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For the Wikipedia guideline on canvassing, see Wikipedia:Canvassing
Senior British Labour Party politician Jack Straw canvassing with local councillors in Blackburn

Canvassing is the systematic initiation of direct contact with a target group of individuals commonly used during political campaigns. A campaign team (and during elections a candidate) will knock on doors of private residences within a particular geographic area, engaging in face-to-face personal interaction with voters. Canvassing may also be performed by telephone, where it is referred to as telephone canvassing. Canvassing allows constituents to communicate their ideas about improvement to the candidate.[1] It also allows the politician to perform voter identification – to poll how individuals are planning to vote – rather than to argue with or persuade voters.[2] This preparation is an integral part of a "get out the vote" operation, in which known supporters are contacted on polling day and reminded to cast their ballot.


An older spelling of “canvas”, to sift by shaking in a sheet of canvas, hence to discuss thoroughly.[3]

Canvassing around the world[edit]

Originating in the United Kingdom, canvassing is most widespread in those countries that have borrowed from the British political system. It is standard practice in elections in the United States, Canada,[4] Australia, and New Zealand.[5]

Door-to-door canvassing has been little known in most other countries after the highly publicized canvassing tactics of the Obama campaign, similar tactics have been tried in India,[6] France[7] and Germany.[8]

Canvassing for votes is forbidden in Japan. This has been the case since the original General Election Law of 1925. The restrictions have been brought to the Supreme Court on several occasions, but have been upheld as constitutional.[9]

Phone canvasses[edit]

Canvassing can also be done by telephone by activists who will be working from a script. The following is an excerpt from a script used by the UK Labour Party in the buildup to a general election:

Hello, can I speak to (voter's name) please? Hello (voter's name) my name is (name). I'm calling on behalf of (MP/parliamentary spokesperson). I'm calling to find out your views on the Labour government's priorities. Which of the following do you think are the three most important priorities for the government? [Lists five policy areas – 'better schools', 'better hospitals', 'more jobs', 'less crime' and 'strong economy'] Let me tell you what Labour is doing in these areas and what the Tories would do if they were re-elected [refers to 'dividing lines' table where Conservative policies are compared unfavourably with Labour]. Now can I ask you which party you think you will vote for at the next general election?[10]

The script then divides into two sections based on whether the voter intends to support Labour or another party. The section for Labour supporters encourages the use of postal votes, asks whether the individual would consider displaying a poster in their window or deliver leaflets on their street and asks whether the individual would consider joining the party.[10] The section for non-Labour voters asks the following questions:[10] This sample script is also representative of elections in the United States, in which a volunteer might ask, "if the election for (congress, governor, president, etc.) were held today, would you vote for (Candidate A) or (Candidate B)?

  1. Which main political party do you identify with?
  2. There will be elections in (date), which party will you vote for at these elections?
  3. How did you vote in the last general election?
  4. Who would be your second choice?
  5. Do you vote at every election?

The script concludes by thanking the voter before ending the call.

Constitutionality of canvassing in the United States[edit]

Local governments in the United States have passed local laws to limit Americans’ ability to canvass. Many of these challenges escalated to the Supreme Court, which has ruled overwhelmingly on the side of the public’s right to canvass as protected by the First Amendment. For example, in Martin v. Struthers, Justice Hugo Black stated:

“Freedom to distribute information to every citizen wherever he desires to receive it is so clearly vital to the preservation of a free society that … it must be fully preserved. To require a censorship through license which makes impossible the free and unhampered distribution of pamphlets strikes at the very heart of the constitutional guarantees."[11]

In 2002, the Supreme Court reconfirmed its conviction that canvassing is protected by our First Amendment rights in Watchtower Society v. Village of Stratton. Justice John Paul Stevens stated:

"It is offensive, not only to the values protected by the First Amendment, but to the very notion of a free society that in the context of everyday public discourse a citizen must first inform the government of her desire to speak to her neighbors and then obtain a permit to do so."[12]

Canvassing organizations[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kate Heartfield, Ottawa Citizen More Kate Heartfield, Ottawa Citizen. "Heartfield: Why that politician is knocking on your door". Ottawa Citizen. 
  2. ^ How to Win an Election, Paul Richards, Second Edition, p. 87
  3. ^  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Canvass". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  4. ^ Alex Marland; Thierry Giasson; Jennifer Lees-Marshment (15 February 2012). Political Marketing in Canada. UBC Press. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-7748-2231-2. 
  5. ^ R. G. Mulgan; Peter Aimer (2004). Politics in New Zealand. Auckland University Press. p. 266. ISBN 978-1-86940-318-8. 
  6. ^ "Indian parties are using Obama-style campaign tactics in crucial election." Washington Post. April 7, 2014
  7. ^ "In France, Using Lessons From Obama Campaign." New York Times. April 21, 2012
  8. ^ "Washington Wisdom: SPD Adopts Obama's Door-to-Door Campaign." Spiegel Online. September 13, 2013
  9. ^ . JSTOR 1191847.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. ^ a b c Telephone canvassing script, Labour Party, as published in How to Win an Election, Paul Richards, p.90-91
  11. ^ "MARTIN v. STRUTHERS, 319 U.S. 141 (1943), 319 U.S. 141, MARTIN v. CITY OF STRUTHERS, OHIO. No. 238. Argued March 11, 1943. Decided May 3, 1943.". FindLaw. Retrieved 2015-01-03. 
  12. ^ "WATCHTOWER BIBLE & TRACT SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, INC., et al. v. VILLAGE OF STRATTON et al. certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the sixth circuit. No. 00-1737. Argued February 26, 2002--Decided June 17, 2002". FindLaw. Retrieved 2015-01-03.