verb (used with object)

to solicit votes, subscriptions, opinions, or the like from.
to examine carefully; investigate by inquiry; discuss; debate.

verb (used without object)

to solicit votes, opinions, or the like.


a soliciting of votes, orders, or the like.
a campaign for election to government office.
close inspection; scrutiny.

Origin of canvass

1500–10; orig. spelling variant of canvas, as a v.; sense “discuss” apparently development of the earlier senses “toss in a canvas sheet,” “harshly criticize”; sense “solicit votes” obscurely derived
Related formscan·vass·er, nounpre·can·vass, verb (used with object), nounun·can·vassed, adjectiveun·der·can·vass, verbwell-can·vassed, adjective
Can be confusedcanvas canvass

Synonyms for canvass Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for canvass

Contemporary Examples of canvass

  • There is no purpose in asking people to walk the neighborhood to canvass for someone who would support the status quo.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Tea Party Takes on Boehner

    Patricia Murphy

    February 19, 2014

  • The software allows users to make phone calls, register to vote, and canvass neighborhoods with a few simple instructions.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Midterm Scramble for Youth Vote

    Dayo Olopade

    October 3, 2010

Historical Examples of canvass

  • In speaking of the canvass that was set, I ought to have said something of the state of our decks.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • This time we were questioned about canvass, but got off by concealing the truth.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • Most of our canvass blew from the gaskets, the cloth going in ribands.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • But there has been no canvass as yet,—his address isn't even printed.

  • In nine of those campaigns I myself, made a canvass from county to county.

British Dictionary definitions for canvass



to solicit votes, orders, advertising, etc, from
to determine the feelings and opinions of (voters before an election, etc), esp by conducting a survey
to investigate (something) thoroughly, esp by discussion or debate
mainly US to inspect (votes) officially to determine their validity


a solicitation of opinions, votes, sales orders, etc
close inspection; scrutiny
Derived Formscanvasser, nouncanvassing, noun

Word Origin for canvass

C16: probably from obsolete sense of canvas (to toss someone in a canvas sheet, hence, to harass, criticize); the development of current senses is unexplained
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for canvass

c.1500, from alternative spelling of canvas (n.) and probably meaning, originally, "to toss or sift in a canvas sheet," hence "to shake out, examine carefully" (1520s); "to solicit votes" (1550s). The spelling with a double -s- dates from 16c. Cf. Old French canabasser "to examine carefully," literally "to sift through canvas." Related: Canvassed; canvassing. As a noun related to this, attested from c.1600.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper