(This article originally appeared in Focus on the Family Citizen magazine, April 2008 Issue)
by Evelyn Hess
Now that the election is near, it’s time to hit the phones—the phones at your candidate’s or party’s headquarters.
Few efforts are more effective in getting people to vote than a personal phone call. Every individual you persuade to vote could make the difference in your candidate’s election out- come. You’ve heard the stories in which a candidate won by a few votes. So it’s time to get busy.
“Phone banking”— as it’s called in political circles — is easy. You’re given a cell phone to use. You dial a number from a list the campaign provides. And you read a script encouraging people to get out and vote for your candidate. Any- body can do it — even a 9-year-old.
Phoning is flexible, too. You can go to the campaign headquarters and make phone calls during your lunch hour, or be like Ty Fehrman, a teen activist from Mt. Vernon, Ohio, who did phone banking for 13 hours straight in one day.
Josiah Weekley, a teen activist from Columbia, Conn., said “phone banking is safer than precinct walking because you don’t have to be concerned about walking up to some- one’s door,” where you may face angry people or barking dogs.
But for all its simplicity, phone banking poses some challenges for families. I asked a panel of veteran grassroots activists around the nation — families we’ve featured throughout this series — about their experiences. Here’s a summary of their responses.
The campaign staff will provide a list of names and phone numbers of registered voters. They may ask that you note what happened with each call—whether you left a message or spoke with the voter, and whether they voted early. On one campaign I worked with, I was told to ask people whom they voted for and record their answers. I thought the question violated people’s privacy, but I complied. I soon learned that the question made the people I called very uncomfortable. I politely informed the campaign staff that I would no longer ask that question, and explained my reasons. The staff accepted my decision.
Personalizing The Script
Once you receive a phone script, think about how to make it sound authentic, and keep it short.
“Customize it to make it more natural,” Weekley said. “You want to be able to convey your message in the space of 20 seconds.” If someone isn’t home, leave a message. There is a script provided just for that, too.
Julie Smyth, a teen activist from Colorado Springs, Colo., personalized her script by telling the people she talked to, “Have a blessed day,” instead of just saying, “Goodbye.” Also make sure you understand the message of the script.
Charity and Christy Moore, two teenage sisters from Harrisburg, Pa., discussed the script first with their mom to make sure they really understood what they were saying to people.
When I first started calling voters, I was nervous someone would ask me a question I couldn’t answer. Although it has never happened to me, it did happen to John Wolcott, a father of two in Banks, Ore. “I let them know that I would get the answer and call them right back,” Wolcott said. “People seemed to appreciate that. Sometimes a candidate would sit alongside of us and make phone calls, too. I would listen to how they handled calls and answered questions.”
Every family I interviewed said the most difficult aspect of phone banking was handling negative responses. “Sometimes you will never encounter anyone who is firmly for your candidate,” Weekly said. “Instead of being discouraged or disrespectful, understand that this is why you need to call people to encourage them to support your candidate.” When Denise Mills, a mother of four from Hurst, Texas, had her 9-year-old daughter, Andrea, help with phoning, one person demanded, “How old are you? You have no business doing anything with politics.” The person was still dissatisfied when Andrea explained that she was a student volunteer. “I told my daughter, ‘You do care about these laws. They affect the way you live,’ ” Mills said.
Phoning People Repeatedly
Campaign officials sometimes ask volunteers to call potential voters repeatedly, even several times in one evening. “As I called people and said my script, several people became angry and said, ‘I’ve received 10 calls and I’m sick of it!’” Mills said. “People really hate you after eight calls,” agreed Julie Smyth, the teen from Colorado. Julie’s mother, Debbie, said campaign staff told her that people are more likely to vote if they receive eight calls. “But one person I called was upset and told me that because we had called so many times, she wouldn’t vote for our candidate,” Smyth said. “It was very discouraging, very frustrating.” Our family experienced similar complaints while working on a campaign in northern Colorado. My children and I had just finished phoning a long list of people, so I asked for more phone numbers and names. When a campaign staff member handed me new lists, I immediately recognized many of the names. I pointed out to the staff per- son that we had just phoned some of these people 10 minutes earlier, and I requested yet another list. But the “new” list included people who received calls several days earlier. Some of them threatened to vote for the opposition if I called again. “You have to have a servant-minded attitude to do phone banking,” Debbie Smyth said. “When people get angry with you, treat them with respect, and be polite.” And if you’re asked to phone people again and again? “Use your judgment,” said Corie Moore, the mother of Charity and Christy, “and pray for wisdom.”