My wife is the kind of person who volunteers every election season, knocking on doors to canvass for a candidate. I’m the kind of person who immediately shuts the door.
I don’t do phone surveys, I hang up on callers both robo and real, and I never, ever, offer my hard-earned (or easily earned) money for some promises in a suit. Some, my wife among them, would argue that keeping my cash to myself can mean giving it up to the government later. And I’m willing to take that chance.
This is not to say that I don’t follow politics. I have my leanings and my opinions. I make the effort to research not only the major candidates but also the lesser players before I close the curtain. Though I turn off the porch light to avoid those canvassing trick-or-treaters, I am an informed voter.
Personally, I take pride in knowing I’ve done my own homework, without any outside influence. I don’t need a campaign volunteer to enlighten me on the issues. And I am happy to not make a difference.
That is, after all, the big reason for volunteering around election season. People want to make a difference — not only to inform the voting public but to possibly change a person’s mind.
This is all well and good, but it makes one big and tenuous assumption — that people are willing to have their opinions swayed by earnest young persons on their doorsteps. In a quick survey conducted right here at my desk (sample size, one), it turns out that this is 100 percent unlikely to happen.
Who are these people, sitting at home, mindlessly watching an Ab-Blender infomercial, waiting for somebody to come and give them a political opinion? Perhaps this was more prevalent in the past, before every car had a candidate’s sticker and every yard had a plastic sign. These days, if you don’t know which way you’re going by the final week, you’re just looking for someone to talk to.
Still, this applies only to the major candidates. Rare is the wonkish yard peppered with a sign for every candidate and issue on the ballot. Every four years, millions of citizens head to the polls to pull the lever for president and find themselves playing "connect the dots" with the remaining pages.
So maybe there’s something to this volunteer spirit after all. The smaller causes and state-level candidates often get lots of airtime, but there’s only so much you can say in a commercial. It’s tough to get media attention, let alone face-to-face time with your constituents on a bush-league budget.
But it takes two special kinds of people for this miracle of our government to work. First, you need the kind of person who is willing to hear out a volunteer, to stand on a doorstep and listen to a pitch or stay on the line as the recorded voice makes the plea.
And second, you need the kind of person who is willing to make that plea, and to suffer a thousand hang-ups and slammed doors to make it. Thankfully for our time-honored system, we have both kinds of people out there making it happen. Because, as the local candidate for state senator knows, I’m certainly not one of them.
(Ben Grabow writes for the young, the urban and the easily amused. Contact him at thinlyread(at)gmail.com.)