Candidate Questionnaires: A Tool for Educating Voters and Engaging Campaigns

Voters want to know where candidates stand on affordable housing and homelessness. Candidate questionnaires are an effective, nonpartisan way to get information about candidate positions and inform voters on how candidates will address urgent housing issues. Questionnaires can also be used to educate candidates about how the affordable housing crisis is impacting your community

The template includes a cover letter and several questions that affordable housing advocates can modify for use this election season. When developing a candidate questionnaire, use open-ended questions and include a word limit, deadline, and instructions submitting answers. Keep the survey as brief as possible and allow enough time for candidates to reply.

While non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations are permitted to conduct candidate questionnaires and distribute the responses, it is important that all activities remain nonpartisan. For example, candidate questionnaires must be sent to all candidates running for a specific office, and the questionnaire itself must be publicly posted. The questionnaires must be created to obtain answers about candidates’ positions on issues important to voters but cannot be created with the intent of swaying voters for or against a specific candidate. When candidates submit responses, a best practice is to post or print the entire response without modifying.

One of the most common obstacles for housing organizations conducting candidate questionnaires is getting the candidates to complete them. When sending out the questionnaire, it is important to inform the campaigns of how their responses will be shared. If you plan to post responses on your blog or through a mailed newsletter, state how many people you reach. Describe your constituency so that campaigns know what types voters they are addressing in their answers. If applicable, discuss how you plan to amplify the responses through social media engagement. During the COVID-19 pandemic, campaigns are less able to interact with voters through rallies, town hall meetings, and parades. Because of these limitations, candidate questionnaires might have better response rates in 2020 than in previous elections.

More information about how nonprofits organizations can use candidate questionnaires can is available from Nonprofit VOTE’s guidelines for candidate questionnaires.

NLIHC’s nonpartisan voter and candidate engagement project, Our Homes, Our Votes: 2020, has additional tools and concrete tips for engaging candidates on affordable housing available on its website.

Remember that five sessions remain in the 15-part “Third Thursdays at Three” webinar series. The July 16 presentation will address voting for people who do not have an address. Register for the webinar series here.