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Frank Shansky: What I learned from 12 years of knocking doors in Wisconsin

Over the last 12 years, I have knocked on thousands of doors all over Wisconsin in support of Democratic candidates for office. I have knocked in Green Bay, Rhinelander, Wausau, Appleton, Racine, Omro, Oshkosh, Menomonee Falls and all over Milwaukee, including many of the poorest areas in the city. I walked so many miles that the door knocking contributed to my two hip replacement surgeries.

I knocked for candidates for state office all the way up to president. And all the candidates I knocked in support of would be considered “moderates” in today’s political lexicon.

So when I read articles and hear pundits tell me who is “electable,” I know few of them have ever knocked on doors in Wisconsin.

Based on my experiences, here are a few things I know for sure:

1. The vast majority of people do not look at politics as left vs. right. Unlike among the political class, “left” and “right” have absolutely no meaning to ordinary people. The media’s obsession in labeling a candidate as less electable because they are too far left or right is nonsense. People are interested in issues that affect them: health care (the number one issue with people I met with), falling wages and the environment. The candidates who address those issues and are viewed as authentic will draw their vote, whether they are labeled left or right.

2. There is a myth of the “moderate middle” as a place where elections are won or lost. I couldn’t find that middle anywhere in the state. Few people self-identified as moderates or said I wish the parties could all get along.

But there are thousands of independent voters. They are not, as the pundits portray them, voters who are politically in between Republicans and Democrats. They are anything but moderate in their political leanings. They are voters who don’t care for either party, not because the parties are too far left or too far right, but because the parties haven’t addressed the real problems that affect their lives.

Many in this group, which represents the majority of people I spoke with over these years, make compelling arguments of why they don’t vote or irregularly vote.

3. While there are lots of people who are fed up with Trump and will “vote blue no matter who,” there are a significant number of people who need someone to vote for, not just against. Being against Trump is not enough to motivate them and ridiculing these people is counterproductive.

4. People want change. It has been the constant theme of people I have spoken with going back over a decade. And they are ready for significant change. I was not surprised when Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton by 11 points in the 2016 Wisconsin primary (I didn’t knock doors for either candidate in that primary, but did for Clinton against Trump).

Nor was I surprised when Donald Trump won Wisconsin over Clinton. Anyone who knocked on doors over the last decade knew what I knew.

The current electorate is even more skeptical of the political establishment than it was 12 years ago. The Democrat who is perceived as the most consistent fighter and vows to fight for major changes in how the government represents them, has the best chance to beat Donald Trump in November.

And the group that the Democrats need to home in on are the people I’ve referred to. These are the people who didn’t vote last time (many in Milwaukee’s central city), who voted for Trump after having supported Obama or who rarely vote because they don’t understand what is in it for them or their future.

Put simply, an authentic candidate who has a bold vision will not only attract voters from both political parties, but bring out people who usually don’t vote. It is the best way to ensure a Trump defeat.

Four years ago, many Wisconsin voters stayed home because they didn’t see their concerns being addressed by either candidate. Now we are being told by Democratic pundits and Republican “Never Trumpers” that once again the voters want a “moderate” to run against Trump. It was a failing strategy last time, but they hope people have short memories. Or perhaps their real concern is not that a progressive candidate can’t win, but that they can.