The GOP's Achilles' Heel: Inside the Troubled World of Republican Canvassing

AP Photo/LM Otero

The Republican Party, after having a dismal showing in last year’s midterm elections, has still been trying to figure out what went wrong. Many on the right have pointed to issues like abortion, ineffective messaging, lack of election integrity, and other factors to explain why the red wave never materialized. But a new report suggests that the GOP might be better served by looking inward at its campaigning practices to identify what is likely a prime culprit in this matter.

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According to an article by NBC News, the Republican Party’s large-scale voter contact effort, which involves canvassing and door-knocking, is plagued with issues. The report reveals fraudulent and untrustworthy data entries, lax hiring practices, and a lack of accountability within the GOP’s field operations. The problems arose in several states during the 2022 midterm elections, including Nevada, Georgia, and Oregon. Concerns were raised by more than 20 Republicans with experience in canvassing operations, who emphasized the need for party leaders to address these issues.

The article highlights specific incidents, such as a canvasser in Nevada who marked off homes they never visited while sitting inside a casino. Similar issues were reported in Georgia, where high volumes of paper entries raised concerns about the accuracy and integrity of the data. The problems with canvassing, which has increasingly relied on paid workers rather than volunteers, have led to allegations of cheating and raised doubts about the effectiveness of the multimillion-dollar business.

The report referenced other instances in which paid canvassers fraudulently claimed to have visited a number of houses on behalf of the GOP. In reality, geolocation data showed they were far from the area where they were supposed to be canvassing. In response to the report, the Republican National Committee (RNC) acknowledged that some staffers were fired for entering fraudulent data and outlined steps taken to ensure the legitimacy of door-knocks, including geo-tracking and in-person oversight. However, the article suggests that the problems extend beyond isolated incidents.

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From the report:

In Nevada and Oregon, canvassing efforts overseen by a web of private consultants faced repeated snags as a number of paid door-knockers who parachuted into states during the final stretch of the campaign submitted faulty or questionable data, field operatives who oversaw those campaigns said. These operatives provided NBC News with geotracking data showing canvassers improperly marking off more than 200 homes as visited when they were actually far away from those locations.

Those episodes were caught and the staffers fired — costing critical time and money.

To put it simply, the Republican Party has been spending tens of millions of dollars on canvassing operations but is being defrauded by a significant chunk of the paid canvassers who are picking up paychecks while not actually knocking on doors. This might not seem like a huge issue, but when you consider the close Senate races in states like Nevada and Georgia, it is not difficult to see how this could easily be costing the GOP elections.

One national Republican operative said canvassing problems are exacerbated during general election cycles when there is “such a high demand in the ecosystem” for door-knockers but only a limited pool of trusted workers. The situation, this person said, could be improved by hiring door-knockers full-time rather than temporarily.

Another individual suggested that relying on unpaid volunteers would be a more effective way to ensure that workers are actually knocking on doors. It makes sense, considering they have no monetary motive to lie.

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During the 2018 elections, I knocked on doors for Republican candidates in Austin, TX. The other volunteers were unpaid and were gung-ho about ousting Democrats and getting Republican candidates elected. None were motivated by a paycheck.

The article suggests Democrats have an edge in this regard. Younger Americans are more likely to be willing to volunteer their time and energy for door-knocking, and the Democrats typically fare much better with this demographic than the Republicans. Still, the fact remains that if Republicans want to turn their electoral fortunes around, this is one of several issues they would have to fix. It might be convenient to blame outside factors for their losses. But in reality, it is the party that has to adjust its approach if it wants to win.

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