The best political candidate wins from implementing a wide spectrum of different strategies on the campaign trail: direct mail, social media, grassroots recruitment, fundraising and much more. No single campaign tactic is going to win the election for you, and a candidate who is myopically focused on one strategy (just having supporters write letters to the editor, for example) will usually lose.
If I were forced to pick one single tactic in a local race, though – and weren’t allowed to do anything else – then I would undoubtedly choose door-to-door campaigning. Door-to-door (or D2D) is the single most effective thing you can do in a smaller, local political campaign, and you shouldn’t listen to anyone who tells you differently.
There’s a simple reason why D2D isn’t utilized effectively by many candidates, though: it’s hard to do. Trudging through unfamiliar neighborhoods by yourself for weeks is tiring and intimidating. Walking down streets with a stack of literature while cars drive by can be embarrassing. Getting rained on and snowed on and having the sun beating down on you is lousy.
You know what I say to that? Suck it up, buttercup. If you really want to be an elected official – if you want to win your campaign – then you need to stop whining. You don’t have to knock on doors five hours a day for a year, but if you aren’t including at least some D2D in your overall campaign plan, then you deserve to lose. If you aren’t willing to get your hands dirty and go into neighborhoods to meet people and market yourself, then you shouldn’t be an elected official.
The smaller your race, the more effective D2D will be for you. Serious candidates running for governor or U.S. Senate don’t do much neighborhood walking (except for photo ops), because it’s not an effective use of their time. When your voter universe is in the hundreds of thousands, it’s not possible for a candidate to make an impact from personally campaigning door-to-door. Instead, volunteers are organized to canvass neighborhoods and drop door cards.
In a local race, though, a candidate really can win a race by focusing heavily on D2D – and doing it all himself. Smaller districts mean that you can visit every targeted voter’s home personally, if you start early enough. And for a voter, the impact of getting a personal visit at your home from a candidate is much more significant and memorable than any other kind of campaigning.
From a strictly financial standpoint, D2D is a wise tactic that can save your campaign hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars. Rather than spending money on postage for direct mail, D2D allows you to personally deliver your message to the voter’s home without spending a dime (except on printing the door cards, which is quite inexpensive). Even if your opponent has a much bigger war chest than you, it’s still possible for your campaign to reach more voters with a focused, relentless D2D schedule.
Think of it this way: every door card that you drop at a voter’s house is the equivalent of a mailer. If you hit every targeted home in your district (or ward, or city) with a door card, and if postage for a district-wide mailer costs $2,500, then you just saved your campaign $2,500.
D2D campaigning perfectly embodies my campaign philosophy of “the harder it is, the better it works.” There’s no single campaign tactic that’s harder to do . . . but nothing works better than D2D in a local race.