Republicans vote, so the half of the country who do not vote are who the Democrats should be talking to. Twenty million unmarried women did not vote in 2004. These figures clearly show where the democratic party should be searching for victory. The question is how do we change apathy into participation? How do we reach out to those who do not participate and extend an invitation and even a welcome to cast a vote? They do not exist on direct-mail voting lists, newspaper circulation is in decline and the electronic media is becoming increasingly fractured (this blog is a testament to that fact). Not to mention the HUGE pressures placed on single parents who simply don’t have the time or energy to be politically involved. The number one group in America that Democrats can help are disenfranchised by the economic pressures placed on them by hostile policies of their government.
There is, of course, only one way to reach those who do not vote and that is with an in-person visit. In my neighborhood, I am conducting a voter participation drive. I have a clipboard with squares drawn on it to represent homes that I have visited. I let them know I’m a neighbor ("I live in that brown house over there") and ask them if they are registered. If they aren’t I let them know about the tag agency just up the road where they can register–a very simple process. For those who do not vote, my message is very simple and clear; "I would like to extend a personal invitation for your help in running this country. Too many people don’t vote and I think the only ones talking to our politicians are lobbyists, and I think that’s a shame, don’t you?"
These are sales techniques. People generally want to help, especially by personal invitation. Asking their opinion after a statement is called a test close. Make no mistake, this is truly a sales call. The sale is an intangible idea of the future of the country and our priorities. I spend very little time with registered voters–I merely thank them for their participation and move along. Those who don’t vote, are encouraged to share opinions on various subjects, our occupation of Iraq, healthcare, etc. I am inviting them to participate and I want them to start right now. My own opinions are subdued, as I see them as irrelevant to their participation. To close the sale I say, "If I can get everyone else on this block to vote, you would do it too, wouldn’t you?" No one likes to be the killjoy and nearly always you get a yes. I jot down yes on their little square on my clipboard, thank them and move on.
So, how effective is this? It definitely works, as I got the idea from this article several months back.
Another aspect of their work that was different was the choice of who to canvass. There were many groups making similar efforts in New Hampshire at the time. Some spoke only to registered voters, some only to registered Democrats, some only to registered Republicans. Swing the Vote decided to talk to everyone, Democrat or Republican, registered or unregistered.Each volunteer was given a specific goal: so many doors per day, per week, per month. They wore out the shoe leather in Troy, Alstead, Swanzey, Keene, Dublin, Jaffrey, getting people to talk about what concerned them in the upcoming election. If people weren’t registered, they explained how to register. They let people know that New Hampshire allows same-day voter registration, and if they wanted to, they could go down to their polling place on election day, register right there, and vote.It worked. On election day 2004, Cheshire County saw the largest voter turnout in recent memory. Some 6,000 unregistered voters came out, people who had not been targeted by any other group because they were not on any voter roll. They registered, and they voted. Cheshire County went blue, and for only the third time since 1948, New Hampshire was won by a Democratic presidential candidate.
Yes, this is hard work, but a huge Democratic constituency is wandering in the wilderness with no voice in the path to prosperity. If we can bring them into the fold, then there exists a vast new voice concerned with daycare, and healthcare, and good wages, and clean water and air. If we can deliver this constituency, the political dialogue will turn forcibly to address these issues. We may even be able to build a world-class civilization.