The Polis team celebrating at MassChallenge Awards last week. FOUNDERSWIRE STAFF PHOTO
By CHARLOTTE EMSLIE
BOSTON—The world is waiting to know who will be the next president of the United States. But first, voters have to feel motivated to cast their ballots.
Polis, the app for political campaigning and door-to-door sales, suggests an old-fashioned approach that still drives results, says founder Kendall Tucker.
After working on political campaigns since the age of 16, Tucker narrowed in on this pivotal truth: Door-knocking gets results. “By far, the most effective way to win a campaign is to knock on people’s doors. We call this having a field campaign, hiring canvassers and having them go to likely voters’ doors and talk to them,” she explains. “They feel listened to, it builds trust. But that doesn’t get as much attention as it should.”
Canvassers can use Polis to input lead prospects and generate ideal routes based on set objectives, thus enabling them to maximize their time by targeting specific voter neighborhoods. At the doors, data from conversations is easily inputted and tracked. Individual canvassers’ stats are also tracked and consolidated—the number of doors you’ve knocked on, the number of conversations had, the ratio of supporters versus opposers of a particular candidate or product, and so on. Campaign or sales organizers are then able to use this data to further strategize.
In the political sector, Polis (both a TechStars alum and 2016 MassChallenge finalist) has seen exceptional growth. “As a political company, we’ve worked with 85 campaigns, including both independent candidates for president, Jill (Stein) and Gary (Johnson).
Its model doesn’t stop at political campaigning but extends to private sector sales. This, according to Tucker, is no coincidence: “We started as political company, but now we also work in door-to-door sales, particularly solar and telecommunications. These kinds of companies are often run by former political people; you can see the private sector taking their cues from the political sector.”
Tucker’s door-knocking realization was discovered partly through analysis of what didn’t work. Campaign organizers spend endless time and money on more glamorous or traditional avenues. “I was frustrated that instead of building amazing field campaigns, we saw campaigns spend $1 billion on TV ads,” Tucker explains. “They’ve done studies—TV ads, unless they’re run every week, they have zero effect on voters. It’s a tremendous spend for very low payout.”
Similarly, phone calls were a popular but ineffective avenue. “When I was running campaigns, they always wanted to do the phones, and I would tell them over and over: Not only are phone calls not effective, 50 percent of Americans don’t even have home phones anymore. There are too many restrictions on cell phones now. Phone banks’ effectiveness has gone way down, call screening killed it.”
The forgettable and impersonal nature of the phone, though, is the ultimate killer. “Who answers the phone anymore?” Tucker asks. “I don’t, absolutely not. I was super frustrated, and I wanted to send people to doors. But there wasn’t really effective technology to make that work.”
That’s where door-knocking has particular personal power. Not only is it memorable, you can’t “hang up” on a door-knocker the way you can a caller. “When you recognize someone else as a person who cares about something, even if you don’t agree or want to buy their product, there’s still a social nicety of saying, thanks for coming. It’s almost impossible to look someone in the eye and be rude—that’s what makes it so effective.”
Who are the most effective Polis canvassers? “Our point of view is millennials and retirees are definitely the biggest volunteer groups, they’re engaged in that way,” Tucker explains. “They were there for Bernie Sanders, and they’ve been there for the other campaigns as well.”
This innovative ability to reach potential voters—voters you might not normally find—is the real game changer. “For Gov. Johnson’s campaign, they’re targeting voters who are frustrated Republicans. For Bernie supporters and independents, anyone who’s looking for a change in politics,” Tucker says. “The Johnson campaign has well over 50,000 volunteers, but the problem with traditional technology and door knocking is there’s no way staffers can generate routes for all of them. So the really cool thing about Polis is anyone who supports Gary Johnson can download our app and it will automatically tell them where to go and what doors to knock on. And then the campaign can monitor what you’re up to.”
Polis is focused on engaging voters and boosting voter turnout. “Ultimately I think our country is best served when everyone turns out to vote, and we do have a problem with disenfranchised voters,” Tucker acknowledges.
How can this be remedied? “There’s a get-out-the-vote initiative, or GOTV. The nature of the conversation of any campaign at this point is, ‘Do you know there’s an election on Tuesday, what’s your plan to vote? We’ve found, historically, the most effective way to get people to the polls is to get them to have a plan. It’s the highest voting indicator of … logistics, like (if you’ll vote) when you drive your kids to school on or on the way to work.”
That’s the key takeaway, Tucker asserts. There’s a lack of action, not a lack of passion. “As much as they’re upset about the election, people are paying attention,” Tucker explains. There’s a lot to care about. There are a lot of societal problems. Whatever side you’re on, you feel the need for change. I think this election could be the highest voter turnout we’ve ever seen.”
Tucker says the team is excited to watch the numbers as election results roll in. “And we’ll be watching the number of doors we knock in the lead-up to the election and the day after, too,” she says. “Just because you won an election doesn’t mean you should stop listening to your voters. We see this as a movement, not just something that ends on Tuesday.”
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