The business of canvassing for Trump

By George Miaoulis Jr. | Nov 06, 2020

I never expected to be canvassing this fall, let alone for Donald Trump. In my search for a job at the end of my unemployment, however, I came across an offer to canvass for Democrats at $20 per hour. Although I am not politically passionate and routinely split my ticket, the pay rate was attractive enough for me to apply. Just before I clicked the link, though, I spotted the Republicans’ offer below: $30 per hour. I applied there instead.

That listing, I would later find out, was posted by Stampede America, a conservative consulting organization working with Trump’s reelection campaign. According to their websites, Stampede’s purpose is “to help America’s conservative voices” resist “the Democrats who control all of the media outlets,” which they achieve by combining traditional knocking-on-doors canvassing with smartphone technology, stampedeamerica.com/about-us. These methods even won them the “Best Use of Peer-to-Peer Texting” award in 2019. (Exactly who gave them this honor is unclear, however; stampedeamerica.com/action.)

Soon after submitting my application, I was told to choose a training session at either the GOP headquarters in Bangor or a Panera Bread in Augusta. Though the location seemed off, I signed up for the significantly closer session in Augusta.

Yet the next day, to my confusion, I received another email from Stampede, advertising canvassing at $20 to $30 per hour. Feeling uncomfortable, I sent the trainer an email to confirm the training date and the original pay rate. I only received one text in response: “Hey Georgie we are still on for tomorrow.” Apparently, the competition for Best Peer-to-Peer Texting was low in 2019, http://stampedeconsulting.com.

Nevertheless, I arrived early for the 4 p.m. training. By 4:15 p.m., however, it was obvious no trainer was there, so I asked the staff and other prospective canvassers if I was at the right location. I was. I called GOP Maine in Augusta but received no answer there, either. I left just before 5 p.m., frustrated and disappointed.

Once I got home, I emailed the trainer, expressing my frustration and asking what happened. He replied shortly after, apologizing and inviting me to another training session. As the $30 per hour was still attractive, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and signed up for a session in Bangor.

I found the GOP headquarters in a strip mall behind a McDonald’s. As I talked with the receptionist to be sure I was at the right place, the trainer interrupted to ask who I was. Though the location was correct this time, he had no record of my signing up, but he let me in anyway. Entering the room, I wondered why he made such a big deal out of it, as there was only one other trainee there.

We are not to have a conversation with the homeowners, the trainer explained, but to simply verify those thought to be leaning Republican. After introducing ourselves, we ask voters a series of questions and then read a 30-second, scripted message about Trump’s economic leadership. This should take no more than a minute and a half; the goal is 20 houses per hour. To ensure that we are not cheating the system, the app’s GPS makes sure we are standing in the voter’s doorway and the time card allots us only a minute and 30 seconds to walk to the next house.

After finishing, the trainer urged us to start canvassing that day. An onboarding email will be sent that afternoon, he assured us, and we will be paid for our time even if we don’t immediately sign up. Unconvinced, I decided to wait for the email. It did not arrive for three days, naturally, and was quickly followed by a second email, warning that I needed to register immediately to get paid.

I began work the next day, expecting that I could park somewhere and walk to my first six houses, only to find that they were spread over nearly half a mile. I parked in my first house’s driveway, but before I could say anything, the homeowner ordered me to leave. The next five houses, were “no answer.” I uploaded the responses and tapped the icon to receive the next list of six.

I then drove down a mile loop and up a hill to an abandoned house behind overgrown bushes and derelict vehicles. Unable to access the main door, I knocked on the side door — no answer, of course. I drove another quarter-mile to the next voter, who refused the interview.

As I followed the route to my next house, I realized that I was returning to Main Street — the app sent me out of my way for two houses just to bring me back where I started. This inefficiency has constantly plagued my canvassing and I still return to that same area even a week later. Needless to say, it makes achieving 20 surveys per hour impossible and wastes a lot of gas. If I were given the full list of houses instead of only six at a time, I could plan my route and walk house-to-house as the trainer said I would, maybe even hitting their quota. Forced to follow the predetermined order, however, I’ve spent my afternoons passing by the same houses again and again.

For this and other reasons, there is quite the discrepancy between how much I work and how much I am paid. Though I was disappointed to see a half-hour of my work was missed the first day, it ended up being one of the better ones. The second day only credited 2.18 hours — two hours and 11 minutes — of my three. For those two days, I will make $135 for 4.5 hours, but after deducting $15 for gas and dividing that by the actual 5.75 hours, my rate is $20.87 per hour — less than a dollar more than what the Democrats offered. This calculation also ignores the one-hour round-trips to work and the many hours I spent navigating their training program.

Even if one overlooks how poorly the app works in a rural setting (it is clearly designed for urban communities), the system definitely has areas that need improvement. In addition to the houses’ poor order, the information about who lives in them is often out-of-date. It is only occasionally — less than one in every list of houses — that I find a Trump voter, despite the list’s supposedly containing only Republican-leaning voters.

To come full circle (as the app has made me do again and again), I became a canvasser because I needed a job, not because I am politically passionate. Ironically, my way out of unemployment is to tell people that unemployment isn’t an issue: at the end of each successful survey, I read a script that boasts about how America has “the greatest economy in the World and lowest unemployment rate in 50 years.”

George Miaoulis Jr. is a semi-retired business professor who lives in Camden.

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Crawford L Robinson | Nov 07, 2020 09:47

Yes Mr Northrup. I would like like to see that list too... but for an opposite reason. I don't want my money going into the pocket of some pretend 'conservative' business owner.



Posted by: Jeffrey Northrup | Nov 07, 2020 07:09

Does anyone maintain a list of Maine businesses and their political leaning? I want to do all I can to see that no penny of my hard-earned income goes into the pocket of a Socialist for the rest of my life. That means I need to pay attention to the details and not just the convenience.



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