Last Sunday, a cold, dreary fall day in this part of Colorado, I went out canvassing to find out who’s going to vote for Obama. I arrived at the local HQ (a storefront in a strip mall near a Costco) around noon. A guy explained to me at length what I was supposed to do, over my increasing nervousness.
“Do I have to do this alone?” I asked. “I was told someone would be with me.” I didn’t feel confident about knocking on doors by myself. Having spent so much of my life overseas, most recently the last 17 years in Italy, I know that many standard American cultural cues pass me by completely unnoticed. And everyone’s armed in this part of the country (yes, including the liberals) – I didn’t want to miss something that might imply: “Get off my lawn before I blow a hole in you with my 12-gauge.”
Eric, the man who’d been training me, instantly agreed to go with me. On the way we chatted about more personal things and I learned, with no great surprise, that he, too, had been a Sun employee. He got laid off in July, calculated that he had enough money to retire early, and decided to devote his time to campaigning for Obama.
We had pre-printed sheets of paper with names, addresses, and (usually) political leanings for each of the people we were supposed to visit. These were organized by street and side of street (odds and evens), including a map showing the location of the targeted houses.
“Why are we going door to door instead of just calling?” I asked.
Eric’s an engineer, so he has studied the numbers behind his activities.
“This is more effective than calling. Studies show that, for every 14 doors you knock on, you persuade one voter. It takes 200 calls to do the same. This is a swing state, and Jefferson County has traditionally voted Republican. 200 votes could make all the difference here.”
“That’s a lot of doors,” I gulped.
We knocked on 34 doors in about 90 minutes that day. The people we had come to see were all listed as Democrats or undecided. We weren’t expected to call on any Republicans; the thought is that it’s too late in the game to persuade them. Now it’s mostly about making sure that people have their mail-in ballots and know what to do with them, or know where they can go for early voting (which starts Oct 20th in Colorado).
Many of the people on our list had already received their mail-in ballots, and some of those had already sent them in. Three or four refused our polite request to tell us for whom they’d voted. There are still people who feel strongly that this is a private matter, but Eric suspected that they had all voted for McCain and didn’t want to tell us that.
On the other hand, four or five told us they definitely had or would vote for Obama, and one said that her husband would also do so in spite of being a life-long Republican (they were both young).
We did the first street together, with me hanging anxiously behind, not liking the idea of disturbing people on a Sunday, though most took it well. At some places, someone was clearly home but did not answer the door.
Eric pointed out clues to the likely voting habits of the households we visited. A Subaru in the driveway indicated a liberal. On the other hand, 95% of the houses we visited or passed had four-wheel drive vehicles and/or trucks, so those aren’t necessarily a sign of conservatism. Every house seemed to have multiple dogs as well.
One house where I was just as glad no one answered had a jeep in the driveway hand-painted in camouflage, with various aggressive bumper stickers including one that said “Fuck Iraq” – an ambiguous statement at best.
We split the next street, one of us doing odds, the other evens. Eric was trapped for quite a while with a man who wanted to complain about the price of diesel fuel – the only canvasee who had shown much desire for conversation.
Then, frozen to the bone, we went back to the office. Happily, it’s supposed to be sunny and warm when I go out canvassing tomorrow.