Voter ID Scripts with Kristina Keats CW 14 Transcript

John Tsarpalas: Last week we talked about targeting voters. Targeting them with what? Well, voter ID scripts of course! This is Commonwealthy podcast #14.

Well, today Tina and I are going to talk about scripts. We’ve talked in the past a little bit about making phone calls and going door to door. In every one of those situations where you are talking to a voter or a volunteer is talking to a voter, you need to have a good, rehearsed script.  

And then there is also this upside of the other side of that is what do you do with the data? Record the data. And also, are you getting an honest answer? So we are going to talk about all of that today.

So, Tina, let’s jump into scripts. I know no one better than you at testing scripts, going through scripts, and finding the perfect script.

Kristina Keats: Right. And that’s the important word to keep in mind. You are always testing. You are always testing new language and new ideas. The point is that you want to have a conversation with the voter.

A good script is a conversation, not a volunteer or the candidate talking at a voter. When you talk at them, you will not get information back. They will say anything to get you off the phone or be able to close the door.

If they feel like you are really listening and you are having a conversation, that’s when you find out what people really think. Keep that in mind. You want it to be two ways.

Candidates tend to often time talk a lot. They are used to talking a lot because they are asked a lot of questions. But when you are out actually meeting with voters, you want to really hear what they have to say.

The most important thing then is to connect with the voter. I recommend that you always start out with “Hello, is this Mr.” and then whoever it is. You may it think that is a silly thing.

But first you need to identify are you really talking to Mr. Smith because you are working from a voter list. Either you are at the door and your list says that the person lives at this house or you are on the phone with the same information.

John Tsarpalas: Right. And what good is a data do you if you’ve identified the wrong person and you don’t know what house it is?

Kristina Keats: Right!

John Tsarpalas: So you need to establish that you’ve got the right person and the right contact.

Kristina Keats: Exactly. And do that with a simple question. “Hello, Mr. Smith?” and then stop and let them say something. The sooner you get the voter to talk, the better your chances of actually having a conversation.

Even getting them to answer that simple question engages them in a way that you don’t if you start out, “Hi, my name is blah, blah, blah.” And all they are thinking is ‘How can I hang up?’ Sometimes they just hang up. Just by asking that question starts the conversation.

John Tsarpalas: The question works very well. Otherwise, as you said, you don’t engage them. And you are trying to create a conversation here, but a guided one that you are guiding them along.

Kristina Keats: Right, but it is key, a two-way conversation. And don’t worry when you have a name like Gumbelforp and you are not sure if you are pronouncing it right. It is actually an opportunity to communicate with the voter and connect because you can say, “Is this Mrs. Gumbelforp? Did I say that right?”

I’ve used that trick on almost any name except for Smith and Jones because most names can be mispronounced, even something as simple as-

John Tsarpalas: Tsarpalas!

Kristina Keats: Right, which is not simple because it is spelled with a T-S. Be comfortable saying, “Did I say that right?” because it is communicating to the voter that you actually care about pronouncing their name right.

And again, they have to answer. They have to say, “Yes, you did say that right.” And you can even talk about that. You say, “Oh, because I wasn’t sure. I thought maybe it could be this way or that way.” And then they might say, “Yeah, a lot of people call us Smythe instead of Smith.”

It gets you talking to people. You are now a human being on the other end of the phone instead of a telemarketer.

John Tsarpalas: Right. And I like to say a little bit of humility comes across. You don’t quite know how to say it. Is that right? I don’t know if humility is the right word, but I’ve always tried to approach it as I am trying to be more humble.

Kristina Keats: Right, because you should view yourself in the subservient position to the voter. The voter has all the power because they have the vote. You want the vote.

You are in the subservient position, which is why I find it amusing that so many politicians are so arrogant. They forget that they work for us. That’s another whole podcast!

John Tsarpalas: That’s a whole series!

Kristina Keats: Right. It is a way to connect. So any opportunity that you can have to connect is great.

And that’s why (I will talk about this in our podcast on intern programs) I love having young people work in campaigns, particularly to make phone calls and go door to door. They are better at connecting to especially adult voters. Lots of times adults are just impressed that a young person is taking time out of their life to make calls or go door to door.

This kind of script is really helpful to them because it makes them comfortable. They don’t have to worry about whether or not they pronounce things perfectly right.

And there is no perfection here. You want your callers to be able to go off the script to have a conversation with someone, assuming that they understand that they are always listening and trying to understand.

It is not bad to have a little bit of a conversation. Even the adult phoners, they have to have that flexibility to be human beings. Which when you pay people to make calls, they have to absolutely stick to the script because the people who run those kind of companies want to have their data be “pure.”

Reality is politics is a lot about judgment and gut feel and your opinion of whether or not the voter was going to support your team. Those judgments are important and fairly accurate. If you aren’t putting rose-colored glasses on and refusing to listen to what they are really saying, you will find out what people think.

Then the next thing that I like to do is make a short statement of who I am calling for or why I am at the door and what I want. One of the things we do a lot is usually a statement like, “I am a student volunteer working for Joe Shmoe who is running for dog catcher. He asked me to call you to get your opinion on some important issues.”

And then you pause again. They might want to say something.

John Tsarpalas: Let me interject here, too. I have an interjection. I think it is important to say, “I am a volunteer. I am a student intern.” You want them to know you aren’t this paid profession who is sitting there cranking out calls all day.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: You want to sound human and real and vulnerable.

Kristina Keats: That’s why volunteer is an essential part, if in fact it is volunteers making the calls. You can’t do it if you are paying people.

John Tsarpalas: Right. But if you are a student intern or you are student or those terms, they also make people feel gentler with the caller.

Kristina Keats: Right, exactly, especially if they say student.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Because they know it is somebody young and they will be a little bit more gentle. I like to have my script have some questions to get some input from the voter. Again, that’s the dialogue concept.

But never have more than two questions before you ask them to support your candidate because they just won’t stay on the phone that long. I prefer one question.

The question should be one that is very short for which people will have an opinion. That’s really important. You don’t want to ask some complicated question about whether or not they think they should raise the tax on cigarettes or anything that is complex and isn’t something that they would know.

And you are going to know what that issue is. If you are in a small town and there is an issue of widening the road and people are against it, then ask that question. Some people will be for it, but ask the question that about anybody who lives in that district probably has an opinion on.

It could be, for example on a state level, “ Do you think we should raise the state income tax?” Or in the case of Texas, “Do you think we should add a state income tax?”

People will have an opinion. Even if the issue isn’t being discussed or voted on, they will have an opinion. And that’s the kind of question that you want to have.

Our previous governor, Blagojevich, got in trouble (it was all over the national news) for trying to sell the Senate seat. The question that we asked was, “Do you support Governor Blagojevich?” Everybody had an opinion. Pretty much universally people did.

But it didn’t matter. You asked their opinion and that’s the point. They are going to tell you and then they feel good because they told you what they think. That gets you again back to the conversation.

When you are soliciting the response to your question, you never give them the “I don’t know” option. If you give people the “I don’t know” or “I am undecided” option, then that’s when more people will go to that option than those that will give you their opinion.

You first ask the question and don’t give them the options at all. But if they say, “What are my options?” then you can say, “Yes or no, favor or don’t favor,” whatever you want to say.

But don’t ever offer undecided or no response as an option because some people will tell you, “I don’t know. I am not decided.” Well then you record that on your piece of paper. Just don’t offer it as an option.

The other thing I like to do is have an issue that your candidate is supporting so that if people say they agree with it, then you can say with enthusiasm, “Joe Blow agrees with you!” And notice the language: Joe Blow, the candidate, agrees with you, the vote. Because the voter, again, is the important one, not Joe Blow.

A lot of people might say, “Well, you agree with Joe Blow.” No, no. Joe Blow agrees with you, the voter.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: If they disagree, you say nothing. Simple. But you are still giving them a chance to talk.

Then the next question is going to be a head to head with your candidate versus whoever they are running against. “Joe Blow is running for dog catcher. He is a veterinarian with thirty years experience dealing with animals. He has promised to treat the stray animals humanely.” Whatever you want to say that is positive about your candidate.

And then “He is running against…” And don’t ever give the name, but you can say, “He is running against a former convicted felon.”

John Tsarpalas: You always want to say something more negative.

Kristina Keats: You don’t want it to be positive, but you absolutely must be truthful. So you say whatever you think is the least attractive attribute of the person you are running against.

“He is running against a career politician who lost the election for alderman and so now he is running for dog catcher to get another government job.” Make it true, though. Don’t say that it if it if not true. So that you have given them a head to head.

Then you go to the final statement where you are going to try to find out if they’d support your candidate or not. And you say, “If the election where held today,” because you are calling when it is not going to be held, “would you be more likely to vote for Joe Shmoe or his opponent?”

And again, don’t offer undecided. Just offer Joe Shmoe or the opponent. It depends on how early the race is, but if someone says after you’ve laid out Joe Shmoe and how good he is and that the opponent is a career politician or whatever, and they say, “Well, I can’t decide,” then you circle the undecided.

But understand if they say undecided, it really means that they are not for you. That’s the way you’ve got to count it. You can’t ever count an undecided vote as being for you.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. Let’s talk about timing here. You are six months out. A lot of people don’t have a clue as to someone running for a smaller office or a local office. Two weeks out they should have a clue. I think that changes what the undecided really is.

Kristina Keats: Right, except you always count it against you.

John Tsarpalas: Okay.

Kristina Keats: Just because if after you’ve made the best case for your candidate, Joe Shmoe, and a truthful but negative case for the opponent, if they still say they are undecided, it means that they didn’t like what they heard about Joe Shmoe.

In the case that I just explained, they may say, “We are overrun with dogs. I want them just to be put down.” You don’t know what they are thinking inside there. But they didn’t like your story. You still count it as undecided.

Now keep in mind, we talked previously about who you call first. If you have, for example, a Republican candidate, then you call Republican primary voters and you make sure you let them know that you candidate is a Republican primary voter.

So you’ve already worked your base that is yours. That’s who you work first; you work your own first because they’ll actually listen to you eight months before an election.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: And as you get closer to the election, you talk more and more to people who know less and less and who are not as partisan. So your script, if you are calling Republicans and you tell them that Joe Shmoe is precinct committeeman for Podunk County for the Republican Party, and after you say that he is running against the guy who works for the Democrat Party and they tell you they are undecided, guess what?

John Tsarpalas: They don’t like him.

Kristina Keats: They are not voting for your guy.

John Tsarpalas: Right, right.

Kristina Keats: It could be that they are not really Republican and they voted in one Republican primary, but that was because their sister in law was running for something.

John Tsarpalas: Or they just don’t happen to like that guy or there is something going on there.

Kristina Keats: Or they know that guy and they don’t like him.

John Tsarpalas: Right, right.

Kristina Keats: Or they read things about him and they don’t like him. So that’s why we are assuming you are working your list appropriately. So by the time you are no longer discussing partisan party affiliation, you down to the group of people and thus closer to the election that if they say they are undecided that means they are really against you. Does that make sense?

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, it makes sense. I guess here is my question: If you’ve got money and you’ve got resources, do you leave them undecided? If you’ve got time, do you mail them again anyway? Mail them on a different issue? Or do you just move on?

Kristina Keats: You can mail them. I wouldn’t call them again.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. Unless you’ve called through your entire universe and then got time to go back through again.

Kristina Keats: That’s only happened in one campaign ever that I ran.

John Tsarpalas: It’s hard to get through everybody I guess.

Kristina Keats: One time in all of the campaigns I worked on did we get through the entire list to the point that we couldn’t call any more.

John Tsarpalas: Okay.

Kristina Keats: Once you’ve made the call and you have a piece of data… And I’ve heard people say things like, “Oh, you don’t get good data on the phone. You have to go knock on the door. So you have to go confirm it with a door knock.” That is just not true.

Because I’ve done so much of this and tracked all the data, I will tell you that you will get the same response at the door that you got on the phone, with the exception of you talked to the husband or wife of the family one time and then one of the teenagers answered the phone another time. Then you could get a difference.

But that doesn’t mean the household is different. It means that you got a teenager who maybe isn’t even going to vote or is going to vote, but doesn’t agree with his parent.

John Tsarpalas: Let me throw in my two cents on some of this. I like door knocking because I tend to get a little longer conversation once one establishes and I can find out a little more on the household than I tend to be able to do on the phone.

I can find out if there is someone who should get registered, like a high school kid coming of age or something that will vote our way. But usually that is when I am knocking on the household of someone who is already in our party.

If it is a Republican thing and you are knocking on a Republican door, they are a lot friendlier and a lot more welcoming and a lot more open than they are on the phone. I just think the phone is a little harder that way to open people up.

Kristina Keats: But it is not as efficient.

John Tsarpalas: Yes, phone calling is efficient. I agree. You are going to make more contacts in an hour than you are door to door.

Kristina Keats: Right. And as long as you follow up with your phone call with something in the mail the next day. It is not the final sale, but identifies at least you know where your pool of voters are.

John Tsarpalas: Right. I was going to throw one more thought in here. And we are talking about volunteers and interns and the candidate doing those calls and doing those door knocks. This is not a paid, professional phone bank.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: Those results are not as good because people sense this. They are tired of the telemarketer. And you get, in my opinion, bad data back. I’ve seen some terrible results.

Kristina Keats: And the other thing is most of the scripts that people use in the paid calling are talking at you scripts.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: “Hi, I am calling on behalf of Joe Shmoe who is running for dog catcher. Joe Shmoe is…” People just hate that. You are not having a conversation; you are talking at them. And if you are going to do that, then do a robocall. You can get a robocall that is even more effective than that.

There is no worse. You get twenty percent false positives on those. I tracked that. One of the first races I was involved in, they had a paid phone bank that did exactly that.

Based on that, the candidate they were calling for was going to win. Well guess what? The candidate lost because they were getting all kinds of people saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ll vote for him” just to get you off the phone.

John Tsarpalas: Right, that’s what I found with paid phone banks. That is what happened to me somewhere, too. I forget which one. That one was terrible.

Kristina Keats: If you want to pay, I would rather see you hire people and train them and have them do it the way your volunteers do it.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, you control it. This was a service. It just got kind of messed up.

Kristina Keats: Right. Because they get paid by the phone call so they are going to do it as fast as they can. They are not trying to get the best quality of data.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: So then once you’ve got the identification, they’ve said Joe Shmoe or the opponent or without offering it they said, “I just don’t know. I don’t have enough information.”…

And that’s the other thing. You can tell if they are really undecided or if they just say, “I haven’t heard anything of either one of them.” And that’s when if you have volunteers, they can say, “Well, what would you like to know about Joe Shmoe that might encourage you to vote for him?”

And they might have a specific question. Was he a high school graduate? Or whatever their question is. But it gives again a conversation. Try to find out what they want, not what we want.

But then the next thing, once you’ve identified the voters that have said they would support your candidate, once they say, “Oh, yeah, I’ll vote for Joe Shmoe,” then what you want to do is thank them wholeheartedly. “Thank you so much for your support. That’s just wonderful.”

And then you want to try to get a yard sign. And the way that you do it you have to beg and you have to make it seem like they are going to save the world by putting up a yard sign. So you say something like, “This is going to be a very close election. It would just make all the difference in the world if you’d be willing to put up a yard sign for Joe. Would you be willing to help him with this simple thing?”

You would be amazed. When you beg, you can get a fifty to sixty percent placement rate with the people who said they are going to vote for you being willing to put up a yard sing.

John Tsarpalas: Right, versus someone saying, “Would you like to put a yard sign up in your yard?” It will be no. It will always be no. You’ve got to personalize a little bit more like, “This is really important.”

As you said, it has to be important. It’s important to the candidate. It’s important to the campaign. Somehow you’ve got to put some weight on it.

Kristina Keats: It’s important to your community.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: It will make a difference. You can make a difference by the simple act of putting up a yard sign. And it is true. Yard signs are the most effective advertising in a local election, more effective than mailings and certainly more effective than TV.

John Tsarpalas: Okay, so you are asking for the yard sign and you are begging.

Kristina Keats: So now you’ve gotten the yard sign. The important thing is that you record all this information so that you can thank the voter the next day, get the yard sign out when the time comes, and track whether they are yes, no, or undecided.

One thing that beginning candidates miss is that they think that they shouldn’t bother to track a no vote. No, all data is good. All data is valuable.

Knowing someone is against you is just as important as knowing someone is for you or undecided because

  1. A) you won’t call them again and
  2. B) when you are doing your Get Out the Vote, you make sure that they don’t go to the houses that they are against you.

John Tsarpalas: Right, you want them to not know it is Election Day. You want them to think it is the next week.

Kristina Keats: Right. You need to track everything. The more you know about the voters, the better you are as a candidate. That’s very important.

John Tsarpalas: And if someone mentions an issue or something, you need to have a way to note that in the file, too. You are talking to them. “What’s important to you?” And they bring it up.

It’s got to get noted because you can then send something out. Say you do an issue paper or something about that. Or there is a newspaper clipping.

Kristina Keats: Or mention it in your letter when you are responding that next day. “Thank you for your comments about historical preservation.” It just lets them know that you were actually listening.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But that is your basic concept with a script for identifying. For Get Out the Vote, you’ll have a different script. And you can even for Get Out the Vote use robocalls, the automated calling.

John Tsarpalas: We’ll get into that in Get Out the Vote.

Kristina Keats: Right, when we get to Get Out the Vote.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah. I mean this was about the door to door and the phone banking. You know, volunteer voter ID script was what this was about.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: Let me touch on one other script and that’s back in the petition process. When you are trying to get on the ballot and you are petitioning, play with that script as well as to how you approach people.

I found what worked well around the suburbs of Chicago was, “Are you registered to vote?” as an opening line 1) qualified them because if you weren’t registered, you couldn’t sign the petition and 2) a more important thing is they had to answer yes or no and they had to stop and think for a minute. That got their brain engaged about voting.

I think that was really important. If I started out without that question, “Hi, I am collecting signatures. Blah blah blah,” they just kept running. They would just go past me. This was at train stations and bus stops and parking lots of stores and things like that.

Kristina Keats: Going door to door you know who is registered.

John Tsarpalas: Right, you know they are registered there. So then the question is, “Hi, are you Mrs. Smith?”

Kristina Keats: You are back to “Are you Mrs. Smith?”

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But the important thing is to think about the script as creative in the way that you start a conversation. They are individual people and that’s why you want people to be able to use a little creativity.

We had one lady who just happened to be Greek. Every time she thought she had a Greek name, she’d go, “Are you Greek? Because I’m Greek.” And it was great because she would connect with all the Greek voters because they knew she was a real person.

And that’s something to think about. In a congressional race, we took all the Chinese surnames because we had a Chinese-speaking high school intern who wasn’t Chinese.

John Tsarpalas: But spoke Chinese.

Kristina Keats: He spoke Chinese. And he just had a ball calling the Chinese voters because he did the whole thing in Chinese. That’s the way you want to think about it. Ninety percent of politics is being able to connect to the voter.

Use your script and your volunteers. Everything that you do, you should think, ‘How am I connecting with the voter? How can I connect with the voter?’

John Tsarpalas: Right. One of the things the GOP did well when Bush won big in 2004 (not the first election, but the second election) was they did a much better job of having the volunteers match who the list was. They had thirty-five year old women calling thirty-five year old women.

And I should say they took it further. Were married with children. Women who were thirty-five and unmarried, they had a different list and a different volunteer who was thirty-five and unmarried.

They tried to match the person calling with the person they were calling as much as possible. Ethnic groups called ethnic groups, etc. It just helps to connect.

Kristina Keats: It makes total sense.

John Tsarpalas: Right!

Kristina Keats: It makes total sense. You can have your opinion about whether or not people should have an affinity for people who are like them. That can be your opinion all day long. Reality is people like to hang out with people who are like them.

I mean, look at the way people hang out by age. You love your parents, but do you want to hang out with them socially? No! You want to hang out with people your own age.

It doesn’t mean you don’t have friends that are older or younger, but reality is that most of the people that we hang out with are within a ten year date of our age. That just is reality.

It is smart. If you have young people, they call on young people. Old people call old people. It just works out.

John Tsarpalas: Although a young person can do well with old people because old people want to be nice to young people.

Kristina Keats: That’s true. I find young callers are good with everybody. A good young caller is worth their weight in gold because they sound young, they are enthusiastic, and people are more polite to them. We will talk about how to recruit young volunteers in our podcast on intern programs and how to establish them.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Okay, well I think everyone just needs to try a script. Try it a different way. Test it. Try it. See what is working. See what is not working. Play with it. Don’t stay with one idea and one thing.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: And see how it goes. One night or one hour it is one script and the next hour it is a different script. See if you are getting more responses, less responses, and types of responses. I know you and I always want to get on the phone ourselves to see what is happening.

Kristina Keats: Right. I always tested scripts.

John Tsarpalas: Personally.

Kristina Keats: Always personally. I would try a script. Even the year I was running twenty state rep campaigns, I called into every district personally because until you actually talk to the voters in that district, you are not going to know what they care about.

Although you can make generalizations about how all voters care about x, y, and z, when you get to local races, there are local issues. You need to know how people feel about it. You can’t know without listening to them.

I would think I had a great script and then I’d test it and it just bombed. You got to be able to say, “Okay, that wasn’t good. How else could we say this?”

Here is the other thing. A lot of my best scripts I stole the language from volunteers who I would hear them talking.

John Tsarpalas: You overheard them, yeah.

Kristina Keats: I would hear them talking and I’d say, “Wow, that’s a really great way to say that.” Initially, we didn’t ask. We would just have two short questions and we would just skip and go right into the questions. We would pause and keep going.

It was the volunteers who said, “People are getting upset with that.” So that’s when we would say, “We have just two short questions. Is that okay?” And notice that we are asking them to okay the number of the questions, not answering them.

John Tsarpalas: That’s good.

Kristina Keats: We don’t ask them, “Would you like to answer a question?” because they will say no.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But we are getting the okay to ask the questions, but we are actually asking them to approve the quantity of questions, not whether or not we can ask them.

And that’s important because it gets you to move to the next step. It is not being sneaky because you are not lying to them; you are asking permission to keep going. But you are not specifically asking that permission, if that makes any sense.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Okay.

Kristina Keats: And that came from a volunteer who came up with that language.

John Tsarpalas: So be open.

Kristina Keats: Be open. Don’t think however you would say it is the absolute best because you will have some talented people who really enjoy talking on the phone to people. They are going to come up with language that is just fabulous.

John Tsarpalas: Of course they are talented. They are there supporting you.

Kristina Keats: Right, exactly.

John Tsarpalas: They wouldn’t be supporting you if they weren’t great.

Kristina Keats: You just want to be open. Language is so interesting in terms of how people hear things that you think you are saying that they are hearing completely different. It is just important to stay open and listen to your volunteers, too.

I think that just about wraps it up.

John Tsarpalas: I think so, too. Thank you.

I hope you enjoyed today’s discussion of voter ID scripts. We have some sample scripts for you on our website at They will be in the show notes as well as the transcript that we have every week of every show.

If you are enjoying this, please let others know about it. Please pass it on. I am available for questions anytime-

Thanks for listening!

Kristina Keats: The point is that you want to have a conversation with the voter. A good script is a conversation, not a volunteer or the candidate talking at a voter.

When you talk at them, you will not get information back. They will say anything to get you off the phone or be able to close the door. If they feel like you are really listening and you are having a conversation, that’s when you find out what people really think.

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