Monday, September 1, 2008

Please be nice to campaign callers

Once the convention confetti is cleaned up and all the candidates return to the campaign trail, your telephone will be ringing. Please don’t be mean to the political supporter at the other end of the line. It might be someone you know.

It won’t be me, though. I failed phone-banking. Didn’t even make it through my rookie two-hour stint. But it was educational. I’d forgotten how much it hurts when someone slams down a phone in your ear.

My adventure began one evening in a huge open office edged with desks occupied by people as young as my children. Not only was I the oldest person in the room, I may have been the only one from New Hampshire. It warmed my heart to know so many young people traveled here to work for our candidate. Only later did I realize they probably need outsiders because local volunteers like me aren’t tough enough.

I was led to a group of telephones lined up along the far wall (the phone bank) and handed a script so long even I'd hang up if the candidate, himself, was calling. “It’s just a template,” I was told. “The main thing is to make sure they’re registered to vote if they’re leaning our way. If they’re not, politely say ‘thank you’ and hang up.”

I was nervous. But the young people working the phones on either side of me were so animated. I barely noticed how many times they said “awesome” and “fantastic.” I haven’t had that much enthusiasm since grade school.

But I believe in the candidate. So I accepted the 25 pages of names, addresses and phone numbers to tackle in two hours. My task was to call each woman on the list and if she wasn’t registered to vote (or supporting The Other Guy), invite her to a group sign-up event on the 88th anniversary of women earning the right to vote.

I began dialing. Lots of answering machines and phones ringing too many times. Not surprising in New Hampshire, where we’re besieged by phone calls every four years during our first-in-the-nation primary. We’re hardy, but we’re not stupid. If the phone rings between 4 and 8 p.m. and the Caller ID box shows an unfamiliar phone number, we know someone wants something from us.

Finally, an elderly lady answered. I know she’s old because she told me she was 85 and had been registered to vote for years. I marched over to one of the paid staffers. He checked his computer and told me she hadn’t voted since 1980. I was afraid to ask how he knew.

I trudged back to the phone bank and dialed some more. When I identified myself as Pat from Portsmouth to the next woman brave enough to answer (or without Caller ID), she slammed down the phone. More answering machines. Then, “I don’t discuss politics at dinnertime,” another woman growled. “But are you registered to vote?” I pleaded. Slam. Two more pages of no-answers and then this: “Janet Brown? She’s been dead for 12 years.” Followed, of course, by a slammed phone.

Back I trudged to the campaign worker. He was nonplussed. “Great, that helps us refine our list. Keep going. This is a new list and it’s supposed to be women who've never voted or haven’t voted in a while. The guy who put it together isn’t here.” Of course.

Back to the phone bank. More “no answers” to check off on the list. Then I saw a name that proved the list had issues. I trudged back across the room. “There’s a problem with this list if it includes the Speaker of the New Hampshire House.”

"Maybe she hasn’t voted in a while,” he replied. I wondered if the kid had slept through civics. Maybe he wasn’t old enough for the class yet. “I assure you the Speaker of the New Hampshire House votes,” I insisted. He turned back to his computer. “Here it is. She’s listed under Terie and Teresa. That explains it. Keep going. You’re doing great.”

Back across the room. I gritted my teeth and dialed. The next woman who answered was very nice, but confused. “I work for the same campaign. Why am I on the list?” I didn’t ask if she was registered to vote.

Instead, I trudged across the room one final time and said, “I think I might be more helpful to the campaign if I did data entry."


Barb said...

Hi Pat-

It's amazing you were given such a terrible list. My husband, who's just back from Denver, is in the political software/list business (though not the one though that you were using).

At least in NH you get calls. No one cares how Mass votes. Too blue on the presidential side. The only political ads we see are the ones aimed for NH on our local TV stations. On the other hand, my parents live part-time in PA and part time in FL and in those swing states it is wall-to-wall-to-wall ads, so I suppose we should count our blessings.

I only did calling in NH once, years ago, primary day pull calls (so the voters were already ID'ed). Everyone was so nice and took their responsibility for voting in the first primary very seriously. That's my memory and the one I'll hold onto.


Pat said...

I know the list was generated internally at that office by eager campaign workers but it sure made me wonder -- though it does explain some of the calls I've gotten over the years! Also shows how much they need my data entry help!