Joe Biden's head-scratching pandemic performance

Declining to door knock because of COVID-19 doesn’t make any sense. This is an activity easily done safely. It is usually outdoors, where risk of transmission is low. (Skipping apartment buildings with indoor hallways would be a reasonable precaution.) It can be performed in a mask, and it does not require participants to get within six feet of each other. The literature handoff can be done at a distance — a volunteer could place the paper on the ground for the voter to pick up instead of handing it to them directly — and thus is no riskier than receiving mail or the contactless literature drops the Biden campaign plans to start soon. The interactions are brief, a few minutes at most. In every way, this is a safe activity with a minimal risk of coronavirus transmission. Canceling door-to-door canvassing “for safety” is security theater, nothing more.

It’s also just bad campaign strategy. Studies show most campaign activities are remarkably useless, particularly in general elections at the federal level. Very few voters are persuadable. Campaigns spend enormous sums of money for incredibly little change in support or turnout. However, though the evidence is conflicting, door-knocking performs better than any other standard means of mass voter contact, particularly if the conversations are substantive and memorable. Canvassing can even be cheaper in terms of votes secured than methods like direct mail and phone banking. The Biden campaign says it’s focusing on “conversations,” and maybe phone calls and texts will prove as effective as canvassing, but that’s quite a gamble — and a needless one.