Paths of Recruitment: Rational Social Prospecting in Petition Canvassing


Nall C, Schneer B CD. Paths of Recruitment: Rational Social Prospecting in Petition Canvassing. American Journal of Political Science [Internet]. 2018;62 (1) :192-209.


Petition canvassers are political recruiters. Building upon the rational prospector model, we theorize that rational recruiting strategies are dynamic (Bayesian and time‐conscious), spatial (constrained by geography), and social (conditioned on relations between canvasser and prospect). Our theory predicts that canvassers will exhibit homophily in their canvassing preferences and will alternate between “door‐to‐door” and “attractor” (working in a central location) strategies based upon systematic geographical variation. They will adjust their strategies midstream (mid‐petition) based upon experience. Introducing methods to analyze canvassing data, we test these hypotheses on geocoded signatory lists from two petition drives—a 2005–6 anti–Iraq War initiative in Wisconsin and an 1839 antislavery campaign in New York City. Canvassers in these campaigns exhibited homophily to the point of following geographically and politically “inefficient” paths. In the aggregate, these patterns may exacerbate political inequality, limiting political involvement of the poorer and less educated.

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Last updated on 01/22/2020