Word of the Day


To ask many people in an area for their opinions and encourage them to vote for someone or support something.

Canvassing refers to the process of travelling around a district speaking to people in an attempt to mobilize political support or to determine an opinion on a particular issue.
Individuals involved in canvassing often attempt to solicit votes for elections. This is a method also used for fundraising and membership drives, as well as raising awareness for topics or causes.

Canvassing can be initiated via house-to-house door knocking, whereby campaigners engage with residents to identify supporters of a cause or political group. Canvassing is primarily used as a method of persuasion through direct personalized contact with members of the public who are targeted and encouraged to vote a certain way.

A canvassing team is often composed of a political candidate and a group of volunteers, though paid ‘canvassers’ are occasionally present. In possession of a list of households generated from the voter database, the team will visit each of the addresses and converse with residents regarding an upcoming election or a pertinent contemporary topic. Publicity materials are widely distributed, including flyers and signs promoting the candidate or issue in question.

The Conservative Party is currently under investigation for a possible breach of data protection and election laws during the June 2017 general election campaign. A secret call centre was established under the pretence of conducting market research during the run up to the snap election. However, the script that call centre staff were required to use when speaking to the public appears to canvass support for the party. Through thousands of cold calls to residents who live in marginal constituencies, the market research company targeted voters to ask questions which were politically biased.


1 [INTRANSITIVE/TRANSITIVE] to ask many people in an area for their opinions and encourage them to vote for someone or support something
The prime minister has spent the day canvassing in Doncaster.
canvass for: Party supporters were called on to help canvass for their candidate.
canvass support: The Home Secretary has been canvassing support for his new crime bill.

a. [TRANSITIVE] to ask many people in different places for their opinions
We will be canvassing the views of teachers all over the country.

2 [TRANSITIVE] to discuss an idea in order to decide whether to accept it or not
Various possibilities have been canvassed.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

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  • Thanks for the description.
    It covers well the area of political canvassing but leaves open and do not mention that political canvassing is just part of general canvassing.
    For example, canvassing can be used to persuade somebody to buy a product or a service.
    – Comcast representatives can make canvassing in the area to sign up new cable subscribers.
    – Roop representative can walk after a storm to offer replacement of damaged roofs.

    As for political canvassing _ it can be cold or warm canvassing.
    Cold is when the team visits homes with no intention of knocking on their door bell and just leaving some materials, etc..
    Warm canvassing is covered very well in the article.

    Disclaimer: I work for Political Canvassing software called Walk Lists

  • Hi Manuela, thanks for your comment and for the interesting additional information about the meanings of ‘canvassing’.
    I looked in our corpus for instances of ‘cold’ and ‘warm’ canvassing. It seems that cold canvassing is mainly used in a marketing context and also when talking about looking for work (where it means contacting people on spec):
    After lots of cold canvassing I was appointed to a 12 hour per week role.
    Except for the cold canvassing I really liked the work.
    I couldn’t find any instances of ‘warm’ canvassing in the corpus and very few in an internet search, so it seems the term has not yet moved beyond a very restricted professional context. Worth keeping an eye on though.
    Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

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