DOVER, N.H. — Braving sub-zero temperatures, remote rural roads, and strangers behind doors, undergraduate students from Penn for Bernie and Penn for Biden trekked from Philadelphia to New Hampshire to canvass for their candidates.
Just days before Tuesday's first-in-the-nation Democratic primary, Penn students aimed to make their mark on the race for the White House and knocked on hundreds of doors throughout the Granite State.
Penn for Bernie, joined by Philly for Bernie, Drexel for Bernie, and Rowan for Bernie, arrived in New Hampshire on Friday night with a group of approximately 40 students and returned to Philadelphia Sunday night.
Four Biden supporters from Penn canvassed in different parts of the state, including College junior Ben May, who left campus this semester to work full-time on the Biden campaign. May and Biden campaign regional fellow and Engineering sophomore Ronak Bhagia plan to continue canvassing up until Tuesday’s election.
The large group of Sanders supporters mirrored the enthusiasm for the Vermont senator in the polls, where Sanders enjoys the lead in the RealClearPolitics polling average. Biden, once seen as the front-runner in the race, is a distant fourth in the polling average — sitting more than ten percentage points behind Sanders.
Bhagia, the Biden supporter, said he and the other volunteers received three or four packets each day with lists of potential voters. The packets contain approximately 30 to 40 addresses of 70 to 100 prospective voters in a certain neighborhood. For each house Bhagia visits, he writes down whether or not someone answers the door and, if they answer, if he thinks the person is likely vote for Biden.
Bhagia said some issues he faced while canvassing occurred because his car could not handle the harsh New Hampshire climate. A snowstorm hit the state on Friday, knocking out power in thousands of homes. Numerous trees and telephone poles collapsed. His car nearly got stuck on a remote, rural road.
"I'm completely stuck in this dirt road, my phone's at about five percent, there is no house anywhere to be found near me," he said. "It is about 13 degrees Fahrenheit and I was not nearly dressed well enough for it, so for a while I was like, this is about to be rough."
After shoving sticks and leaves under the tires, Bhagia was able to keep going.
Though canvassing can be tedious – and even dangerous – he believes it is vital for voter turnout, especially in the few days before the primary.
“For every 100 people you canvass, you’re going to get 10 that are going to go to the polls that wouldn’t have otherwise," he said.
Penn for Bernie canvassers used an app known as MiniVAN, which College sophomore and Penn for Bernie president Jack Cahill said is popular among Democratic campaigns. The app consolidates a database of eligible voters in specific areas. Canvassers then record each voter's reaction towards Sanders in the app, ranging from "strong support" to "hostile."
"We’ve pretty much just been knocking on doors and making sure people are planning to go out and be voting in their primary – it’s all about turnout," Cahill said. "A lot of people we’ve been talking to are undecided or even leaning to the right."
According to Cahill, students from Penn, Drexel, Rowan, and Philly for Bernie knocked on 2,000 doors total in Rochester and Dover throughout the weekend. College sophomore and Penn for Bernie co-director Amira Chowdhury said their team is optimistic Sanders has the majority of voters in New Hampshire.
Cahill stressed that their job is not just to campaign for Sanders, but to inspire people to vote, despite obstacles like misinformation, disenfranchisement, and physical disabilities.
"The issue is just a matter of turnout and getting them to the polls, given that there are so many barriers to voting here in this country," he said.