Explore the Chapters Below
Since the Indivisible Guide was first tweeted out in December of 2016, Indivisible groups across the country have played a critical role in resisting the Trump agenda, stopping TrumpCare, and building power nationwide. Now, with the 2018 midterms on the horizon, we’re going on the offensive. Together, we have the power to not just resist, but to win key electoral victories and reshape government.
Elections—at every level of government—are critical to stopping Trump. The Trump administration didn’t come out of nowhere. For many years before the 2016 election, Republicans—and conservative Tea Party activists in particular—had been building power by winning elections at all levels of government. From local school boards and state legislatures to Congress and eventually the Oval Office, the Tea Party effectively stopped progressive legislation and got in the driver’s seat to push their hateful policies.
Now, it’s our turn to build a blue wave that can take back power across the country—and then hold our leaders accountable for stopping Trump and passing progressive policies. Many Indivisible groups have started this next stage of our work already. Whether by winning key elections in Virginia, electing a Democratic Senator in Alabama for the first time in 25 years and propelling exciting, progressive candidates to victories in primaries, the impact of local Indivisible groups diving into campaign work has already made a clear impact.
We know we’ve got the people power to make the difference in November—this guide, written by former campaign staffers and organizers, is about how to effectively put that people power into action. This guide offers step-by-step tips and resources on how to use that same people power that resisted the Trump Agenda to win elections through volunteer voter contact all across the country.
We’re excited to share the knowledge we’ve developed from winning—and the key lessons we’ve learned from our losses—to build the oncoming blue wave. We certainly have our work cut out for us; but, it’s never been more clear that if we stick with it, together, we will win.
How you engage in elections depends a lot on your group’s organizational status. This guide is intended for unincorporated local groups and those spending money under 501(c)(4) tax rules—independently, or through fundraising tools we plan to offer as a 501(c)(4) organization ourselves. We don’t recommend you incorporate as a 501(c)(3): 501(c)(3) organizations have serious limitations on their ability to participate in elections.
Chapter 1: Why Volunteer Voter Contact Wins Elections
Indivisibles have won battles across the country because we are unified in our core strategy: local and defensive advocacy. Local groups focused efforts only on their own Members of Congress and got comfortable saying “No” to legislation in congress. It was often frustrating to not control the agenda and repetitive to call the same three MoCs every week , but this strategy worked!
This same principle applies to our electoral work. We are most effective when we concentrate our time and resources on the most impactful tactics. This guide has been designed to make sure you have the best information and the tools to do just that.
How We Win
The basic formula for winning an election is straightforward—your candidate needs to get more votes than their opponent(s). The art comes into play by figuring out how to get to that number.
Developing a strategy to win takes some math, creativity, and an understanding of your local area. Generally, a candidate will start with some set of base voters or folks that are definitely going to support them and are definitely going to vote. We don’t need to take the time talking to these folks about voting, but they’re great volunteer prospects. There are three key ways we can supplement those base voters to defeat our opponent:
Build the Electorate. The first strategy to get to 50% + 1 is to make sure your supporters are registered to vote. Voter registration is an important activity to ensure your candidate has enough supporters that are able to turn out on Election Day. Furthermore, broadening the electorate is crucial to a truly representative democracy. For many Americans, securing their right to vote and ability to register has been a long fight throughout the history of our country. The history of laws designed to suppress voting along racial lines continues to this day. Take a look at our Voter Registration Toolkit for tips on doing registration in your community and start registering folks to vote through TurboVote.
Persuade Undecideds. Persuasion is an effective strategy, when done right, because it not only wins you a vote for your candidate, it also takes one away from your opponent so you essentially net two votes from one voter.
Turn Out Supporters. In some cases, the main focus of a campaign will be identifying supporters and making sure they get out to vote. Generally, this will be focused on voters who are likely support the progressive candidate, but may not vote without a few reminders.
Every area is different, so the amount of time you invest in each of these strategies will depend on the particular area and campaign. Your Indivisible Organizer can help you make a plan for the elections that you care about. But no matter your strategy, there’s one thing that is critical to every successful campaign: direct voter contact.
Our Strategic Choices
Direct Voter Contact—or having conversations with voters—is one of the key ingredients to winning elections at all levels of the ballot (and the most important way for Indivisible groups to make an impact). However, who you talk to and how you talk to them is going to be just as important as it was when remembering to only call you own Member of Congress.
Direct Voter Contact programs should be focused on two-sided conversations, targeted efforts and relationship building.
- The best types of voter contact are two-sided. Imagine you want to convince a family member or friend to do a time-sensitive chore that you didn’t want to do yourself. How would you convince them? Send a carrier pigeon? Smoke signal? Put a letter in the mail? No, you’d have a conversation. That’s going to be quicker and more compelling. Similarly, the most effective voter contact is direct; that is, having conversations with voters (plus, it’s a lot more fun to actually engage with voters).
Face to face conversations are the gold standard. There’s still no replacement for going door to door and talking to voters in your community. This is how we’ll win in November and beyond. Making calls and other direct tactics can be good supplements to knocking doors.
Keep track of responses and follow up. While many campaigns invest in ads and direct mail (both of which are important for many reasons too), a major benefit to direct voter contact is being able to track who you actually reach and their responses. This way you can ultimately turnout confirmed supporters, follow up with undecided voters to persuade them to support your candidate and drop folks supporting the other side to better target your voter universe. Data collection is also crucial to telling the story of our movement. It demonstrates our power clearly through numbers. We can hold the elected officials who we will elect this year accountable by sharing those numbers. That is why collecting data on voter contact activities, as well as group membership, should be central to our work this cycle.
- Voter contact should always be targeted. Think about planning a birthday for a good friend. While everyone has different methods of party prep, you generally start by making a list of folks to invite. In theory, you could stand on a street corner and ask everyone who walks by if they’ll attend the party, but that won’t be particularly effective and you’re definitely not going to end up with the right people at the party (or maybe anybody at all). Talking to voters is not all that different. If you spend your time walking down a street and talking to every single person, that’s not the most efficient use of your time and you may be turning the wrong folks out to vote.
- Focus on people you can impact. Some voters have already made up their minds—they know who they’re voting for, and they’re 100% committed to voting. It’s not worth our time to talk to these folks, because we can’t have an impact on their decisions. Instead, we focus on people who need an added push to either support our candidate, or to show up and vote.
- Talk to people at the right time. Your targets are going to change over the course of the campaign. Over the summer, you’ll talk to a wide variety of people to ask who they’re supporting, and to persuade people who are undecided. But closer to Election Day, you’ll switch to talking to voters who already support your candidate, but need an extra push to vote.
- It’s okay to talk to people more than once. You’ll usually talk to someone several times over the course of the campaign—at first to ask if they’re supporting your candidate, then to persuade them to your side, then to make sure they turn out to vote. It’s all about finding the balance between talking to as many people as we can, but also making sure we talk to people enough times that they remember us.
Everything comes back to relationship building. When picking a restaurant for a celebratory dinner, whose recommendation are you more likely to trust—a close friend or a stranger? Most folks would likely follow the advice of a friend, because you not only have faith in their judgement, but you also know that they can tailor their recommendations to your preferences. Picking a candidate to vote for has much wider implications than one dinner, so the same idea applies. Like with all organizing, electoral organizing also always comes back to relationships.
Always focus on building out your volunteer capacity. There are over 5,000 leaders of Indivisible groups, but even with that large number we can’t reach all the voters we need to talk to. Every canvass or phone bank should focus not only on contacting voters, but also bringing in new volunteers and empowering consistent volunteers to take on more leadership. We need to constantly be growing to successfully Get Out the Vote and to have a strong showing on Election Day. Furthermore, we’re going to have a new set of battles in January, so strengthening and building Indivisible groups through electoral work will be hugely important to our continued success. It’s also very important to keep track of who is attending these events so that you can thank them and invite them to the next event—that way Indivisible will be stronger than ever in November.
Conversations with voters should include genuine connection. A conversation at the doors or over the phone may just last a few minutes, but there’s enough time to learn about what the voter values and connect that with the campaign. The best conversation will connect the voter with you and the candidate through shared values.
Localize your efforts. It’s all about neighbors talking to neighbors! Let voters know that you’re from their community and why this election is important for the place you live. If you’re going into a community that is not your own, be sure to connect with local Indivisible groups or other progressive organizations already doing work there. (Check out our guide on Building Inclusive Partnerships).
Chapter 2: Voter Contact Tactics that Win Elections
This chapter reviews different ways to contact voters and what that means for your campaign strategy. While the way these tactics are implemented will differ based on campaign and area, the good news is: we know what works.
Types of Conversations with Voters
As we outlined in the principles in Chapter 1, voter contact should be targeted. We talk to different categories of voters depending on the distance from Election Day and will have specific types of conversations with those voters. There are a few distinct types of conversations that are most typical to have with voters. While the type of conversation will depend on the timeframe and the specific campaign calendar, it’s important to note that there will be overlap in these conversations depending on the individual voter.
One of the great things about two sided conversations with voters is that a volunteer can tailor their approach based on the particular voter. That means, a conversation that was intended to fall into the persuasion category may turn into a volunteer recruitment conversation if voter is a huge supporter of your candidate. Alternatively, if you’re doing turnout and come across someone that’s planning to vote and is undecided, it makes sense to have a quick persuasion conversation.
That said, while there is certainly overlap, it’s easiest to think about voter contact conversations in a few distinct categories:
- Identification: Early in the election cycle, it’s important to spend time figuring out who your supporters are so that you can turn them out to vote. In identification conversations, you’ll ask voters if they know who they’ll be supporting. If they turn out to be a supporter, you can ask them to volunteer! If they’re not sure, this is a great opportunity to do some light persuasion.
- Persuasion: In some cases, it’s strategic to have persuasion conversations with voters who haven’t made up their mind. Persuasion is all about convincing the voter to support your candidate by sharing the candidate’s positions and your personal reasons for supporting that candidate. The best persuasion connects the volunteer and voter and subsequently the candidate based on shared values and personal experiences.
- Turnout: In the final two weeks before Election Day, most conversations with voters will be focused on turning them out to vote. Turning supporters out to vote is critical—so critical in fact that the whole next chapter is all about GOTV.
- Volunteer Recruitment: This isn’t exactly “voter contact” because your volunteer base can be broader than voters. Either way, this is a really important part of winning elections—by recruiting volunteers, you can have more of the identification, persuasion and turnout conversations explained above.
Targeted voter contact doesn’t just mean talking to the right voters, it also means talking to them at the best time. While every election timeline will look slightly different depending on the community, this is a general overview of what you should focus on and when:
- Phase 1: Identification and Capacity Building. Start talking to voters as soon as you’ve decided to support a candidate. Early on, most Indivisibles’ conversations with voters will focus on identification. You’ll use this information to guide the rest of your campaign, so keeping good records of who you talk to is crucial! Indivisible offers voter contact tools for this—ask your organizer for more information!
This phase is also a good time to do volunteer recruitment—asking voters to join you in talking to other voters, and to join your Indivisible group! Depending on where you live, this is also an important time to do voter registration. Simply grab a phone, go to indivisible.turbovote.org and start registering voters (check out our full guide here).
- Phase 2: The Road to Victory. Voter contact varies the most in the period between a few months before an election day (or “E-day”) and two weeks before it. (Your “E-day” could be either the primary or general election.) This period might include additional identification and volunteer recruitment conversations, or persuasion. It’s all about figuring out the path you need to take to win on election day.
- Phase 3: GOTV. The last phase of voter contact starts either two weeks before E-day or on the first day of early voting, for states that have it, and is called GOTV—or Get Out The Vote. During GOTV, you’ll be talking to people who we think support our candidate, but who need an extra push to get out to the polls. You’ll remind them that voting is our civic duty and help them make a plan to vote.
Tactic 1: CanvassinG
No matter how many new and exciting digital tools come about, face to face conversations will always be the best way to connect with voters. Canvassing, or going door to door to talk to voters, is the key ingredient to any successful campaign. Plus, it’s actually a ton of fun to lace up your sneakers, grab a clipboard and have meaningful conversations with voters—you’re quite literally collecting votes for your candidate(s) in real time. If your group does one thing to engage with elections, canvassing should be it!
How to Canvass
Whether you’ve been an avid canvasser for decades or this is the first time you’ll be trying it out, to be successful in November we need everyone out on the doors. Find a friend, sign up and start knocking on doors!
- Find an event in your area. Check out the Indivisible event map for canvasses scheduled near you or connect with a local Indivisible group to hear what they have planned in the upcoming weeks.
Gather your materials. Go through this checklist to make sure you have all of your canvassing essentials!
Water and snacks
Weather gear! Do you need sunscreen? A poncho? Sunglasses?
Fully charged phone or tablet/iPad with GPS (particularly if you’re canvassing using an app)
Phone or tablet charger for back-up
Show up to the canvass! Once you’ve committed to an event, make sure you show up a few minutes early on the given day. Generally, you’ll receive canvassing scripts and materials when you arrive and then have a 10-20 minute training before you get started. Take time to familiarize yourself with the materials and make sure to get the contact information for the person leading the canvass in case you have questions while you’re out knocking doors.
Recognize the difference you’re making. Knock all the doors that are given to you, but don’t expect to talk to more than 1 out of 5 of the people on your list. Even if you only get to talk to a few people, those conversations make a difference.
Get to turf and map out your route. Once you’ve arrived in the area you’re knocking doors, take a few moments to map out your route so that you’re not going around in circles. Pro tip: start on one side of a street and do that whole side, and then do the other side.
Start knocking! Your first door may feel intimidating, but remember you’re talking to your neighbors! Take a deep breath, smile, and ring the doorbell or knock loudly. Count to ten, and knock/ring again. If it’s your first time canvassing, consider pairing up with someone else for the first few doors.
Begin your conversation with an introduction. Start off your conversation by introducing yourself and explaining why you’re stopping by. Try to use context clues to build a quick connection. For example, if you see a sticker for the local public school, you can bring up how you or your children went there.
Don’t spend time with people who don’t agree with you. No need to spend time with folks who definitely don’t agree with you, when you could be knocking on more doors. If someone starts to really disagree, it’s OK to end the conversation quickly with “Thank you for your time,” or “OK, sounds like we’re on opposite sides of this, and we can both get on with our day!” No need to draw things out!
Follow the script, but put it in your own voice. Make sure you’re hitting all the points in the script (they’re in there for a reason!), but this is a conversation so feel free to put it in your own voice. As important as talking points are, what matters most is your story or perspective as a constituent, and as a neighbor.
Share your success. Don’t forget to take pictures, post on social media and celebrate the great work your group is doing. Tag @indivisibleteam on Twitter so we can help amplify your work. There’s nothing like a canvassing selfie!
- Sign up for your next event. Make canvassing a habit! Make sure to bring your calendar so you can sign up for the next few events that you’ll attend.
+ Canvass Dos and Don’ts
- Finish all the doors you’re given. Someone else will need to go back to those doors if you’re not able.
- Knock only the doors on your list. Voters are on your list for a reason and its important that we’re efficient in our work.
- Use the script and ask every question, but put it in your own voice. It’s important to stick to the script, but insert your personal reasons for doing this work.
- Have fun! Don’t forget, you’re making a big impact!
- Be rude. Remember, you represent Indivisible.
- Put literature in mailboxes. It’s illegal to put lit in a mailbox since it’s not mail. If asked to leave the lit, you can place it in front of a door or in a door handle.
- Go anywhere you feel uncomfortable. Stay safe and follow your instincts
- Go inside someone’s home. If you’re invited in, politely explain that you need to continue with your list.
- Get discouraged. Even if most folks aren’t home or you haven’t identified a lot of supporters, the work you’re doing is incredibly important.
How to Organize a Canvass
At this point, Indivisible groups across the country are organizing pros and have coordinated thousands of events. While preparing for a canvass has several unique elements, the overall process is similar to getting ready for a district office visit, group meeting or other action.
Set a date. Pick a time (or times) that would work well for your group members and would be convenient for new folks to get involved. Generally, weekends and weeknights are the best time to knock on doors—you’ll have the best rate of folks that are home. Consider planning recurring events that happen weekly or biweekly!
Register your event. Add your event to the Indivisible events map and we’ll include event information in our Saturday email to recruit Indivisibles in your area.
Publicize the event. Update your group and get commitments. Use this activity as an opportunity to bring in new folks too. Make calls to your neighbors, put up flyers in town, post in various Facebook groups, ask every group member to bring a friend. Don’t forget to register your event with us so we can help promote the event to people in your area.
Confirm your canvassers. The night before the event, give everyone who signed up a call to let them know you’re counting on them to be there—and to bring a friend (or three!). Ask if they need a ride, or if they have any questions about the event. Remind them to bring the following:
Fully charged smartphone or tablet
Phone or tablet charger
Weather gear! Do you need sunscreen? A poncho? Sunglasses?
Prepare your materials. Spend time the day before getting your location set up, putting together clipboards and making sure all materials are ready.
Set up your location. Have a sign-in table, an area for training, a table with the materials ready to hand out, and a debrief location (could just be a corner of the room).
Prepare each clipboard with: a cover sheet with your contact information, canvassing best practices, the script, and a pen.
Additional materials: consider bringing extra iPhone and Android chargers, some portable chargers, water, and snacks.
Welcome your canvassers. Take time to greet folks as they arrive, ensure they sign in, hand them materials and introduce them to one another. Folks will be more likely to come back for another shift if they make friends while they’re volunteering!
Train your canvassers. A good training is key to a successful canvass. It’s important to have a training before each canvass! (See the end of this chapter for a sample 30 minute training agenda for you to use)
Share your success. Don’t forget to take pictures, post on social media and celebrate the great work your group is doing. Tag @indivisibleteam on Twitter so we can help amplify your work. There’s nothing like a canvassing selfie, so encourage your canvassers to post about their work too!
Debrief with your canvassers. Encourage folks to come back after their shift or give them a call after they finish. Ask them what went well, what the challenges were and about their best conversations. You can use these learnings to add things to your trainings for the future.
- Make thank you calls. Make sure to follow up with your canvassers to thank them for coming out—consider sharing how many doors your volunteers knocked total, how many supporters you identified and why their work was so impactful. Don’t forget to get them signed up for their next canvass.
+ Sample 30 Minute Canvassing Training Agenda
Here’s a sample 30 minute training agenda for you to use:
- Greet everyone as they arrive and have them sign in. [5 mins]
- Introduce yourself and the importance of canvassing [3 mins]
- Explain where we’ll be canvassing and why [2 mins]
- Script overview and practice [5 mins]
- What we’ll be asking for and why
- Model the script with a volunteer
- The importance of using the language in the script
- Go through the canvassing lists or MiniVAN [10 mins]
- Highlight canvassing best practice and set expectations. [3 mins]
- Go over best practices sheet
- Set expectations (Finish all 40 doors, expect to speak to 1 out of 5 people, text or call me if you need anything)
- Pair off to practice. One person is the canvasser, one person is the voter at the door. Switch roles after 2 minutes [4 mins]
- Q&A [3 mins]
- Time to canvass!
- Give people clipboards, water, snacks, and other supplies they need, make sure they have your contact information, and send them out to knock doors!
- Have your phone on during the whole canvass in case people have questions. Check in with each person once they come back to make sure they synced their data, to debrief how it went, and to sign them up for another shift.
+ Sample Canvassing Script
As outlined above, there are several types of conversations we have with voters. The below is an example of an Identification script you’d use when canvassing—notice that even though it’s an identification conversation, there’s also a volunteer ask.
Hi, can I speak with George?
Hi, I’m Lisa, and I’m a volunteer with our local indivisible group, Godric’s Hollow Indivisible. We’re a local group of progressives working to make sure our elected officials listen to and support people in the community. We’re talking to voters about the elections coming up this November.
Question 1: What issue is most important to you this election cycle?
If answered: Great, thanks. That issue is really important to our Indivisible group too.
If refusing to answer: (move on to next question)
Question 2: Do you support Hermione Granger for the US House of Representatives in the November election?
If supporting the other candidate(s): Thank you for your time, have a nice day!
If supporting your candidate: Great, our group is also supporting Hermione — glad we’ll have your vote!
If undecided: Our group is supporting Hermione Granger, the Democrat running for Congress. I know that Hermione is really listening to what we need and fighting for our community. [Tell the voter one way the candidate has worked with Indivisibles to listen to your needs — but keep it short!]
Question 3: As I mentioned earlier, I'm here with your local Indivisible group. We're a local community group resisting the Trump agenda and working to elect candidates who will listen to and support people in this community. What's the way you would most be interested in getting involved—canvassing, making phone calls, advocacy to support people who are impacted by the Trump agenda, or coming to a group meeting?
If they say yes to volunteering: Great! Before I go, what's your cell phone number, so we can reach you?
Thank you so much for your time, have a wonderful day!
Key Elements of the Script
Tweak the conversation based on the answers. Depending on how the conversation goes, an identification conversation may turn into a recruitment or persuasion conversation.
Share your values. The voter will be more likely to support your candidate if you include some personal reasons why you and your group are supporting them.
Collect information. It’s critical to take down the answers to each question and especially if someone agrees to volunteer, collect the best way to reach them again in the future.
Keep the conversation moving. If the voter you’re talking to is definitely supporting the other candidate, don’t take the time talking to them. If the voter you’re talking to is a supporter, move along to the volunteer ask!
Tactic 2: Phone Banking
For folks who can’t get out knocking doors or in areas where homes are very spread out, making phone calls is a useful way to connect with voters. When making phone calls to voters, volunteers will generally have very similar conversations to those at the doors. While face-to-face conversations are more effective, conversations over the phone are more efficient because you can reach many more voters in a short period of time.
The best voter contact programs will be heavily focused on canvassing, but phone banking is a great supplement to those efforts. Different voters will be most responsive to different types of outreach, so it’s important to try to reach folks in a variety of ways.
How to Phone Bank
While phone banking and canvassing may seem rather different, the nuts and bolts of the two activities are very similar. Just follow the below steps to get started!
Gather your materials. Go through this checklist to make sure you have all of your phone banking essentials!
Cell phone or landline
Charger for your devices
Headphones (if you’d like for making calls)
Internet-capable device (if you’re making calls online)
Recognize the difference you’re making. Even if you only talk to a few people, the conversations you’re having are making a difference. It’s normal to only talk to about 10-20% of the folks that you call—just keep dialing.
Smile while you dial. It may sound silly, but if you’re smiling while you phone bank, that enthusiasm really comes through on the other side of the line. Plus, it’s a lot more fun for you too.
Start calling! It’s typical to get nervous before your first call, but remember you’re talking to your neighbors! Take a deep breath, smile, and press call. If it’s your first time making calls, consider practicing a few times with another phone banker.
Follow the script, but put it in your own voice. Make sure you’re hitting all the points in the script (they’re in there for a reason!), but this is a conversation so feel free to put it in your own voice. As important as our talking points are, what matters most is your story or perspective as a constituent, and as a neighbor.
Don’t spend time with people who don’t agree with you. No need to spend time with folks who don’t agree with you, when you could be making more calls. If someone starts to really disagree, it’s OK to end the conversation quickly with “Thank you for your time,” or “OK, sounds like we’re on opposite sides of this, and we can both get on with our day!” No need to draw things out!
Mark down the result of the conversation. Make sure to indicate the response in the phone bank. Your group will use this information later to decide who to talk to—for example if someone is a “maybe” supporter, we’ll go back and talk to them again! Make sure to collect the contact information of anyone you talk to who wants to get involved with Indivisible.
Share your success. Don’t forget to take pictures, post on social media and celebrate the great work your group is doing. Tag @indivisibleteam on Twitter so we can help amplify your work.
Anatomy of a Phone Call
Indivisible across the country have become very accustomed to calling their Member of Congress (many even do it everyday!). If you’ve taken the initiative to call your Member of Congress, you’re certainly ready to take the next step and start calling voters. Making calls to voters has some similarities to calling your MoC, but often tends to be a more robust conversation. Instead of talking to a congressional staffer or intern, you’re talking to a fellow constituent—and chances are you’ll have a lot in common.
+ Sample Phonebanking Call Dialogue
The specific conversations you’ll have with voters will vary based on how far away Election Day is. However, this is a sample dialogue that would likely occur over the summer identifying who a voter is supporting and engaging in some light persuasion:
Volunteer: Hi, is Anna available?
Voter: Yes, this is Anna.
Volunteer: Hi, Anna! My name is Lily and I’m a volunteer with the Godric’s Hollow Indivisible group. We’re a local group resisting the Trump agenda right in your community. How are you today?
Voter: I’m good, thanks. How are you?
Volunteer: I’m great! I’ve been talking to voters all day because we have a really important election coming up to determine who our next representative is going to be. Have you decided who you’ll be voting for in November?
Voter: You know, I haven’t really had the time to look into it yet. Who’s running?
Volunteer: Oh, I absolutely understand. A lot of folks are still making up their minds. Our local Indivisible group is supporting Hermione Granger because she is standing up for progressive values we care about. She’s running against Lucius Malfoy who voted for TrumpCare and the Trump Tax Scam—we’ve been at his office protesting once a week since last December! What issues are most important to you this year?
Voter: Right, I’ve seen some pieces on the news of your group out there protesting—you’ve had some really creative ideas. Public education is important to me because I have two kids who are in middle school right now.
Volunteer: Do your kids go to school at Godric’s Hollow Middle School?
Voter: Yes, they’re in the 6th and 8th grade there!
Volunteer: Oh how wonderful, it’s such a fantastic school. My daughter went there for middle school—she’s in 10th grade in the high school now right across the street, so I’m right there with you caring about public education. I know over the last few years there has been a lot of organizing in the community to make sure the middle and high school receive adequate funding. Hermione has actually been on the school board for the past five years. I don’t know if you remember what the middle school was like a few years ago, but Hermione was the driving factor in turning it around while my daughter was there and that’s one of the main reasons I’m supporting here.
Voter: Thanks so much for that information. I think I’m likely to support Hermione, but I’m going to do a little more research.
Volunteer: Great, we’re actually having Hermione at our meeting next week to talk about the issues and take questions. We’ll be getting together Tuesday evening at 7 pm at the community center and we’d love for you to join.
Voter: Sound good—I think I’m available.
Volunteer: Fantastic! One last question. It sounds like we share a lot of the same values and that you’d really get along with the other folks in our group (we have a lot of Godric’s Hollow Middle School parents!). Can we count on you to join our group and volunteer with us to resist the Trump Agenda?
Voter: Sure, count me in!
Volunteer: Thanks so much! Looking forward to seeing you on Tuesday evening and I’ll let you know about other upcoming events we have then.
Voter: Great, see you then.
Key Elements of the Conversation
Making the connection with the voter. The volunteer in the script had a shared connection with the voter—not only did they live in the same town, they also had children who attended the same school. While every connection may not be this easy to make, its important to pull out those shared elements in conversations with voters.
Explain why you’re supporting the candidate. One of the reasons volunteer voter contact is so effective is that every volunteer has compelling and unique reasons for supporting the candidate and doing this work. Sharing a personal story is always better than reading off generic talking points.
Make the ask to volunteer. Once you find someone who shares your values, go in with the volunteer ask. We have a lot of work to do to elect progressive candidates in November and new battles to win in the the fall and winter too—we need all hands on deck.
Tactic 3: Texting
One of the newer ways we have to connect with voters is texting. While emails and phone calls have declining open and answer rates, these days folks open over 90% of the text messages they receive. Organizing is all about meeting people where they’re at, so if voters are spending a lot of time looking at their texts, that’s a great place to contact them.
When Indivisibles engage in “text banking,” chances are they’ll be doing peer to peer texting. Many Indivisible volunteers are already familiar with this tactic because there were folks all over the country texting to support the work local groups did leading to Conor Lamb’s victory in Pennsylvania’s 18th district, Virginia’s exciting elections in 2017 and to Doug Jones’ victory in Alabama. Depending on the platform, there is typically a generic first message uploaded and an easy system to send texts quickly and consecutively. This also allows for conversations between volunteers and voters. Volunteers will receive the responses from the voters they reach out to and be able to engage in a conversation.
Texting is certainly not a substitute for canvassing and phone banking, but is a fun supplement that has many creative ways to engage.
Like phone banking and canvassing, the types of conversations you can have with a voter over text can vary. That said, the types of conversations that have been shown to be most successful are Get Out the Vote and recruitment conversations. So far other uses, like persuasion or identification, haven’t been proven to be effective.
+ Sample Peer to Peer Texting Conversation
This is a sample of what a texting conversation might look like:
Volunteer: Hey Harry, I’m volunteering with Indivisible groups in Alabama. This is a critical election where Alabama voters will get to choose between an extremist, and Doug Jones, who is a lifelong defender of civil rights. Can you commit to voting for Doug Jones, on December 12th?
Voter: I’m not sure yet.
Volunteer: What issues/values are most important to you as you decide who to vote for on December 12?
Voter: I’m really concerned about the environment.
Volunteer: Jones believes in science—especially the science of climate change. He understands the challenge that environmental regulation poses to industry, and will work to push the U.S. to support its existing energy workers while building towards new clean energy future.
Voter: Great, thanks for the information. I’ll think about it.
Volunteer: Thanks for your time! We’ll follow up soon.
Tactic 4: Everything Else
There are several other ways to contact voters, but for the purposes of Indivisible groups, the three tactics mentioned above are the best way to engage! That said, there are a few other methods of direct and indirect voter contact that are worth talking about.
Voter Registration: Registering voters is a key piece to most successful campaigns! We didn’t dive into voter registration much in this guide because we have a full guide dedicated just to that tactic (check it out here).
Relational Organizing Tools: There are many new digital tools that are popping up to help volunteers find folks within their existing networks to have conversations with about elections. These tools help identify who those folks are, but volunteers still need to do the work of having those conversations. These tools are new and the impact is still unclear, but it will be interesting to learn more over the next year. This is the last tactic in this list that is actually direct voter contact—the rest are indirect since there isn’t a two sided conversation.
Postcards/Letters: Writing postcards or letters to voters can be a fun supplement to canvassing and phone banking, especially if you have folks in your group that are not able to make calls or knock doors. Postcards or letter writing are not a replacement for other types of voter contact (keep in mind: it’s not direct because you’re not having a conversation with a voter), but have been shown to have to have an impact for Get Out the Vote efforts. That said, they haven’t been shown to have much of an impact before that final push.
Paid Ads: Campaigns and consulting firms often will largely focus on paid ads. This may include television commercials, radio ads, social media promotions, etc. While paid media can reach a lot of people at once, we encourage Indivisible groups to focus on volunteer voter contact like canvassing and phone banking.
Direct Mail: Like paid ads, direct mail is something that campaigns and consulting firms will invest resources in. Direct mail is when campaigns send promotional pieces through the mail—this could be positive information about their candidate or negative pieces about the opposition. This is an efficient way of reaching a lot of voters, but again this is indirect (it doesn’t follow our principles of two sided conversations).
Yard Signs: Sorry to break it to you, but yard signs are not voter contact. They are in no way a replacement for canvassing or phone banking, but feel free to put them in your yard to show support.
Chapter 3: Get Out The Vote (GOTV)
The last phase of voter contact is called GOTV, which stands for Get Out The Vote. GOTV starts about 2 weeks before Election Day, and really ramps up in the last four days before election day. During GOTV, you’ll be talking to people who support our candidate, but who need an extra push to get out to the polls. You’ll remind them that voting is our civic duty and hold them accountable to voting. Luckily, progressives have done extensive research on what actually works for GOTV, so we’ll help you make a perfect GOTV plan.
Why is GOTV Important?
Historically when Democrats turn out, they WIN! In many ways, everything that happens in campaigns leads up to GOTV. We’ve been working for months to build support, and now it’s time to hold our supporters accountable for actually getting to the polls to vote!
The campaign is nearing an end. You've identified your targeted voters, launched full scale persuasion efforts, and are just days away from the election. There's only one thing left to do—GOTV!
GOTV is most effective in the last two weeks of the campaign. Any earlier than that, and people will forget your reminders to vote by the time Election Day rolls around. Instead, use the earlier parts of the campaign for those Identification and Persuasion conversations that we talked about in Chapter 2.
If your state offers it, you should encourage voters to vote early, vote absentee, or vote by mail. Every state has different laws about early vote and absentee ballots, so make sure to research your own state while making your GOTV plan. You can check out www.vote.org for more information and links to laws in your state.
By GOTV, we know who our supporters are, because we’ve talked to them already! During GOTV, you’ll go back and talk to people who support our candidate, but need an extra reminder to vote. If you’re using Indivisible’s voter contact tools, we’ll help you find the right people to talk to.
Often, consistent volunteers and strong Democratic supporters will wonder why they’re not on the list of voters to contact during for GOTV. There’s a reason for this—those folks are already going to vote, they don’t need a reminder from us! We have limited time during GOTV, so it’s important to be as strategic and efficient as possible . That means that consistent volunteers and strong Democratic supporters should not be a first priority on your targeted list. There are two important groups of voters to focus your attention on during GOTV:
Strong Democrats who only vote occasionally. These are folks who vote for democrats when they do go to the polls, but only vote occasionally. These are prime voters who usually sway an election. They should be your top priority during GOTV.
Voters you’ve identified as supporters. The months leading up to GOTV were spent identifying supporters and persuading people who were undecided. These folks have told us that they’ll vote for our candidate, now we have to make sure they actually make it to the polls.
There are some folks that are not worth our time to talk to during GOTV. In particular:
People who support us and are definitely going to vote. Even though these people support us, we probably won’t talk to them during GOTV, because we know that they’ll vote without our reminders, and our time is better spent talking to someone else. Instead, we may ask these folks to volunteer and help us knock doors!
- People who don’t support us. We don’t want talk to these folks during GOTV. It’s too late to change their minds about who they’re voting for, and we don’t want to accidentally get them to turn out and vote against us.
Now that you know who you’ll be talking to, you need tactics for reaching them during the final stretch of GOTV! Many of these are the same as the tactics used throughout the campaign cycle, but there are a few that are unique to GOTV. During GOTV it’s okay to contact people multiple times, and it’s good to reach out using a variety of tactics—some people are easier to reach through canvassing, while others may be more likely to pick up a phone call.
Here are some tactics you can use:
Canvass: Face to face conversations are still the best way to talk to voters. Keep in mind, you’re talking to a very specific set of people during GOTV, so the doors may be a bit more spread out. It’s important to spend a lot of time recruiting canvassers in the weeks leading up to GOTV to make sure you can talk to all the voters you need to.
Phone Calls: Just like with persuasion and identification, phone calls are a good supplement to canvassing and can be more efficient in more rural areas where homes are spread out or in cities if there are apartments you can’t get into.
Peer to Peer Texting: Texting has been proven to have an impact during GOTV, though it’s important to do this in addition to canvassing and phone banking, not as a replacement.
Rides to the Polls: This a great tool to use to ensure voters are actually going to their voting site and voting on Election Day. Rides to the Polls or also know as “Souls to the Polls” has a long history of providing voters with free transportation to the their local polling site. This tactic dates back to the Civil Rights era in our country, where so many people had to fight for their right to Vote (and in many ways still are). It’s important to use this as a supplement to, and not a replacement for, canvassing and phone banking—it’s a great way for volunteers to get involved who can’t knock doors or make calls, but can drive. (Check out this great story about Rides to the Polls in the Alabama Senate race).
Voter Protection: You can always call the voter protection hotline at (866) OUR-VOTE to report issues or ask questions. Did you know: if someone needs assistance voting at the polls, it's their right to bring someone in with them to help. This is often unknown, but for voters for whom English is not their first or dominant language, it's good to know they can bring a friend to build confidence when voting.
Luckily for us, there has been a lot of research done to determine what types of conversations most effectively turnout voters. There is a big difference between simply asking someone if they’ve already voted and using specific language that is proven to increase a voter’s likelihood of turning out. While you should always put scripts in your own voice, it’s critical to include certain specific language.
Remember to only GOTV your supporters.
GOTV scripts start by asking the voter who they’re supporting in the election. If they support us, we remind them to turnout to vote. If they’re undecided, we’ll give them a quick reason to support our candidate. If they don’t support us or we can’t convince them quickly, we move on to the next door—time to talk to someone else!
What Not To Talk About During GOTV
This may be surprising, but once you confirm that the voter supports your candidate, you should STOP talking about issues and candidates all together, and pivot to only talking about the act of voting.
Years of research has shown that talking about issues or candidates during GOTV can actually make your conversations LESS effective. If you meet an undecided voter, tell them about your candidate, but as soon as they agree to support you, it’s time to STOP saying things like “we need to vote to stop Trump” or “we need to vote to protect our healthcare”. You heard that right—talking about candidates at this part of the conversation can actually make it LESS likely that the person you’re talking to will turn out to vote.
We know this may be surprising to folks like us who care so much about these issues, but it’s been shown to be true time and time again. So just like the original Indivisible Guide told you not to call Paul Ryan unless you live in his district, this guide is telling you to only talk about voting—not about issues—during your GOTV conversations.
What To Talk About During GOTV
Instead of talking about issues, GOTV conversations should be all about Voter Accountability—holding your supporters accountable to actually voting. We’ll remind folks that voting is our civic duty, thank them for voting in past elections, and remind them that whether or not they vote is public record. Here are a few examples of things you might say:
I see from public records that you’ve voted in past elections—thanks for being a voter!
You’re on my list today because public records show you’re a consistent and reliable voter, can we count on you to come out to vote on [election date]?
Official records show you voted in 2012 and 2014 but missed the 2016 elections—can we count on you to vote this year?
As members of this community it is our civic duty to go out and vote, can we count on you to participate this year?
+ Sample GOTV Script
Earlier in this guide, we included a sample identification script. Below you’ll find a sample GOTV script:
Hi, can I speak with Ron?
I’m Luna, and I’m a volunteer with our local indivisible group, Indivisible Godric’s Hollow. We’re a local group of progressives working to make sure our elected officials listen to and support people in the community. We’re talking to voters about the upcoming elections.
We have an election coming up on November 6th. Do you know who you’re voting for?
If Supporting: [Move to GOTV]
If not supporting or refused to answer: Thank you for your time, have a nice day.
If don’t know: [Move to persuasion]
Persuasion: [Tell the voter one reason you support the candidate—but keep it short!] Can we count on your vote for Hermione in the upcoming election?
If Yes: [Move to GOTV]
If don’t know/maybe/refused to answer: Thank you for your time, have a nice day.
GOTV: [Here’s when it’s time to pivot to talking about voting, NOT issues.] That’s great, I’m so glad we have your support. You’re on my list because public records show you’re a consistent and reliable voter, can we count on you to come out to vote on November 6th?
If yes: Great! As members of this community we have a civic duty to go out and vote, so I’m glad you’ll be participating. Do you know if you'll be voting by mail, voting early, or voting in person on election day? [Walk through plan and then move to volunteer ask]
If no: Voting is our civic duty as members of this community, so I hope you’ll consider coming to vote in this election! Is there anything we can do to help you vote this year?
Volunteer: Thanks so much for your time. Before I go, would you like to get involved with our local Indivisible group? We’re a local community group resisting the Trump agenda and working to make sure our elected officials listen to and support people in this community.
If yes: Great, can we have your phone number and email to follow up with events you might be interested in?
If no: Thanks anyway, and have a great day.
Key Elements of the Conversation
Voter accountability. Remind the voter that going out to vote is a civic duty as a member of this community, explain that their vote history is public record, and hold them accountable for that vote history (most likely by thanking them for voting in past elections)!
Only GOTV your supporters. The script starts by asking the voter who they will be supporting. If they’re supporting us, then they get the GOTV ask. If they’re undecided, we’ll tell them a little about our candidate. But once it’s clear that the voter will be supporting someone else, it’s time to move on and talk to the next person
Make the volunteer ask. Even during GOTV, don’t forget to ask supporters if they’ll volunteer. Maybe they’ll come canvass with you on Election Day!
Now that you know the principles and the most effective tactics to win elections, it’s time to put that into action. There are Indivisible groups in every single congressional district that have held strong resisting the Trump agenda and stopping hateful legislation. Knocking doors and making phone calls is the crucial next step to not only resist the Trump agenda, but to elect progressive candidates at all levels of the ballot.
This is how we build power for the long haul. By spending time engaging in meaningful voter contact, we can protect progressive elected officials and flip seats that we never even imagined could be in play. Furthermore, getting involved in elections is a great way to strengthen your group and get more folks engaged—to win in 2018, 2019, 2020 and beyond.
Now that you have the knowledge and drive to do effective voter contact, how do you get started? If you’re not in an Indivisible group, the first best step is to find your local group on our website or check out local events in your area. We’ll also have opportunities to get involved from your home (sign up for our email list to learn more), but talking to voters is usually more fun with friends!
If you’re a leader or member of an Indivisible group, there are several ways to get involved:
Run your own program. Indivisible will be doing something unprecedented—supporting local groups all across the country with their own voter contact programs tailored for their local communities. We’re really excited to be developing a program this year to support local Indivisible groups with canvassing and phone banking through VAN. As a group leader, VAN will give you the ability to set up phone banks online and canvass through Minivan (an app) that you’ll be able to use with your group and other local groups in the area to reach voters.
By setting up your own canvasses and phone banks using Indivisible tools, local groups will be able to maintain their independence, set up events on their own terms and keep track of their impact. Local groups will also be able to access these tools and the data they collect after the election when campaigns pack up and move on. This is an incredible way for Indivisible to not only win elections, but also build power for the future.
To get started, get in touch with your Indivisible Organizer or reach out to email@example.com.
(A note on campaign finance: Indivisible is on the Independent Expenditure side this cycle. That means, if you’re using VAN, your group can’t be coordinating with a campaign or the party. Learn more about coordination versus IEs in our Campaign Finance Law FAQ).
- Get involved with other progressive partners or campaigns. Some local Indivisible groups are already plugged in with candidate’s campaigns or are planning to do so. While there’s a lot of power in running your own events, for some groups it may be the best option to work with campaigns or other progressive organizations.
We’d still love to hear about the ways you’re engaging and amplify the work your group is doing. You can and should also maintain your Indivisible group identity even if you’re not running your own program. Consider doing an Indivisible day or Indivisible specific canvasses. Make sure to keep track of who attends campaign/partner events by using your own sign in sheets. We’re working on tools to support you with this as well.
Regardless of how you decide to get involved, make sure to tweet @IndivisibleTeam and send your best stories to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can continue to amplify the incredible work you’re doing. We can’t wait to see twitter filled with #IndivisiCanvass pictures!
If you have other questions, don’t hesitate to reach out by emailing email@example.com. We’re looking forward to hearing about your successes, best practices and creative ideas as you put this guide into action.
Thank you for your incredible work to date. We have a lot more work to do, but together, we will win! Let’s get to it.