pledged to vote early. When probed, however, they were unable to identify their polling sites; so, subsequent monitoring appears to be desirable. The exception to the enthusiasts were the Democrats who had moved into the houses of some Republicans on our lists. Of course, I didn't encourage them to vote early (or at all). They were all polite, however, and did not harass the poor volunteer.

The next Saturday I hit the streets again. The targeted neighborhood looked economically depressed compared to the previous week's walk. This time very few doors opened, and nobody pledged to vote early. Most had never even heard the name of our congressional candidate. I have no idea whether the difference between week one and week two was random, a function of the calendar, or a function of socioeconomic differences. I'll collect a few more data points in the coming weeks before I offer an opinion. Like the previous week, everyone was polite, including the Democrats living in former Republican houses. I had a few amusing interactions. At one house, I asked if Mrs. Jone's lived there. The woman who answered the door thought for a minute and then said, 'No, I don't think so - not really.' I wondered what partial state of residence could make the question subject to internal debate. At another house, I asked the elderly grey haired woman who answered the door if she was Jane Smith. She said no, and then called: 'Momma. There's someone here to see you.' Henceforth I'll reserve 'elderly' for the white haired. At the last house on my list, the door was answered by a portly bare chested (and bellied) man, who told me his wife was a Republican, but he was registered as a Democrat. He said, 'I'm actually a Republican, but have to register as a Democrat for personal reasons.' In a liberal town like ours, it's easy to imagine his reasons, including a desire to prevent politics from hurting his business prospects. Perhaps he contracts with the government. I didn't probe but left curious.

Unsurprisingly, my doorstep spiel became more fluent with each new house. By the time November rolls around, I will be so comfortable with cold calling strangers that I can become a vacuum salesman should I ever have to quit mathematics.

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