AskDefine | Define canvass

Dictionary Definition



1 the setting for a narrative or fictional or dramatic account; "the crowded canvas of history"; "the movie demanded a dramatic canvas of sound" [syn: canvas]
2 an inquiry into public opinion conducted by interviewing a random sample of people [syn: poll, opinion poll, public opinion poll]
3 a large piece of fabric (as canvas) by means of which wind is used to propel a sailing vessel [syn: sail, canvas, sheet]
4 a tent made of canvas [syn: canvas tent, canvas]
5 an oil painting on canvas [syn: canvas]
6 the mat that forms the floor of the ring in which boxers or professional wrestlers compete; "the boxer picked himself up off the canvas" [syn: canvas]
7 heavy closely woven fabric (used for clothing or chairs or sails or tents) [syn: canvas]


1 get the opinions (of people) by asking specific questions [syn: poll, canvas]
2 solicit votes from potential voters in an electoral campaign [syn: canvas]
3 consider in detail and subject to an analysis in order to discover essential features or meaning; "analyze a sonnet by Shakespeare"; "analyze the evidence in a criminal trial"; "analyze your real motives" [syn: analyze, analyse, study, examine, canvas]

User Contributed Dictionary





  1. a solicitation of voters or opinions
  2. a public opinion survey


  1. to solicit voters or opinions
  2. to conduct a survey


  • ADAM BERENDT, who canvassed through Rockland County on behalf of education, environmental, and gun control bond issues. - "Middle Age : A Romance" (2001) by Joyce Carol Oates (Fourth Estate, paperback edition, 5)

Extensive Definition

Canvassing is the systematic initiation of direct contact with a target group of individuals commonly used during political campaigns. A campaign team (and during elections a candidate) will knock on doors of private residences within a particular geographic area, engaging in face-to-face personal interaction with voters. Canvassing may also be performed by telephone, where it is referred to as telephone canvassing. The main purpose of canvassing is to perform voter identification - how individuals are planning to vote - rather than to argue with or persuade voters. This preparation is an integral part of a 'get out the vote' operation, in which known supporters are contacted on polling day and reminded to cast their ballot.
Similar techniques may be used by non-governmental organizations, labor unions, religious denominations such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, poll takers, and even commercial enterprises such as door-to-door salespeople.

Purposes of canvassing

The above qualification notwithstanding, canvassing may be performed to achieve a combination of the following objectives. For example a canvass focused on persuading people to vote for a particular candidate or ballot issue may also solitcit funds and sign up new members to an organization:
  • Identifying supporters (voter identification or voter ID) in preparation for a Get out the vote (GOTV) operation.
  • Performing GOTV during an election, known as 'knocking up'
  • Distributing information and printed materials
  • Winning individuals by persuasion
  • Fundraising
  • Signing up new members
  • Voter registration

Canvassing and GOTV

A key concept in canvassing is to target the population that is being contacted. For example if the goal of a canvass is to turn out voters on election day for a Democratic candidate then knocking on Republican doors may not be a great use of time and resources. Targeting can be quite complex and sophisticated and may employ voting history data, census data, and consumer habits. Part of an overall field strategy may be to do a canvass focussed on identifying likely supporters who will then be approached at a later date by another canvass for GOTV. Even if sophisticated data is not available, most field operations professionals will spend energy trying to reduce randomness in their contacts in an attempt to optimize their use of time and resources.

Role of canvassing in persuasion

While converting voters would ideally be a central goal, it is difficult, requiring knowledgeable and charismatic canvassers, and time-consuming. To reach every voter in a district a canvasser cannot spend more than one or two minutes per person, rarely enough time to have a significant discussion. Persuasion canvassing will often involve the dropping of literature and campaign marketing materials like lawn signs, window signs, and bumper stickers (given to supporters). As canvassers work a population they will often make careful notes and use classification codes to record their interaction with the public.

Types of canvassing

Field canvasses

Field canvasses are done by going door to door to every home and apartment in a district, a ZIP code or some other unit of geographic measurement. They have the advantage that people are generally more open to talking to someone in person and literature can be delivered and lawn signs put up at the same time as the canvass. A field canvass can also guarantee completeness as each house can be accounted for. A field canvass is usually done by one or two individuals, either both at one door, or one on each side of the street.
For Contractors utilizing "Field Canvassing" it works best when working around a current or previous jobsite. Otherwise called Jobsite Radiation.
On election day itself a Party will often visit the homes of known supports asking them to vote, this process is often referred to as 'Knocking up'.

Candidate canvasses

A variation of the field canvass is a candidate canvass; these are done with the actual candidate in a district. With only one candidate, however, time is a valuable commodity. The candidate is thus usually accompanied by a half dozen or more volunteers who knock on doors. If they find no one home the candidate does not go to that home. If they find a person the volunteer finds out if they would like to meet the candidate. If they would the volunteer signals the candidate.

Phone canvasses

Canvassing can also be done by telephone by activists who will be working from a script. The following is an excerpt from a script used by the UK Labour Party in the build up to a general election:
Hello, can I speak to (voter's name) please? Hello (voter's name) my name is (name). I'm calling on behalf of (MP/parliamentary spokesperson). I'm calling to find out your views on the Labour government's priorities. Which of the following do you think are the three most important priorities for the government? [Lists five policy areas - 'better schools', 'better hospitals', 'more jobs', 'less crime' and 'strong economy'] Let me tell you what Labour is doing in these areas and what the Tories would do if they were re-elected [refers to 'dividing lines' table where Conservative policies are compared unfavourably with Labour]. Now can I ask you which party you think you will vote for at the next general election?
The script then divides into two sections based on whether the voter intends to support Labour or another party. The section for Labour supporters encourages the use of postal votes, asks whether the individual would consider displaying a poster in their window or deliver leaflets on their street and asks whether the individual would consider joining the party. The section for non-Labour voters asks the following questions:
  1. Which main political party do you identify with?
  2. There will be elections in (date), which party will you vote for at these elections?
  3. How did you vote in the last general election?
  4. Who would be your second choice?
  5. Do you vote at every election?
The script concludes by thanking the voter before ending the call.



For a critical review of fund-raising and canvassing in America, based on three months of canvassing and experience with only one organization, see: Fisher, Dana R. 2006. Activism, Inc.: How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns is Strangling Progressive Politics in America. Stanford University Press.
canvass in Hebrew: ציד קולות

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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