How to Run a Great Door to Door Campaign

In local campaigns, often one of the most cost-effective and beneficial activities is door-to-door campaigning. While national and even statewide campaigns tend to shun door-to-door as a way to reach voters and will use it only sparingly as a way to generate media attention, candidates for local and county office can set up effective door-to-door programs that reach most, if not all of the campaign’s targeted voting base.

Where to go Door-To-Door

The first task for a successful door-to-door program is to determine the precincts in which the candidate or staff should use door-to-door campaigning. This is essentially a question of time. While door-to-door campaigning is one of the most effective ways to get voters to support a candidate, it is also one of the most time consuming campaign activities. Campaigns should start going door-to-door in swing districts: those districts the candidate has a possibility of winning, but which are undecided. These should be followed by districts that are most likely to vote for the candidate. Finally, if there is time, the candidate may go door-to-door in precincts he is probably not going to win. Campaigns must be careful, however, about going door-to -door in hostile precincts. While the candidate may pick up a few votes, such campaigning has the potential to incite hostile voters to be more involved in the opponent’s campaign. Often, it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie.

Who Should go Door-To-Door

The most effective way for a campaign to generate votes with door-to-door campaigning is for the candidate to go himself. The success of the appeal flows from the candidate. The candidate can generate more votes and goodwill than his spouse, who in turn, can generate more support than the candidate’s friends, and they, in turn, can generate more than his staff, and so forth. Some campaigns who need to cover a lot of ground can’t have the candidate visit all of the precincts they would like to cover, and thus must use staff and volunteers to go door-to-door. While this is less effective, it can still be very successful if the right procedures are followed.

Before You Go

Before knocking on doors, the campaign should locate a copy of the “street lists” for the precincts that are going to be walked. These lists contain the names of all registered voters, with party affiliation (if applicable), arranged by street. Such lists are available at the local election office, county clerk’s office, or other election board for the campaign area. Occasionally, a small fee is charged for this information. The campaign should decide in advance who will be visited… Is the candidate going to target just voters of his own party? Or is he going to visit independents, or perhaps even members of opposing parties? Non-voters, however, should not be visited. The street list will not contain the names of people who are not registered to vote — thus, if no one is listed as an eligible voter at a particular address, the candidate should not waste time knocking there — there is too much to do and too little time to do its. In strong precincts, these people can be targeted with a voter registration campaign by the campaign’s staff, but the candidate should pass these houses by.

The campaign may also want to think about sending out postcards the week before the candidate will be going door-to-door, with a short message like “I’ll be in your area on (give the specific day) and hope to be able to talk to you regarding the upcoming election.” The postcard can also contain a picture of the candidate. This way, voters will know who the candidate is and why he is there before he knocks on the door. If postcards are sent, the candidate must show up to campaign on the day listed — rain or shine. Nothing damages credibility like telling people you will be somewhere and then failing to show up.

The Big Day

On the day that the candidate goes door-to-door, he should not go alone. At least one aide should visit each home with him. This aide can cut off talkative visitees, take names and hand out literature. If the candidate is held up at any one door, the aide should step in and explain, “I’m sorry, we must move along.” Thus, the candidate is spared from having to cut the voter off.

When the candidate knocks, he should have a piece of literature (palm card) handy to give to each voter. The aide who is with him will take notes and write down what, if any, issues the voter is interested in. If the voter is particularly supportive of the candidate, the aide can take down the voter’s name and number to be a volunteer or put up a yard sign. The candidate must never argue with the voter– if the voter does not support the candidate, the candidate can simply move along (the aide can facilitate this). The candidate should never, ever argue.

If the person being visited is not home, the candidate or his staff should place a door hanger or other note on the house’s door with a short note, something to the effect of “I stopped by but you weren’t home. I hope that I can meet you sometime soon to discuss the issues that are important to you.” The staff should already have added a short, handwritten note to the card, with a “personal” message for the voter, something like “I hope to see you soon — John Smith”


After going door-to-door, the aide who went with the candidate should write down all of the notes he took during the trip (enter into the computer, if applicable). He should also make sure that any yard signs or literature the voters asked for is mailed out or delivered. Every voter who was actually home when the candidate knocked should get a note the following week thanking them for their time. This way the single door-to-door campaign has produced at least three contacts per voter — One note saying “I’m coming,” one visit from the candidate (or staff) and one note saying “Thanks for having me.” The door-to-door experience is also sure to gain a few extra yard signs, and maybe even some volunteers.

Door-to-door campaigning, especially in small districts, is one of the most cost-effective methods for garnering votes. With a dedicated candidate and staff, and a plan in place, the campaign can be sure to make the experience enjoyable and successful.

For more great grassroots tactics that will help you win, check out our Article Archives.


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13 comments… add one
  • Chris,

    Thanks for your thoughts and your compliments. I agree that evenings work best (5-9 Mon-Thurs) plus weekends. In predominantly Christian neighborhoods, you may want to skip Sundays, or limit your campaigning to the afternoon, after people return from church. In primarily Jewish neighborhoods, you may want to skip Saturdays, or limit your campagining to the afternoon, after people return from synogogue.


  • chris

    thanks for your thoughts, also i was wondering what your opinion on the time of day a candidate should go door to door. between 9-5 or during the work day , seems to be not as cost effective as 5-9 . I think maybe 5-9 monday to friday , 10-7 saturday and sunday. What do you guys think. Also i wanted to mention what a great resource this is for campaigns.

  • Chris,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I agree that you should take local sentiment into account when deciding whether or not to go door to door. That being said, I do think that in 98% of all cases, going door to door is the right move.


  • chris

    In Canada, people are a little more reserved. what are your opinions on the argument that going door to door will turn people off rather than the opposite. Because first, it puts you in the same league as a door to door salesman, and second people might perceive that your invading peoples privacy. Let me know what you think.

  • Kim,

    Thanks for your thoughts. While I understand the sentiment, I have to respectfully disagree… Otherwise, a campaign would have to forgo not only leaving information when going door to door, but also have to refrain from lit drops. You could even argue, under this scenario, that a candidate shouldn’t send direct mail, because if it piled up when someone wasn’t home, the person might not vote for your candidate.

    People will find all kinds of reasons not to vote for you… I’ll bet that in the race you mentioned, that one voter was the only one who felt that way, and not representative of the electorate as a whole.

    I can tell you, from working with hundreds of campaigns, that the method we identified above works best — leave a handout with a note if someone isn’t home… you’ll get far more votes this way than you will lose because people are upset that you left something.

    Thanks again for your comments.

  • Kim

    If you knock on a door and do not get an answer, you should never leave “handout” information anywhere that can be seen from the street. If the resident is on vacation, this is a dead give away to thieves that the home is unoccupied. While out door knocking one lady told us she had intended to vote for our opponent until he left a door hanger on her door that let everyone know she was not home. We got her vote because of this.

  • Erik,

    Thanks for your comments. You’re right, you should always check local laws before starting your campaign activities. You are also right that many municipalities limit some types of electioneering (particularly yard signs) to certain times of year. You should also know, however, that in many states, courts have been striking these laws down as unconstitutional for years… And laws limiting political speech are certainly of dubious constitutionality. Check with a competent election lawyer in your area before you make your decision on how to proceed…


  • Be careful, though. There are some election laws, depending on your state, that may not allow you to do this until the year of the election (starting in January).

    There may be other laws about yard signs. In Ohio there cannot be yard signs up until 30 days before the election. No earlier. Read up on the laws before doing anything.

  • Jon,

    I would encourage you to get out there and start going door to door as early as possible after this year’s Election Day – a full year of on the ground, active, grassroots campaigning can significantly increase your name ID, build your list of supporters, and generate all kinds of buzz for your campaign.


  • Jon


    I’m thinking about going door-to-door beginning in November. I think it would be way too early to get signs out, wouldn’t you? Thanks for writing all this, great info!


  • Matty,

    You’re right! I usually tell candidates to bring a bunch of signs, but to leave them in the car, and just mark down who asks for one or agrees to place one. Then, when you’re done your day, go back and place those signs on all of the lawns of voters who said “yes.”


  • If voters support you, they may let you place a campaign yard sign on their lawn – might be a good idea to bring a few of those with you door-to-door as well.

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