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In the UK, most people can expect to be canvassed at home, in the form of party volunteers knocking on their door and trying to have a conversation with them in order to persuade them to vote for their party. This is especially likely if the voter is in a marginal seat, and less likely if they belong to a political party; as parties have pretty good data on these statistics and prefer to use their resources in order to maximize return. This type of campaigning is also preferred due to the strict limits on campaign spending which means that unpaid volunteers knocking on doors is a cheap way to get the message out.

It also occurs on election day itself - ensuring that voters, especially the elderly, can get out to their polling station.

To what extent does this happen in the US? I would expect that it happens rather less, given the relative tribal nature of the political system, meaning volunteers are unlikely to change someone’s mind on the doorstep. Is this correct? What other factors influence the amount of this type of campaigning in the US? Are there any regulations governing this?

  • It's actually still pretty common. I had two stop by last year, one volunteer, one actual candidate. It's more common for smaller races like city council. It's also more common for low-budget campaigns in expensive media markets. Lastly, it's more common for "long shot" candidates with good appearence and personalities; one of mine was the GOP candidate in a D+34 neighborhood... – dandavis Nov 19 '19 at 20:19
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It is still a common practice though you will find that how often you see it does depend on the area of the country you are in and which candidates are running. When it is done in more recent time it starts with data sets designed so that the volunteers who are going door to door will target voters who are going to be likely to vote for the candidate. When I have seen this done in the past there was not a lot of restrictions placed on the activities other than what the campaign wanted to put in place to not upset potential supporters.

For the most part this will happen in races where someone needs to get their name out to the voters in order to ensure that they get a better turn out but it can also happen for candidates who like to show a grass roots effort. This was the case in the Sanders campaign in 2016 and the one currently in 2020 where volunteers are used to contact supports both from canvasing neighborhoods and other digital means.

And it does become bigger on election days when there is a reminder to get out to vote and ways get people to polling locations if they have trouble getting there themselves.

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I did extensive canvassing last year in two swing districts (which I think is just our way of saying marginal seat). We concentrated on persons who had registered with either no party or with our party (each being about one-third of the electorate) but who had a record of frequent missed elections. How you vote is secret but whether you have voted is public record. The choice is usually not between our candidate and their candidate; it is between our candidate and not bothering to vote.

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  • Can you speak to how common that is? Was this a one-off on your part or is it common practice for many supporters to go out to canvass? – JJJ Nov 20 '19 at 3:42
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    Doing some canvassing is common. How much you do is often the difference between winning and losing. You also have to remember that some parts of the USA are sparsely populated. The entire state of Alaska is one Congressional district. Let's just say, some of it is hard to canvass. – Andrew Lazarus Nov 21 '19 at 22:03

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