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Canvassing with a Human Face

This past weekend I did my first stint of deep canvassing – NOT asking people to register or get out to vote, but to share their concerns and describing what Congresswoman Susan Wild (PA-07) is doing to help.

Our target was low propensity voters in largely Latino areas of Bethlehem. They included gritty neighborhoods near the long-cold Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces and projects where tiny patio gardens sit outside rows of modest brick apartments.

Could I get people talking enough to record their concerns for the campaign, empathize with them, and describe (with the help of a cheat sheet) how Susan and Democrats are helping?

The answer is an emphatic YES! I found I had substantive, long (up to ten minute) conversations with those who answered the doors– far higher than in traditional canvassing. I also learned, as I went, how to reflect back their concerns and share my thoughts about why Democrats (and Susan Wild in particular) are helping.

For example:

  • A long-time Democratic voter said he’s considering voting Republican because “we need a change.” How so? I asked? Immigrants are getting higher benefits than native born Americans, he said. I described how Republicans are blocking tighter border controls so they can bash Democrats on immigration. He also said “the economy is messed up” because of tariffs on China, making it harder for him to get a job. I told him those tariffs were first imposed by Donald Trump. “I didn’t know that,” he said thoughtfully. “I also opened up myself about my fears of Trump’s attacks on our democracy. “Yeah, yeah,” he nodded. “I’ll think about that.” AND I encouraged him to call Susan’s office for health with a Social Security issue – constituent service that builds word of mouth among a voter’s friends and family.   

  • A young Latino woman described how, despite having two jobs, she has trouble putting food on the table. I described the funding Susan and the Biden administration have provided to bring more good-paying jobs to the area. And for her concerns about inflation, I described how under Democrats the Medicare program can, for the first time, negotiate with drug companies to reduce prices, and the Biden administration’s cap on insulin prices. And I gave the phone number for Susan’s Allentown office for possible help with a family medical issue.

Can I prove I won, or kept, any Democratic votes? No. But because we recorded each voter’s response on a phone app the campaign now knows the key issues for each of these voters can customize follow ups with them. And each of them knows, at the very least, that someone from the Wild campaign listened respectfully to their concerns long before the election. That consistent, genuine engagement has delivered surprise Democratic and Progressive wins across the country.

I also had more good conversations in seven hours of deep canvassing than I’ve had in days of conventional, “give me your vote” canvassing. It also challenged me, in a good way, to meet each voter wherever they were, and left me with a deeper understanding of their lives.

Sorry you missed all this? No worries! The Swing Left Upper West Side Action Group (which organized this event) has scheduled additional canvassing for the weekends of May 11th and 12th, May 25th and 26th, and June 8th and 9th.  Sign up for any of these dates here, and email Bob Scheier or Ann Eldridge for information about logistics, including possible volunteer housing.

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