Knocking on Doors to Win Elections?

Ethnography of the Socialist Presidential Campaign in Two Cities in the North of France
By Julien Talpin, Romain Belkacem

Door knocking has known an important revival in the last decade, first in the US then in France, being presented and legitimized scientifically as the most efficient electoral technology. Based on an ethnographic study in two cities in the North of France we have followed the work of the Socialist volunteers during the 2012 presidential campaign. We first emphasize the difficult local reception of a national imperative to use personalized communication during the campaign. We stress that the interactions we observed are most of the time superficial. We analyze then the social conditions of emergence of political discussions in such semi-public settings. Interactions are distinct when they are conducted by elected officials and rank-and-file volunteers, the former entering most of the time in patronage relationships. Based on such evidence, we question the electoral effects stressed by experimental research so far. If some effect can be noticed, it does not stem directly from personalized interactions but from the symbolic meaning of such political practices.

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