Shepherd Express: Massive canvassing effort comes to Wisconsin

Starting Saturday, June 27, national progressive organization Progressive Turnout Project (PTP) is launching a $52.5 million canvassing campaign to push Americans—and Wisconsinites in particular—to cast a ballot this year.

“This is the most consequential election of our lifetime,” says Will Mantell, spokesperson for Progressive Turnout Project. “Our project is focused on a single mission, which is to get Democratic voters to the polls. In 2016, a lot of likely Democratic voters stayed home. If we are able to turn these votes out, we’re going to be able to knock Donald Trump out of the White House and knock Mitch McConnell out of the Senate.”

On the national level, PTP aims to knock on more than 10 million doors to encourage high turnout in November by engaging potential voters in personal conversations about the issues. In Wisconsin alone, PTP plans to knock on 750,000 doors in urban and suburban areas around the organization’s six bases (two in Milwaukee, one in Racine, Madison, La Crosse and Appleton). In Wisconsin, PTP’s 86 staff members will be engaging with a population that is “about 30% voters of colors and 30% under 35.”

How They Will Do It

“If Democrats had reached out to every eligible non-voter in 2016, there could have been 6.2 million more votes cast. In Wisconsin, Pres. Trump beat Hillary Clinton by about 22,000 votes,” Will Mantell says. PTP aims to provide that essential nudge in the right direction.  

First, PTP identifies people who don’t vote consistently but who are likely to vote Democrat, thanks to a number of data point from previous elections, demographic data and consumer information. Once they identify who to talk to, trained canvassers knock on these people’s doors and establish a relationship through conversation. The field teams will engage them on issues that are important to them, answer all their questions about the voting process or candidates, and determine what stops these people from voting and how PTP can help them vote. “We want to end that conversation with voters committing to vote and filling out a ‘commit to vote’ card,” says Mantell.

Due to the current situation, of course, canvassers will not step inside or even close to the people they’re talking to, for safety reasons. “Door-to-door canvassing is our bread and better, so we’ve been spending the last two and a half months focused solely on determining how to start canvassing in a way that is safe for our staff and for the voters,” Mantell explains. “We developed detailed plans in coordination with an independent infectious disease expert and according to CDC guidelines.” The field teams will be wearing masks that say “Voting Matters,” and they will be supplied with the necessary wipes and hand sanitizers.

PTP wants that relationship with potential voters to be strong and ongoing. “Ideally, we’re going to come back for a second conversation towards the end of the summer, where we’re going to help voters write out a plan to vote. Research tells us it’s important for folks actually turning up to the polls, having that plan, so we want to help them with that and make sure they’re prepared come Election Day,” Mantell adds. A third phase is planned, close to Election Day, where a last conversation will take place to ensure that the voters who are now committed to vote can carry out that plan without issues. For people living in areas that are harder to canvass in, PTP also has a phone program.This campaign is being fueled by previous experiences and research into what makes people more likely to get out and cast a ballot. “In 2018, when we were on the ground in congressional districts across the country, we ran an experiment,” says Mantell. “We knocked on doors of some inconsistent likely Democratic voters, and we used some others as a control group, so we didn’t knock on their doors. What we found was that, on average, the turnout was 10.4% higher among the folks whose doors we knocked on and with whom we had those conversations, so we have a proof of concept. And this year, we’re combining the research and the proof of concept. We’re spending $52.5 million to knock over 10 million doors across 17 presidential and senate battlegrounds with one of them, of course, being Wisconsin.”

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