“Every election is determined by the people who show up.”
~ Larry J. Sabato, Political Scientist
While making calls recently for my Presidential candidate, after the third voter hung up on me I laughed, joked and commiserated with my fellow phone bank volunteers, some of whom had been experiencing the same responses. We had been making Get Out The Vote (GOTV) calls in advance of the Iowa caucus. Most of the voters we were calling were already on board with our candidate, but even among those loyal supporters there were some who were outraged at the number of calls they had been receiving. I was used to this type of response from my first political campaign back in 1968.
Ah, the wonderful U.S. election season! It’s the time that brings into sharp focus how raucous, messy and contentious being part of a free society can be, and points out how important it is for every citizen to become involved in the process to make it work optimally for all. So before continuing with my Wedding Series I thought it important to pause and focus on the etiquette and protocol of the political season.
The long slog of the concurrent primary and general election rituals can be tough on everyone — especially those very involved citizens, campaign volunteers. And thank goodness, for without volunteers candidates and their campaigns would not be able to function; volunteers epitomize the spirit of — in the words of Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address — “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Theoretically, everyone can become involved on some level in our representative government, as follows:
- Vote – It is every citizen’s Constitutional right to cast a vote for a candidate running for any office in the land. This is the most basic and effective way for a citizen to have a voice in the direction of his government.
- Volunteer – If you know for whom you will vote, becoming involved at any level of your candidate’s campaign can help get her elected and move the process forward in a way you would like to see. If you haven’t decided on a candidate, there are other opportunities to get involved in a more general way, such as volunteering at polling places or for The League of Women Voters, which has a long and rich history.
- Be Understanding – If you are on the receiving end of calls and knocks on your door, be understanding of their role and efforts in ensuring the democratic process. Because while volunteering can bring opportunities to those who pitch in — new friends, being on the “inside” of a campaign, partaking in exciting events and festivities, and even finding jobs — it first and foremost boils down to long, hard and sometimes difficult grunt work.
Spread Kindness and Civility
When a volunteer calls it’s usually to find out what’s on your mind regarding the current issues and what you think of his candidate, to try to convince you to consider the candidate, remind you vote and provide information on your polling place, and even arrange for transportation. Overall, it’s a pretty soft sell compared to other unsolicited calls. It might also be helpful to remember that although each campaign volunteer typically makes hundreds of calls over an election season’s duration, she herself also receives multiple calls from other volunteers on various campaigns! The same is true of volunteers who canvass door-to-door — or stake out positions at train and subway stations — to obtain signatures to get their candidate on the ballot and/or to pass out literature. Over the years I have done all of this and more, and am also the recipient of the same.
I recall a few years ago two campaign volunteers knocked on our door. I didn’t know them, but they looked vaguely familiar. They were canvassing for the candidate who was running against ours. As they began to make their pitch, I interrupted with a smile. The exchange went like this:
Me: Oh, I’m sorry, but I’m supporting XXX.
Them: Oh, okay. Well, may we leave some information with you in case you change your mind?
Me: Thank you, but I won’t be changing my mind and I don’t want to waste your handouts.
Them (surprised): Okay, well, sorry to have bothered you.
Me: No bother. Good luck. At least you have nice weather.
Them: (even more surprised): Thanks. You’re so nice!
Me (laughing): Well, if you were caroling I’d invite you in for hot chocolate, but under the circumstances…
Them (laughing): Yeah, we get it! Take care!
Being civil and even friendly cost me nothing and made all three of us feel good about each other, even though we were at different places on the political spectrum. We were still neighbors and the next time we ran into each other we would all recall our previous pleasant encounter.
During the political silly season my husband and I tend not to answer the phone unless we recognize who is calling. Sometimes volunteers leave voicemail messages and that’s fine. If the message is from a volunteer who is supporting our candidate there is frequently helpful information about a rally or other event in which we might be interested. On the off-chance we do answer the phone and are greeted by a volunteer for a candidate we are not supporting we simply say so, thank the volunteer and say “good-bye.” Displaying understanding, kindness and civility when volunteers call — or call on us — expends less energy than becoming argumentative or angry; cursing or hurling insults at the volunteer’s candidate or, worse, at the volunteer; or rudely hanging up or slamming the door in his face.
Who’s Calling You?
The campaign volunteers who call you might be located in another state or the next town over and comprise veterans, senior citizens, people with disabilities and student interns — people toward whom you ordinarily would be kind and thoughtful. But often volunteers who call are people who live in your neighborhood, town or suburb and might be a neighbor, your pastor, your child’s lunch monitor or the owner of the local diner.
While some candidates present a very poor image of civility, professionalism and proper behavior that does not mean that we, as voters, should follow suit when a campaign volunteer calls. Even if it’s the umpteenth phone call or knock on the door received, we should remember that it’s not their fault; they are simply following a list they were handed with names of voters to call or call on.
Why So Many Calls?
The average voter – and certainly a new voter – always seems to be taken by storm at campaign and election season. The attention each one receives is compressed into a time frame far beyond the normal experience with telemarketing calls. Add to that the fact that political campaigns are exempt from the national Do Not Call List, although they are required to take a name off their list if requested; but even then this is almost an impossible task, with thousands of volunteers as well as temporary paid staff involved and dozens of databases that contain duplicate lists of voters.
Thus, a voter might receive numerous calls from the same campaign for various reasons. One call might be to advise about early voting or absentee ballots, another might be to find out if you plan to support the candidate, another will be to invite you to a rally or fundraiser, and another will be to remind you to vote on Election Day. And if your name appears on multiple lists, you might receive duplicate calls from a candidate’s multiple offices. Please try to be understanding of the messy, but necessary, campaign process.
Stay Calm and Carry On
Calls and canvassing have proved to be effective in getting voters to show up at the polls, so these approaches are not about to end anytime soon. So be patient if you answer the phone, or let the calls go to voicemail. Above all, allow your sense of humor to prevail and remind yourself that it’s all for a good cause – democracy! As the recipient of campaign calls and visits you are doing your part as a good citizen by spreading positive rather than negative feelings across your neighborhood and the nation as the democratic process unfolds!
Until next time,