“Joe Biden is in the crapper!” These are the words from a Virginia voter Virginia’s SD-31 from the warmth of his doorway to a volunteer standing in a drizzling rain. But he didn’t stop there. Voters in the DC Metro region often have a lot to say about government while safe in their own homes to our canvassers. “Hunter Biden gets more headlines than the president. I used to be grateful that Biden wasn’t a narcissist, but it is effecting his approval ratings.”
Sounds smart, right? Well, let’s not get carried away. It’s just not that simple.
The polls that came out this weekend are, to say the least, unsettling. And i will come down hard on that. There’s a reason why campaigns don’t use public polling results. They don’t measure what matters to a campaign — and they don’t give you any useful information about how to win. (They do help them sell newspapers, though. And, boy, are they loved by pundits!) They would be a better indicator if the country used the popular vote to determine who is president, but we don’t. The Electoral College determines that, not the popular vote. I can’t really remember the last time a Republican was elected president who also won the popular vote.
Hope Springs from Field PAC has been knocking on doors in the Swing Electoral College states for several years now, and the results we have been getting are not unsettling. They feel normal, especially when we compare it to what we found during the Obama Administration. Voters know Joe Biden, just as they thought they knew Barack Obama.
Now Barack Obama would be the first to argue that voters didn’t really know him — and a lot of voters projected their own thoughts about where the country needed to go upon him. But you can see in the graphic to the right above that this is the period when Obama reached one of his lowest points. Mitch McConnell had even declared in an interview with the National Journal that "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." Some things never change. Lots of hand-wringing then, too.
Voters are more critical at this point in the election cycle because they are comparing the incumbent with the perfect ideal in their minds. Americans don’t tend to be a “satisfied” people, we always want more, better, something. And the one person we have assigned to provide that more, better and something is the president. It isn’t until both nominations have been decided that voters turn towards a comparison between the two nominees, that voters begin to compare the incumbent to the other party’s nominee. Even with Trump as the likely Republican nominee, only the Trump voters are comparing Trump against the sitting President. Perhaps hard core Democrats, too. Perhaps.
Here’s the tell: Republicans are telling pollsters that electability is a top priority — they want to be beat Joe Biden badly — yet they think Trump is the most electable primary candidate, despite polls telling us otherwise.
Joe Biden is only popular in comparison to Donald Trump. His quiet optimism, his beliefs in his mission, in working together with both sides to reach consensus and American leadership to guide the world just don’t correspond to where Americans think we are today. Except when contrasted against Donald Trump. At voter’s doors, we hear more complaints about Biden’s older way of thinking than his age. Bernie Sanders didn’t face that same issue.
But Sanders couldn’t beat Trump. Biden has. Getting back to the distorted way that Republican primary voters think about this election, though. If you are astounded at how they could see Trump as more electable, join the club. The WSJ really defined the problem GOP primary voters are overlooking when they did their poll in August (pdf):
The survey also found Trump running about dead-even with President Biden among voters overall in a hypothetical rematch of the 2020 election, with low interest among voters for two third-party candidates. Trump had 40% support to 39% for Biden, with potential Green Party and Libertarian candidates drawing a combined 3%. A significant share—some 17%—were undecided.
“A significant share—some 17%—were undecided.” Wonder how many of those 17% didn’t want to choose between Biden and Trump? Hope Springs from Field volunteers have been asking voters about their concerns for our country, and their state and local communities, since June 2021 in the Swing States that are going to decide this election. But we aren’t knocking on doors in the urban areas (for the most part) where Democrats dominate; we have been knocking on doors in the swingy suburban communities where national elections are now decided. About half — in some places, more than half — of the voters we talk to each Saturday are independent or unaffiliated voters, people who almost never pull a primary ballot (and in some states, they can’t) and don’t feel attached to political parties in general. Their political ideology, in most cases, is, as one voter put it, “They should just work it out.” As much as partisans like us hate the thought of compromise, these voters — that “some 17%” — can’t really think in other terms. They despise the political infighting. That’s why they aren’t affiliated with either party. “Quit bickering,” they tell us.
Hope Springs from Field speaks to them — and to Democrats, as well — by our voter driven, deep organizing canvassing approach to direct, personal voter contact. When we talk to voters, we aren’t trying to convince them of Democrat’s virtues, we are showing them. We allow voters to direct our conversations at the door. We use an Issues Survey (example to the left), which volunteers are supposed to show voters as we start to ask questions. We find that voters willingly answer the questions they want to share with us, and most responses are immediate. Visceral even. Which is what we want.
Most voters who choose to respond — and we have a fairly high response rate (although it varies from state to state and from Saturday to Saturday) — almost always answer the “most important issue facing the country (Q2)” question and some voters will even answer all three (federal, state and local) with different responses. For example, when we were running GOTV in Ohio for the Issue 1 special election, we would often have voters who would tell us that, say, the Economy was their Number 1 national issue but that Reproductive Healthcare was their Number 1 state issue. But other voters would say Reproductive Freedom was their Number 1 national issue. Other voters wouldn’t mention abortion as a Top National, State or Local Issue but would tell us that Reproductive Rights was the “single issue that determines” how they vote. All of these voters were abortion voters and they were all put into our GOTV universe for the special election last month.
Since March 4, Hope Springs from Field volunteers have been knocking on doors (as weather permitted) in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Virginia. These all are critical states that will determine who is President and which party controls the Senate in 2025. So, not much at stake.
We canvass Democrats and unaffiliated voters with a systematic approach that reminds them not only that Democrats care, but Democrats are determined to deliver the best government possible to all Americans.
Obviously, we rely on grassroots support, so if you support field/grassroots organizing, voter registration (and follow-up) and our efforts to protect our voters, we would certainly appreciate your support:
Hope Springs from Field understands that volunteer to voter personal interactions are critical. Knocking on doors has repeatedly been found to be the most successful tactic to get voters to cast a ballot and that is the goal of what we do.
As you can see from one of the questionnaires we use, open ended questions give voters a lot of latitude to tell us where they are coming from. And what we hear from them confirms what we are seeing in the national surveys of independent voters, especially in their attitudes towards Trump.
For instance, a May 2023 Quinnipiac University poll found Trump attracting 60 percent among Republicans, but just 46 percent among Republican-leaning independents. Earlier this month, Quinnipiac found Trump pulling in 67 percent of Republicans, compared with 47 percent of GOP leaners. And across national surveys conducted since Aug. 1 with available crosstab data, we usually saw a meaningful gap in support for Trump between Republicans and independents.
But getting back to that voter we mentioned at the top, Trump is dominating the headlines (even if TFG wishes he was dominating them by more) while Biden is quietly going about his duty of governing the country. Voters even tell us that they wish Biden was doing more on issues they care about. The problems incumbents have.
Here’s the thing: voters tell us they are affected by the very fact that we knock on their door, make sure they are registered at their current address, survey them on political issues, ask if they need public services or have witnessed voter intimidation, fraud or suppression. How do we know that? Because i ask them.
For decades i have had a practice of calling 10 organizers, 10 volunteers and 10 voters each week we were knocking on doors. It started as a way to check up on our volunteers and make sure they are being honest about the work they turn in. So if a volunteer comes back and reports they knocked on 70 doors and talked to 12 voters (with the subsequent paperwork) you can be sure those are the voters i will be calling that week. Hey, it happens. And sometimes, the volunteer is being truthful and sometimes we discourage the volunteer from coming back to knock on doors. The data we are collecting is only meaningful if it is accurate. In cases were volunteers exaggerate their results, we throw those voters back into the pile to canvass (again?) later.
But the voters i do talk to midweek tend to be really honest about this systematic approach Hope Springs from Field uses. Lots of voters tell me how much they appreciate the fact that we ask voters if they want to request public services. I haven’t talked to a whole bunch of voters midweek who actually did fill out a Constituent Service Request form, but they express appreciation for the fact they ask. Volunteers are much more likely to hear from the voters who did fill one out and get their requests honored. And that always excites groups. It definitely makes our volunteers feel like they are doing something good for their communities.
They just like being asked and having the option to address their government. This isn’t the only way that we give voters that kind of opportunity, though. Volunteers also walk with Observation Forms and Q(uestion) Slips. Q-Slips allow us to relay voters questions to candidates and give their campaigns opportunities to respond. Some do and some don’t. But this approach means that volunteers don’t have to be experts in Democratic (or Democratic candidate’s) positions. If a voter asks a volunteer something about the president’s position, we ask them if they want to fill out a Q-slip. These will be passed along to the campaign which has the opportunity to provide an official explanation. We haven’t had anyone (that i know of) ask the president a question, but voters have asked things about other Democrats on their ballot and campaigns have answered them. We especially know that because we have been in Georgia over several cycles now and voters tell us.
I mentioned above that one of the most popular things on the Issues Survey the elicits voter responses are the Top Issue questions. In Georgia, when we started canvassing in the Atlanta metro area, we started to see how independents, especially, feel about Trump — in this case, vis-a-vis their concern for public safety in light of the forthcoming Trump indictment and trial. In the Atlanta area, the possibility of a Trump indictment was discussed in the media for months, and voters responded to that attention with some concern.
You can see how voters went from relatively normal concerns to focus on the twice-impeached, 4 times indicted and now convicted sexual predator among primarily Atlanta area voters. We also canvass in the Black Belt, but these southern Georgia voters don’t share this concern. Concerns expressed over Trump, political extremism and stability would be even higher if we didn’t canvass these two distinct areas about equally.
Once again, we find that these responses are similar to what we are hearing from the national media surveys. “Over Half of Voters Approve of Trump’s Federal Indictments” nationally. Another article put it this way, “How Trump’s legacy became ‘pure poison’ for independents.”
The GOP’s 2022 struggles with independents were especially striking because they came even as most of those voters expressed negative views of both President Joe Biden’s job performance and the state of the economy – sentiments that typically cause most swing voters to break for the party out of the White House. To many analysts in both parties, the reluctance of so many independents to support Republican candidates despite such discontent underscores how powerfully the Trump-era GOP has alienated these voters.
In a different, more recent article, “53% of Americans say they would definitely not support him if he is the nominee. Another 11% say they would probably not support him in November 2024.”
We seem locked into another Biden v. Trump election, not necessarily something anyone wants. I like to tell people to remember that candidates are self-selected, especially in with male candidates. But even if we are locked into a Biden v. Trump election, that doesn’t mean that things will be the same as 2020. Democrats fought 2020 with our hands tied because we respected our voters’ attitudes about the global pandemic. We wanted our voters to live. So we didn’t really canvass — do this kind of direct, personal voter contact in 2020.
That was one of the reasons Hope Springs from Field was created. Over the last three years, we have knocked on more than 6 million doors, talked to more than half a million voters and have been inputting the data we collected into VAN, the Democratic database, available to all Democrats who use that database in general elections. So instead of walking into 2024 with our hands tied behind our backs, we go into it with a distinct advantage that we wouldn’t have had in 2020, even if we had chosen to knock on doors during the campaign (many places, Democrats started to do so during GOTV).
There doesn’t really seem to be anyone on our side doing this kind of direct, in-person voter contact. Not exactly sure why, but we see every weekend that Republicans — or, rather, conservative orgs — are. We are trying to catch up, although they rely on paid staff while we rely on grassroots volunteers.
If you would like to support our efforts to protect Democratic voters, especially in minority communities, expand the electorate, and believe in grassroots efforts to increase voter participation and election protection, please help:
If you would rather send a check, you can follow that link for our mailing address, as well. Thank you for your support. This work depends on you!