Deep vs Traditional Canvassing: which Technique Best Suits You?

We've spotted two methods of canvassing: deep and traditional. Which one should you choose for your campaign?

Eimear O'Neill
5 min read
Deep vs Traditional Canvassing: which Technique Best Suits You?

Canvassing, for any purpose, can be a challenge. Organizing teams of volunteers, training them to engage with the public, and providing them with the resources they need to do this efficiently, is no easy feat. That’s why it’s essential to have a clear understanding of the type of canvassing action you’re hoping to organize before beginning the process. One of the most important questions to ask as part of this is what style of canvassing you want your volunteers to engage in. Primarily, this will involve deciding whether you want your supporters to adopt the tactics usually associated with deep canvassing, or to engage in more traditional methods. In this article, we have outlined the key characteristics of both forms of canvassing to help you make this decision, and to ensure that your canvassing action gets off on the right foot. 

Deep vs Traditional: What’s the Difference?

Canvassing or door-to-door is one of the oldest and most widely used methods of making direct contact with the public in order to gain support for a cause or campaign, or to recruit donors and volunteers. Over time, two methods of canvassing have developed: deep and traditional. Traditional canvassing involves having short, pithy conversations with those you encounter and focusing primarily on delivering the key facts related to your message. Deep canvassing, by comparison, centers around having long, empathetic conversations with members of the public in order to shift their opinion. The intention is to share personal stories and to listen to the perspective of your community members-instead of simply conveying the key facts-in order to sway prevailing beliefs. 

Determining which method best suits your message and your volunteers will require looking at the benefits of each:

The Benefits of Deep Canvassing

- Build emotionally fueled arguments instead of factual ones:

Every successful argument must be, to some extent, built on facts. Facts alone, however, cannot compel someone to respond to and connect with your argument. Only through emotion can your convictions move the person you’re speaking with, and it is from this basis that deep canvassing operates. By appealing to the emotional intelligence of your community instead of purely the rational, deep canvassing allows your campaign or cause's messaging to have a more lasting impact on your community. 

- Adjust your message to your community’s needs:

Deep canvassing focuses on the practice of not only delivering information to local citizens, but actively listening to their needs too. In this way, your volunteers can gain useful insights into the concerns and interests of your community and feed this back to you. This information can help you to tailor your messaging to ensure it is appropriately focused on the needs of your locality, thereby increasing the chances that your campaign or cause will appeal to local citizens and gain their support.

- Long-lasting effects:

Deep canvassing has been proven to be effective in the long-run- according to a 2018 study completed by Kalla and Broockman, short phone calls and television advertisements are only capable of changing opinions for approximately one week. Deep canvassing, by comparison, has the potential to change opinions for as long as three months. This makes it a particularly useful technique for anyone hoping to change opinions in the long-term. 

Given the aforementioned benefits posed by deep canvassing, it’s hard to imagine why you would begin any action without using this technique. Despite this, however, it’s important to recognize the drawbacks of this form of canvassing, and the benefits of traditional canvassing that might make it a more natural fit with your canvassing efforts:

The Benefits of Traditional Canvassing

- Shorter periods of engagement:

Traditional canvassing involves having conversations of approximately 10 minutes per contact. Deep canvassing, by comparison, usually requires conversations of anywhere between 30 minutes and one hour per contact. Clearly, this means that traditional canvassing allows for substantially more contacts to be reached within the action period, allowing your message to spread further and saving you valuable time in the process. 

- Easier to train:

Learning off a script alone will not be enough to prepare volunteers to knock on doors for deep canvassing; as it involves in-depth conversations and responding spontaneously to the emotional reactions of those you encounter, the process of adequately training volunteers to deep canvass is particularly arduous and time-consuming. Traditional canvassing, by comparison, centers around volunteers sharing a certain set of facts with the public, thereby requiring them to simply learn off these facts ahead of entering the field. This makes the training process for traditional canvassing far more time-efficient and less laborious than other methods of canvassing.

- Willingness of volunteers to canvass this way:

The idea of engaging in deep, emotional conversations with strangers can be a daunting task. For this reason, volunteers might be discouraged from getting involved in an action if it involves deep canvassing. Simply reciting a script, however, is a much less demanding ask of volunteers, and one that most people would be willing to attempt. In this way, utilizing a traditional canvassing method may encourage more supporters to offer their time and efforts to your action than deep canvassing may. 

Which Method of Canvassing should you use?

As both forms of canvassing are effective and have their own benefits and drawbacks, choosing which method best suits you will depend on a number of different, individualistic factors. To help you make this decision, we’ve provided an overview below of the factors to consider when determining which method would work best for you:

Factors that influence canvassing methods


Choosing which form of canvassing to engage in-traditional or deep- will depend upon the individual traits of your organization and message, including how many volunteers you have, how much time you have, and the kind of messages you want to spread. The most important thing is to pick one type and to stick to it. That way you can provide clear guidance to your volunteers and reap the benefits of your canvassing method of choice, whether that’s deep or traditional.

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