Beau Trudel ’10 and other undergraduate volunteers who are part of Dartmouth Students for Barack Obama took part in a state-wide canvassing day for Sen. Obama, D-Ill, on Saturday. While some canvassers received a less warm welcome, Trudel, who is “communications director” for the group, found that most people responded enthusiastically.
“I’ve done canvassing before, and even I was surprised by how overwhelmingly positive the response was,” Trudel said.
While the larger Hanover area may react positively to political canvassers, David Imamura ’10, a member of Dartmouth for Bill Richardson, remembers receiving a less friendly reaction while canvassing for Senator John Kerry, D-Mass., in Pennsylvania during the 2004 election.
“I was canvassing with a friend of mine, going door to door,” Imamura said. One resident threw the pot of boiling water he had been holding at him.
“There are a lot of perils when you canvass,” Imamura said.
Michael Brasher ’10, president of Dartmouth for Hillary, agrees.
“It does take a bit of courage to knock on doors you’re not familiar with,” Brasher said.
While at times nerve-wracking, Brasher feels that residents are generally cordial in their treatment of students who are trying to spread information.
“You’re not forcing a message down someone’s throat, you’re offering them a chance to connect with a campaign and receive more information,” Brasher said.
However, Trudel did acknowledge that knocking on doors is not a neutral activity.
“Political canvassing is, in a sense, intrusive because you’re going right up to people’s homes, which takes quite a bit of bravery for the volunteers,” Trudel acknowledged.
Many students canvass in order to help their candidates gain name recognition. This is not a significant concern for candidates who appear in the news regularly, like Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., or Obama. However, for those who support politicians like Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., canvassing is an critical part of the campaign.
“Most people have never heard of [Richardson], but they’re going to,” Imamura said. “You go door to door, you talk to people, and you say there’s this guy, he’s been nominated four times for the Nobel Peace Prize, he brokered the ceasefire in Darfur, he was the Clinton administration’s chief diplomat to North Korea, and he was re-elected governor of New Mexico last year with the highest margin of victory in state history. People don’t know that.”
“You tell people how great a candidate Richardson is, and how great a president he would be,” Imamura said. “You go around, you talk to people, and you tell them how qualified he is, and people change their minds.”
While the name-raising component of canvassing may not be as important for supporters of Clinton or Obama, Brasher believes it is still a vital part of the campaign efforts.
“When you have people who can deliver a message in a polite way, it can never hurt,” Brasher said. “You’re telling someone, ‘I’m here because I believe in this candidate, I believe we can do better, and I believe we can change this country.'”
As a first-in-the-nation primary state, New Hampshire is one of the focal points for canvassing and has played a decisive role in determining who will win the nomination for each party’s Presidential bid.
“There’s a sense of responsibility that people in New Hampshire have that I think is not as strong in the rest of the country,” Imamura said. “People in New Hampshire really feel strongly about their politics.”