Political Phone Banks
October 18, 2004 1:08 PM   Subscribe

A friend has asked me to volunteer at a partisan phone bank calling (supposedly) registered yet undecided voters in Swing States. I'd really like to do my part, but I'm having a tough time swallowing the fear that I'll be a nuisance and wind up doing more damage than good. Does anyone have any experience in such an environment - postive or negative? How does the populous at large feel about unsolicited political calls?
posted by Ufez Jones to Law & Government (20 answers total)
Personally, I feel they're a nuisance -- especially now that they're one of the only forms of telemarketing allowed in the US for people on the do-not-call list.

Note: I am not in the target market for the calls you'd be making, so my opinion may be irrelevant. Nevertheless, I feel that the calls are irredeemably irritating, and nobody I know who gets them enjoys it. Also, the correct word would be "populace"
posted by aramaic at 1:56 PM on October 18, 2004

"Calling registered yet undecided voters?" How does one know in advance of actually calling them that they are, in fact, undecided voters?

It seems more likely that the pool you'll be calling is simply "registered voters," the vast majority of which have already made up their minds. At least in the presidential election. (If you're calling on behalf of someone running for some local office which doesn't get a lot of press attention, you might have more impact.) Just something to be aware of.

As far as backlash, I don't know about the general attitude, but I, for one, despise all unsolicited calls. (I'm on the no-call list, both federal and state, but some types of calls, including those of political campaigns, are exempt.) Receiving one such call from a campaign I otherwise supported wouldn't be enough to make me change my vote, though. But there are limits. In the 2000 election cycle, I made a donation to a politician running for a state-level office, a few months before the election. Her campaign subsequently called me once a week or so and left a message on my answering machine asking for more money. I very nearly didn't vote for her.

FYI: Populous is an adjective; populace is a noun. I'm not normally one to nitpick on grammar and spelling, but for some unknown reason I find this error particularly jarring.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:57 PM on October 18, 2004

Useless. Don't waste your time.

Now, if you were willing to travel to another state and drive elderly or physically handicapped voters to the polls, that might actually make a difference in the elections.

But nobody is going to change his or her vote based on a telephone lecture from a stranger.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:13 PM on October 18, 2004

My landlady is really politically active and financially supports many local campaigns, mostly Democratic, but some Progressives as well. As a result, the phone has been ringing off the hook for the past few weeks. Sometimes it's just chatty "Hey want to help us with some signs?" calls but sometimes someone actually wants to talk to me [well, her, but she's not home so they talk to the sucker who answers the phone at dinner time] about the upcoming election or ask me for money, since I happen to be home.

Mercifully, I have already voted, which I tell these people quickly so they can call someone else. I sort of feel that it's like the people who wind up being on juries for very popular trials... the people you wind up talking to [if they are still undecided, even now] have to be either out there or apathetic, so much so that they're probably not much fun for you to talk to. I assume you're working with the redefeat bush people? I'm sure you'll have an okay time doing it since I hear their events are fun, but I really can't come down on any side other than "absolute nuisance" regarding getting called at home by total strangers trying to convince me of something.
posted by jessamyn at 2:13 PM on October 18, 2004

Don't do it. Please. It IS a nuisance and a pain and unlikely to have the desired effect. Seriously, does the world need any more unsolicited marketing phone calls? I understand that it's a good cause - but so is, say, the Humane Society, and I'd be equally pissed off to get a call from them.
posted by widdershins at 2:16 PM on October 18, 2004

I went door-to-door for the Dems in Reno, NV last weekend and I felt like a nuisance. I felt that the woman I was paired with - who did most of the talking - was a little too strident and talkative and that we may have alienated some undecided voters. If you're comfortable trying to influence people's decisions (I'm not) you might be fine with it.

We were told to give a survey, asking people who they would be likely to vote for in the presidential and local elections, and then briefly go over some talking points and leave some (Kerry) literature. That approach didn't seem too intrusive, but I still felt like a walking telemarketer who was annoying people.

The people who were planning to vote for Kerry were very friendly and invited us in to chat and let us use their bathrooms, and the people who didn't want to deal with us mostly didn't open their doors. So it wasn't a negative experience, but it also didn't seem very effective, though we did give a couple people information about how to register and vote.

Out of the 84 doors we knocked on, only 17 people answered, most of whom were for Kerry.
posted by bendy at 2:47 PM on October 18, 2004

I've done calling. Some people were rude. Some were polite. One person screamed that they were planning to vote but now they weren't going to because I had called them and annoyed them at home.
posted by bonheur at 3:19 PM on October 18, 2004

My mom refuses to vote for candidates who call her.
posted by philcliff at 3:59 PM on October 18, 2004

Right on. Thanks for confirming my fears (and for the grammar lesson!). I'll see if I can't find some other way to help in the meantime.
posted by Ufez Jones at 4:02 PM on October 18, 2004

For what it's worth, many analysts, looking at the Iowa caucuses, believe the influx of Deaniacs calling and knocking on doors hurt more than they helped.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:05 PM on October 18, 2004

As everyone suggested, don't do it. Also: See if you can get them to (voluntarily) obey the do-not-call list. Just because you don't have to doesn't mean it's not a wonderful way of screening out the people who probably won't appreciate being called.
posted by fvw at 6:06 PM on October 18, 2004

Well, I'll be the one guy to go the other way on this one. It may be that I feel this way because I'm currently working on a campaign, in which, of course, we phone call and door knock to get our point across, however, I would say it's quite effective. Or, rather, it's the most effective method we have so far. Sure, radio and television ads are the best, but they're also quite expensive. Calling is cheap, so everyone does it.
One thing that I would imagine (though, of course, I'm generalizing, for which I apologize) is that the users of MeFi trend introvert, and that's why you're finding people saying they hate it.
The truth is that you're not actually going to convince anyone to vote differently than they had intended. If you talk to undecided voters (and don't worry, there are ways to find out who the undecideds are, mostly just by asking them), most of them who are still undecided at this late date aren't going to make up their mind until they get into the booth anyhow. The reason you're calling is to let them know that there are people out there fighting for Kerry or Bush (or whoever your candidate is). The more people get that message, the more likely they are to consider your candidate when they make that split decision in the voting booth.

All that being said, making the phone calls themselves still isn't fun, especially if you do happen to be an introvert, like me.
posted by Inkoate at 9:02 PM on October 18, 2004

I'd already signed up for a phone bank for the Kerry campaign tonight, and seeing this thread this afternoon made me have second thoughts, but I'm glad I went through with it. I called about 50 numbers and talked to about 20 people. Most of them were going to vote for Kerry, two were voting for Bush, one hung up, and the rest didn't want to discuss it on the phone.

(I'd never been part of a phone bank before, and I strongly dislike getting calls myself, so I had already had some doubts, but most of the people were receptive. Overall I'd say it was a positive experience.)
posted by kirkaracha at 9:04 PM on October 18, 2004

Whatever you do, do NOT call my mom. She will not vote for a candidate who's campaign is willing to harrass her at home.
posted by Apoch at 10:21 PM on October 18, 2004

Phone banks have their uses. But face-to-face canvassing is much more effective. If you can hook up with a group like MoveOn's Leave No Voter Behind, or any of the other America Votes partners, that actually sends you door-to-door, you're much more likely to have your efforts pay off. That said, most of these organizations will likely use phone banks to call and remind people to vote.

This election will be close. GOTV is essential. Phone banks are just one way to help.
posted by dhartung at 11:34 PM on October 18, 2004

I don't know how much this applies to Americans, but I canvassed for the Conservative party in Canada only a few days before the election and the reaction was lukewarm, but definately, in general, not negative. I think I probably hit about 5 homes that said "no way", and one which was inhabited by hippies who said "don't waste your time man, GREEN PARTY ALL THE WAY! PARTY TIME! EXCELLENT!" (or some other pointless crap -- I doubt they'd be able to mark an "X" anyways). That was out of about 300 homes. I don't think anybody was swayed against voting by me.

That being said, I didn't wait there and argue over politics with them unless I was invited to. I simply left a leaflet and went on.

The key is to use a light touch, IMHO.

As I've found the reaction of someone supporting the conservative party strongly negative in the USA, let me explain to you that Canada's conservative party and the US' conservative party aren't in the least bit related (for example, Canada's conservative party is #2 in gov't)
posted by shepd at 12:47 AM on October 19, 2004

My boss made the mistake of contributing to the Bush campaign this year and we've been getting calls every day from Republican-affiliated groups as a result. Usually, they ask for my boss by name, we refuse to put them through (because they always mispronounce it, we can hear a phone bank in the background, and there's always that annoying pause right after you pick up the phone), then they refuse to leave a message.

On Friday, someone representing National Republican Congressional Committee called, and I asked him to remove our name from his call list. He refused! He said, "Only [boss's name here] can ask to have their name removed." I responded, "If you don't stop calling here, we're going to start donating money to Kerry."

That threat is the only thing that gets them to stop calling.

It heartens me, as a Democrat, to see how desperate some of the Republican tactics have become. We got a solicitation at the office the other day that had a dollar bill in a clear plastic bag.
posted by MegoSteve at 6:13 AM on October 19, 2004

When I lived in the UK, we'd get calls from all the major parties (it was a marginal constituency). We started telling them all we were voting for them, but they'd lose our vote if they ever called again. The calls soon stopped. I find it hard to believe such calls ever won many votes.
posted by normy at 6:45 AM on October 19, 2004

So would it then be worthwhile to start a group in support of Candidate Y called "Candidate X Loves America" that calls up registered voters during dinner and primetime, sometimes twice?

"Hi, I'm calling from Candidate X Loves America and I'd thought you'd like to hear ten reasons why Candidate X Loves America!"

"Er, I'm eating dinner right now..."

"Reason One is that America is beautiful!"

"Listen, please stop. I have to go." Click.

Two minutes later: "Hi, I'm calling from Candidate X Loves America and I'd thought you'd like to hear ten reasons why Candidate X Loves America!"

"Argh! That's it! I'm voting for Candidate Y!"

Or is that Rove-ian?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:30 PM on October 19, 2004

In 1990, I did some phone calling for Wellstone's first run at the U.S. Senate. Sat in a union hall for a couple of hours, for a couple of nights. My call list was "get out the vote" type calls. It turned out they were all ancient Scandinavians in a nursing home in Duluth, and I think they were fairly happy to talk to anyone. Kind of a cream-puff assignment.

Gentle reminders, quick surveys, GOTV type stuff, I don't think most people mind those. Makes you feel like you're part of the action or getting recognized, but doesn't put a bunch of responsibility on you. Plus, it makes your cause/candidate seem organized and on the move.

Getting a heavy sales pitch, even for something you agree with, most people are pretty allergic to that.
posted by gimonca at 12:54 PM on October 19, 2004

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