Despite my long-running interest in politics, yesterday was my very first time phone banking. I worked with the DFL House Caucus doing some simple polling around the state, and it was quite a rewarding experience. The other volunteers were quite friendly, and I learned a lot simply by listening to them.
I can understand people’s hesitation to do volunteer work like phone banking or door knocking. It can be intimidating to have that direct contact with strangers, especially when you’re feeling like you’re intruding on those precious few moments they have to relax and spend time with their families. And it’s true, you are being an intrusion. But, based on my experiences last night, simply acknowledging that can make a difference. I didn’t run into any particularly hostile people, but I did bump up against a few very convicted conservatives and people who just didn’t want to talk. In those cases, I simply apologized for bothering them, said thanks for their time, and ended the call. You let it roll off your back, and instead take pleasure in the couple of people you get through to who already support what you’re doing, or, in those rare instances, discover for the first time that they support what you’re doing. A job like this is partially about voter persuasion, and it’s good to keep that in mind. I often imagined I was explaining the issues to a good friend, and tried to keep the conversation chatty when the person on the other line seemed encouraging of it.
I’ve been reading Get Out The Vote by Donald P. Green and Alan S. Gerber, and there are some experiments documented in that book that really influenced my thinking about how to run a voter contact campaign. For example, volunteer phone banks are often more successful than commercial/professional phone banks, but only if you have volunteers who are enthused about the campaign and willing to engage with the people they’re contacting. The script actually matters little; it seems that making the contacts feel like their opinion is important and that someone is listening is what really matters. Additionally, good volunteer phone bankers can create one vote out of every 20 completed calls, which is among the best conversion rates of all the various voter contact methods tested (such as leaflet drops, TV ads, election day festivals, etc), not to mention it is perhaps the cheapest and most efficient. And, from my perspective, quite a good use of a Tuesday night.