Five Strategies to Deal with Negative Campaign Interactions | National Democratic Training Committee

Negative campaign interactions are an unfortunate part of every campaign.

Almost everyone that’s worked on or in a campaign has a story about that one angry person met on the doorstep or talked to on the phone. In our current political climate, rudeness is a frequent player in campaign life and political discourse. 

Politics inherently breeds strong emotions. The issues we discuss have a serious effect on the lives of regular people. 

The vast majority of interactions you’ll have with voters will be positive or, at the very least, respectful. But, there will be times where you’ll meet a voter who wants to vent their frustrations by taking out their anger on you.

You may be yelled at, or they might slam a door in your face.

As someone who is conflict-averse, I often struggled with these types of interactions when I started out volunteering on campaigns. I know personally how hard it can be to not be rattled by these encounters. When I would have a hostile conversation on the doorstep, it was difficult to stop dwelling on it. Today, NDTC is here to offer some tips to cope with these experiences.

Tackling Negative Campaign Interactions

So, let’s face it: Not every day in politics will be fun. You’ll face highs and lows, but that’s just part of the ride. At the end of the day, it’s worth it.

When this kind of incident occurs, it’s completely natural to want to quit politics for good. Fight this urge. Don’t let one angry person define your entire experience in politics. Focus on the many kind, enthusiastic people you’ve met along the way, not the one who swore at you when they picked up the phone. 

Politics is about perseverance.

Ready? Let’s go.

Strategy #1: Take a Walk

If you just knocked on a door or made a phone call that resulted in an angry exchange, the next few minutes are a crucial time for self-care. If you’re feeling rattled, going immediately to another call/door isn’t always the best option.

Struggling to put a call/conversation behind you? Try taking a lap around the block before continuing with your task. This will allow you to process the negative interaction, take a deep breath, and regroup before engaging with more voters.

In the fast-paced world of political campaigns, it can feel like you need to constantly be doing work. While it’s true that the work is demanding, no one – neither the candidate, nor the voters, nor you – is served well by a staffer who doesn’t take the time to care for their mental health.

Strategy #2: Debrief as a Team

When you encounter a rude person on the campaign trail, it’s common for it to feel like a personal attack against you. Surely, you think, no one else on the campaign has experienced this type of interaction, and the person only responded that way because of me. This mindset is incredibly isolating and only makes the situation worse for you.

To break out of this feeling of taking on negative interactions alone, it’s a great idea at the end of a shift canvassing or phone banking to gather as a team and go over the bright spots and rough patches of the day.

This exercise will put your own negative campaign interactions in context. Unfortunately, hostile interactions are part of the job when working on a campaign. Some people will see you as a proxy for the values of the candidate or cause. As a result, they’ll take their anger out on you. Talking it through with your coworkers helps to make the interaction feel less personal, instead turning it into a bonding experience for the staffers.

Strategy #3: Think Positively

Whenever you have negative campaign interactions, they can start to define the day in your mind. Don’t let it. Always remember that most people you  meet when working on a campaign are gracious and respectful. Focus on the smiles.

If you meet a hostile person, just adopt the mindset that the next door or call will be better. It might be hard to dial or knock again, but you need to take this step. Who knows, maybe that next person will donate $100 or ask to volunteer!

A positive mindset is essential for a campaign worker. Politics can be a rough field, so find ways to focus on the inspiring, gratifying, and joyful moments.

Strategy #4: Know When It’s Time to Move On…

Time is a precious commodity on a campaign. Election Day isn’t moving, so you need to make the most of every day on the campaign trail.

As a result, it’s important for you to know when to move onto the next door or call. You can’t spend all day arguing with someone about your candidate’s positions. There’s a difference between persuading a swing voter and engaging in verbal jousting with a staunch opponent.

There are going to be times when you’ll need to cut the conversation short and tell the individual something like: “I can see we’re not going to agree on this issue. Thank you for taking time to talk with me, and I hope you have a good day.”

This can be hard, but getting sucked into a negative conversation doesn’t help anyone. Know when to accept that someone won’t be persuaded, and move on.

Strategy #5: You Can’t Persuade Voters If You Don’t Talk to Them

Finally, accept that negative campaign interactions are going to be a component of your work. Don’t let this stop you from knocking on a door or making a call, because while the person you meet may not end up as a supporter, you’ll never know until you try.

Going into campaigning with this frame of mind helps you manage your reaction to a negative encounter. Preventative coping strategies like this are important as you spend time on the trail.

Ultimately, campaigns are about persuading people from diverse backgrounds to join together in support for a common cause. This requires talking to everyone. There will be a portion of them that react badly, but you have to be willing to take that risk.

Keep Your Head Up!

Campaigning can be hard, and there will certainly be moments where you want just want to give up. But, remember why you signed on in the first place.

Keep fighting the good fight, and keep your head up. Thank you for all you do.

Until next time!

Did you know NDTC has a program designed to train the next generation of Democratic campaign staffers? Check out our Staff Academy!

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Conor Hicks

Conor is a seventh-generation Oregonian, born and raised in the Central Oregon town of Redmond. While he has deep roots in both the Northwest and Midwest, he currently lives most of the year in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, where he studies Political Science at Boston College. At NDTC, Conor is a member of the Communications team.