Canvassing to empty houses: knocking on doors in the smart doorbell era

Canvassing to empty houses: knocking on doors in the smart doorbell era

Since their debut just over a decade ago, smart doorbells have been a revelation for anyone interested in home security and, though most won’t admit it, being a bit nosey. They’ve also transformed door knocking for political canvassers.

While doorbell camera footage of passersby pilfering packages or behaving badly can be found all over the internet, spare a thought for those campaigning for the country’s future.

Canvassers from all major political parties have been warned about how careful they must be while knocking on doors. One campaign manager went as far as warning staff that they were being recorded at all times, in order to avoid the type of controversy that enveloped a Tory caught removing opposition leaflets from a home in May.

Danny Chambers, a Liberal Democrat candidate in Winchester, said there were benefits to smart doorbells for canvassers, including not just being able to talk to someone when they’re in the next room but when they are 1,000 miles away.

“I knocked on this door a few weeks ago but got no response. I tried their Ring doorbell and the man who lived there answered.” Chambers said he engaged the man in small talk, asking where he was, thinking he was perhaps just in the next room or sitting in his back garden. “He wasn’t even just out of the house, he was out of the country. He was sitting on a beach in Spain. He called his wife over and they both chatted to me for five minutes. They were lovely, and I think I got their vote.”

Chambers has found that the presence of doorbell cameras has also given some candidates a higher chance of knocking on a door they would otherwise have avoided.

“I went round a house but saw anti-canvassing ‘don’t knock here’ signs on the windows so I just left some leaflets. I was nearly out of the gate when the lady who lived there called me back, having seen me on her ring doorbell. Instead of abuse for leaving the leaflets, she asked me why I didn’t want to talk to her, and told me that the no-canvassing signs were to keep Tories away and she was more than happy to chat to me.”

The sense that smart doorbells are opening doors that may otherwise remain closed has been felt across the campaign trail. The former Labour MP Heidi Alexander says that with candidates being told to be on their best behaviour, she and other canvassers have found the experience of speaking to someone who isn’t there to be a strange blessing.

“No issues so far, if anything it increases our contact rate and sometimes you can have a conversation with someone when they aren’t even home,” said Alexander, who on one occasion was able to canvas to a resident via camera while they were having a soak in their bathtub.

The experiences haven’t been uniformly positive though.

Chambers relayed a story of one of his fellow Lib Dem campaigners knocking on a door and being asked to present his rosette to the camera. Upon seeing the yellow on his lapel, the campaigner said the resident proceeded to hurl abuse at him for the best part of 10 minutes, all from the comfort of his sofa.

Despite the opportunities doorbell cameras provide, a beneficial effect during this election is letting the people on the other side of the lens know they have been seen.

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After a day of campaigning for Labour around Hertfordshire, Alistair Strathern went through his emails and found a message from a resident of Bendish, a village with a population of just 57.

The sender wrote that they had moved to Bendish in 2017, and in the time since had not had anyone campaigning in elections ever knock on their door. They said they had just missed Strathern when he knocked but after reviewing their Ring footage they had seen it was him, red leaflets in hand.

The resident did not ask him for his policies or what he could do for them personally, they just wanted him to know how much it meant to them that he had bothered to try to speak to them, or even venture to their small village when it seems everybody else had forgotten.

“In the seven years I’ve lived here, no candidate has ever visited. So thank you, it’s REALLY appreciated. You will have my vote.”