A Low-information Voter Becomes an Engaged Voter

Dave and C Deep Canvass Conversation


I met C in January 2019, when we had begun re-canvassing the voters we spoke with before the November 2018 election. The goal was to find out what impact we had with our earlier conversations.


For C, our impact was considerable. For the first time in her life, C voted in a midterm election; got her ballot by mail several weeks before election day; found time to research every item in advance; and voted in every contest and on every measure, including but not limited to the highly competitive race for Congress.


C described with real pride the precise system she developed to do her research and her feelings as she did it: satisfaction; an awareness of her own competence; and the discovery that she liked the feeling of understanding what voting was all about and how important it was.


Our hypothesis: this is what it looks like when a low-information, infrequent voter is on the path to becoming an informed, engaged voter.


A big part of this transformation was both political and personal. C told me about her parents, both of whom are immigrants and not eligible to vote. As the remaining unmarried child, she says Hispanic culture teaches “family first” and therefore her role is to live with her parents and take care of them.


When I asked her when had she first learned and embraced the idea of “family first,” she thought back and realized it happened sophomore year in high school, when she ended up with significant child care responsibilities for a new-born, her niece M. Her brother and sister-in-law were consumed with their jobs; all of a sudden, it fell to teenage C to be the primary one raising the baby.


“I won’t lie, going to school at night kind of sucked” to take care of a baby that wasn’t hers. At first, she felt put-upon. Then, over time, she realized how good she felt to take care of someone else.
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Caring for others, having them depend on you and you depending on them: that was the value on which she and I bonded, because the story I had told her to start our conversation was about that same basic value. I told her about my ex-partner,


Dave N.; we were together for eighteen years, until we broke up in 2002, and yet still looked out for each other.
We also bonded around the realization that our commitment to caring for others was the opposite of everything Donald Trump did, the way he was gratuitously cruel to people. C called him “a joke.”


The discussion of Trump lasted less than a minute of our 20-minute+ conversation. The minute mattered, because it gave C a chance to think about how to apply to her vote her concern for the people she loves.


But my strong impression, and our experience in our canvassing, the big jump in motivation to vote for C. came first and foremost from her reflecting on how strongly she felt—how much it mattered—to help her Mom and Dad and her niece any way she could. With that desire top of mind, then she connected the dots and knew she needed to vote. And so she did.