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Deep canvassing in Three Rivers, MI
Deep canvassing in Three Rivers, MI
Deep Canvassing in Kalamazoo, MI
Deep canvassing in East Lansing, MI
Deep canvassing in Ypsilanti, MI
Deep canvassing in Ann Arbor, MI
Tabling in Detroit, MI


Canvassing means speaking with other people about an issue, usually in a public location (such as a farmer's market or public square) or door-to-door. In a canvass, we talk to people about single payer, and ask them for their information so we can follow up with them later.  Often we give them literature, such as this handbill!   Often we use what is called deep canvassing, a  technique that has been proven to change minds.  

Here is a deeper dive into how to deep canvass:

Canvassing/Tabling for Single Payer


What is canvassing? 

When we canvass, we talk to people in the community.  Face to face communications are proven to be the most effective way of changing minds and gaining support.  There are different kinds of canvassing.  We use what is called “deep canvassing.”


What is “deep” canvassing?

Often times, in a traditional canvass, we interact with people “on the doors” (i.e., in front of their homes when they answer the door) relatively briefly.  Mostly we’re just trying to get some information to them or from them, such as, “do you plan to vote Tuesday” or “are you registered to vote.”   This is highly effective for elections, but the interactions are often not longer than 60-90 seconds.


“Deep” canvassing by contrast involves much longer conversations with people, in which the canvasser does a lot of active listening before talking.  The goal is to get people to tell their stories, and in doing so, to realize on their own that they support single payer. This kind of “self-realization” is much more powerful and longer-lasting than simply handing literature out or engaging on social media, which is often lower-stakes but also less meaningful.


How specifically does it work?

The sample script below gives a sense of how a deep canvass usually goes.  But the main idea is to get people talking about their own health care and health insurance experiences, and wait for an opening in the conversation when it makes sense to connect their experiences to single payer/ medicare for all.  So we often open with:


“We’re volunteers and we are talking today to folks in the community about Medicare for all.  Is that something you’ve heard of before?


After that, we try to engage them to open up more about their experiences by saying:


“One of the reasons I’m out here is that I cannot afford health insurance / my premiums and out of pocket costs are so high that I can’t afford to use my insurance and we want to change that.  Is that an experience that you or someone in your family has had?


From there, you will find most people will simply talk your ear off about health insurance companies.  There is not a set limit on how long you should talk to people, though after 20 minutes you might want to gracefully wrap up the conversation.  By about 10 minutes most people have a natural sense to wind down a conversation like this.   When the conversation winds down, we then make our asks, which are our goals (See the next point). 


What is the goal of M4SPH deep canvassing?

When we have conversations with people, we are trying for three goals: Active support, passive support, and consciousness raising.   After we have conversations, we ask for their active support, and if we aren’t able to get that, we try for passive support or at least consciousness raising.


  1. Active support: This is action they can take to help the cause right at their doorstep.  The main form of action is postcards: we have postcards that we ask people to write very briefly “I support single payer and I’m from Flint/Jackson/Kalamazoo etc.”   We tell them we will send or deliver these to Senators Stabenow/Peters, or to their representative if we are targeting that representative (eg, Kildee or Slotkin).  In addition, we ask people to take selfies or even to let us film them telling their stories.


  1. Passive support: we also have sign-up sheets, which people can enter their information if they want more information or to be contacted about future events or opportunities to get involved.  You may want to also invite them to upcoming events you have planned in their community. 


  1. Consciousness Raising:  Even if we aren’t able to get a person to share their personal info or fill out a postcard, just having a conversation matters.  If it is a meaningful conversation, backed up with informational literature, that person will be likely to change their mind, or have a vague opinion become clearer; they may influence others in their conversations, having a multiplier effect.  Even if we can’t have a conversation, just getting the lit in their hands makes something of a difference.  Remember: Every little thing matters



Why canvass?

Canvassing is amazing.  It takes you out of the tired bubble of social media arguments and the activist/political-speak we are familiar with, and into the lives of real people.  The moment when people tell you their stories, many of which are heartbreaking, and they realize that someone actually cares enough to come to them and listen, is an unbelievable moment.  It restores your faith in humanity and in the cause/causes for which we fight.  Canvassing with fellow activists builds bonds that last through thick and thin, it is an amazing way to get a sense of what this state is really like and what real people’s opinions and concerns actually are, and of course it is the most effective way to build support for the cause.


Who should go canvassing?

Anyone who can have a conversation with another person can canvass.  It is good, however, if someone with some experience can do a short training with those who are new.  The training does not have to be long, and a brief outline for how to train new people is included below.  It is ideal if you go in teams of two or even three, so that people can observe and even step in to help out if there is a need during the course of the conversation.  Remember also that canvassing is simultaneously the most effective thing you can do for single payer, and it is also the most difficult to get people to turn out for.   


What if I’m just too scared to canvass?

Everyone gets nervous about talking to strangers—this is not an accident, it is a product of our neoliberal society which tells us to be inside bubbles and only interact through social media where the stakes are lower, but the relationships and interactions are much less meaningful.    In our experience though, we’ve had zero truly hostile interactions, and only a handful of “somewhat” hostile (people who said “no thanks” in a rude way and closed the door in our faces).   We’ve talked to people with confederate flags, NRA stickers, tea party logos etc. on their houses/cars who were extremely kind and grateful that someone actually cared about talking to them.  We’ve also been dissed by people with democratic party swag in their yard.  So you can never tell just by looking at houses from the outside. But the main thing is most people are kind and will listen to you and even talk to you.


What about “no soliciting” signs?

Technically, “soliciting” means selling something, and we’re not selling anything.  Still, we generally respect the wishes of people to be left alone.  There are plenty of doors in any given neighborhood to knock.   This is a decision you as an organizer are free to make.


Where do we canvass?

That is up to you as an organizer.  Some people pick “easy” neighborhoods, i.e., places they know will be politically more receptive, at least at first (though caution, we’ve found that even in some of the most “progressive” neighborhoods, you’ll be surprised to find very conservative neighbors).   Others aim for a mixture, to get the full range of responses: a wealthy neighborhood, a trailer park, dense urban then rural, etc.   You may also be focused on a single representative’s district.    


If you don’t want to go door-to-door, you can also stay stationary at a public event, such as an art fair or simply a busy downtown area, and stop people as they walk near you.  This can also be combined with tabling!  (see below on tabling)


When and for how long do we canvass and what do we do afterwards?

The best times to canvass are between 5:30 pm and 7:30 pm, we find, though you should stop at dusk.   Saturdays and Sundays around mid-day work well as well.  Even during the weekday however, you will find a decent number of people at home.   Many people find 2-3 hours of canvassing is their limit, though some have been known to go for much longer!!  Afterwards, we gather the data we collected, and someone forwards it to the data team to be entered in to the database.   Sometimes it is awesome to go get some coffee/beer/food and debrief the conversations and encounters you’ll have had!


Don’t forget to wear your t-shirts if possible and also always get a group selfie / pix so we can add to our visual record of our activities!




Tabling: how is it different than canvassing


Tabling is when you find a spot, usually at an event or in a busy place, and put out literature and sit at the table and talk to people who come by.   Tabling in some ways is easier because people come to you, and you don’t have to feel like you’re bothering people.  The skills of having deep canvass conversations are the same; you should engage with people and listen to them—most people just want to be listened to and are looking for empathy and validation.


The disadvantages of tabling are the logistics—often times tabling spots have to be reserved in advance and it can be difficult to get tables to the right spots—and the fact that the people who come up to the table are often those already interested enough to seek you out, whereas door-to-door canvassing finds people who might not know to seek you out. 


One way around this is “proactive tabling” where you have a table, but you venture out from behind it to stop people and see if they’re interested in talking to you. 

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