Volunteering in political campaigns: from canvassing to social media

Political elections are extremely competitive, as many potential voters are influenced by their social circles and digital publications. The evolution of what decides elections has also changed the way in which political volunteers can currently offer their support.

From door-to-door meetings to online fundraisers, supporters can now share their candidate’s message to more people, including undecided voters. If you are interested in volunteering for a campaign, here are the latest trends and issues in political canvassing.

Abstract illustration of elections

Dealing with campaign workload through flexible volunteering

Flexibility is key to deal with the workload that comes with a political campaign, points out Ali Lozano, a former She Should Run volunteer. Canvassing neighborhoods, organizing meet & greets, data entry, phone banking, and monitoring media may seem boring, but these are some of the critical tasks that need to be done constantly in the days leading up to any election.

“Not everyone is able to work on a campaign 18 hours a day for six months straight, so I think offering flexible working opportunities like this on campaigns is absolutely critical if candidates want their staff and volunteer bases to be authentically inclusive and retain diverse talent,” Lozano explains.

Digital volunteering lets volunteers campaign 24/7

Have you ever wanted to volunteer for a candidate but don’t have the time to go knocking on doors and placing signs? Use technology!

Through applications and social media, even the busiest of volunteers can get involved and back a political campaign — an outreach that could be missed if they had to adhere to a strict schedule.

Keep in mind you will not be alone in your online canvassing. Some people volunteer digitally for privacy concerns, others out of a desire to express themselves freely. As Mother Jones reporter Ali Breland explains, virtual outreach can activate supporters who want to help in ways that go beyond the phone bank.

“Such online supporters groups, unconstrained by geography, can attract and mobilize new groups of otherwise isolated supporters in districts the candidate may have a lock on or isn’t bothering contesting with others where they’re fighting,” Breland says.

However, you should know that there is a darker side to this kind of volunteering. Misinformation and fake news can be spread faster by both unsuspecting and knowing volunteers.

Although many campaigns try to regulate their volunteer’s online behaviour, there is currently no official way to monitor the political content that is shared. Benjamin T. Decker, founder and CEO of digital investigations consultancy Memetica, states that a way to solve this would be an agreement among social media platforms regarding what constitutes problematic information.

“If the bad content made it to their own platforms, they would be prepared to counter it, whether through fact-checking, down-ranking, allowing users to filter content or removing content altogether,” explains Decker.

An intensive approach to political volunteering

Many people participate in political campaigns, donating from a few minutes per day to weeks at a time. That being said, volunteers who go the extra mile are crucial in convincing swing voters and bringing out the vote from key neighborhoods.

If you want to volunteer in a more formal way, political campaigns usually prepare people who choose to volunteer on a full-time basis by training them intensively. Tessa Berenson, from Time Magazine, notes that this approach comes with its own particular issues.

“Having a large network of organizers and volunteers is messier, harder to control and requires more trust in people on a local level,” writes Berenson.

Did you know you can also volunteer full-time online? Aaron Mak, a writer for Slate, examined how volunteers can train to approach potential voters via text messages. Over a series of web seminars, supporters learn how to answer questions from their recipients, connect with them, and face pushback.

The opening rate for Peer-to-Peer text campaigns ranges from 70 to 90 per cent. This makes it a very efficient tool for political candidates, better than email or phone calls (because when was the last time you called a friend instead of texting?). The secret behind these results is not the widespread use of technology, but the volunteers employing it.

“A leap in campaign tech is still resulting in two humans interacting—and that any successes will come down to a volunteer’s ability to rally enthusiasm via texting bubbles,” further explains Mak.

Using volunteers’ networks to find votes

You can also support your candidate by sharing data on potential voters. Through party or candidate-exclusive applications, campaigns can now approach their volunteers to know more about current voters by engaging with them directly.

The Intercept reporter Aida Chavez describes the BERN app friend-to-friend mode, which asks Bernie Sanders’ volunteers about the name and location of their friends and can match that information with their voter record. Volunteers are also encouraged to host their own private parties in support of the candidate.

“Unlike the typical political campaign, where volunteers work under the supervision of paid campaign staff, Sanders volunteers will be given the tools to help grow the movement at an exponential scale, free of the restraints of traditional top-down campaigns,” Chavez states.

If you are more of a social butterfly, you can also attend campaign events and share your experience.

Currently, candidates depend on volunteers to reach out to the undecided voters that are in their social networks. Charlotte Alter, from Time Magazine, examined the role that Facetime calls, personal tweets and selfies play in Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 campaign.

“Her campaign has prioritized building individual connections with specific voters, and—more importantly—creating tiny pieces of organic digital content that those grassroots supporters then blast to their own social media networks to express their support,” describes Alter.

By supporting a candidate in one way or another, you help to generate political momentum that could lead to big changes in your community. From sharing an article to manning polls, you can get involved as much or as little as you want. And who knows? Maybe your next challenge will be running for a political office.