What is the meaning of canvassing?

Written by jessica roy
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What is the meaning of canvassing?
Talking to people one-on-one is a popular type of canvassing. (handshake image by Dušan Zidar from Fotolia.com)

Canvassing is reaching out to people (by going door-to-door or via phone) in a specific area or neighbourhood to learn more information about the residents and their preferences. Canvassing has a number of practical applications including registering voters, garnering support for a candidate or issue, fund-raising, soliciting orders for a product or service, determining census figures and finding out peoples' opinions on a given topic.

How it Works

Canvassing is a means of disseminating information to or from people on a one-on-one basis. It is often done by volunteers for a cause or political campaign.

Canvassing can be used politically in a number of ways. Volunteers or campaign workers go door-to-door to try and get people to support a certain candidate or issue. Canvassing can also be done over the phone.

Salespeople utilise canvassing to solicit orders from people for a product (such as a magazine subscription) or a service (housecleaning, babysitting, etc.)

Significance and Popularity

The U.S. Census uses Address Canvassing to determine the location of every residence in the country. In 2010, U.S. Census workers conducted Address Canvassing with the aid of GPS-enabled, handheld computers.

A study performed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 22.9 per cent of people who had volunteered between September 2001 and September 2002 had done some form of canvassing, campaigning or fund-raising.

Field Canvassing

Field canvassing is the traditional kind of canvassing, in which people knock on doors and talk face-to-face "in the field." Since most people aren’t receptive to having a lengthy conversation with a total stranger, most political canvassers choose to drop off pamphlets and other literature in lieu of chatting up voters. Sometimes, instead of going to every house in a neighbourhood, canvassers will target voters registered to their party or people who have expressed an interest in their cause.

What is the meaning of canvassing?
Going door-to-door is one way of canvassing an area. (heurtoir de porte image by cris13 from Fotolia.com)

Phone Canvassing

It’s faster to call people instead of visiting their home. Phonebanking is when canvassers call voters and talk to them using a pre-written script.

What is the meaning of canvassing?
Canvassing over the phone is also known as phonebanking. (business call image by Gerald Bernard from Fotolia.com)

Legal Issues

Canvassing has been the subject of several laws and lawsuits. In 2009, the non-partisan group Ohio Citizen Action filed a lawsuit against the town of Canal Winchester, Ohio, after the town passed a law that required background checks and annual licenses for some canvassers. Ohio Citizen Action alleged that banning canvassers was a violation of First Amendment rights. The group filed complaints against similar laws in earlier years.

In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief stating their opposition to Puerto Rico’s law against Jehovah’s Witnesses ministering door-to-door. The brief included a statement about how the law affected the free speech of political canvassers.

Several towns and states have restrictions on or laws against door-to-door solicitation, or require canvassers to apply for a license or other type of permit.

What is the meaning of canvassing?
U.S. laws against canvassing have been challenged on First Amendment grounds. (rhode island state capitol image by Ritu Jethani from Fotolia.com)

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