Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Campaign Diary Day 5 and 6 - Canvassing

For years I hated the idea of canvassing. I didn't like the idea of cold calling on a door and trying to convince whoever answered the door that my preferred choice of candidate was best for them. I also didn't like the idea that if I was asked about party policy on some obscure issue that I would be expected to give a comprehensive response. So I just volunteered as a leaflet dropper, something I started off my political career doing in the early 1980s as a nipper.

Then in the 2004 local elections I went out knocking with Mary Freehill and discovered that it's not so scary. Most people are polite at when someone knocks at the door and don't ask awkward questions. Most of the time they are too busy doing something else to want to spend more than 20 seconds being asked for their vote. But it is important to be asked as the exit polls have shown that being asked for your vote and meeting the candidate personally are two of the main influences on how you mark your ballot paper.

While I wouldn't consider myself a master canvasser by any stretch, having witnessed the real hard sell from some in the final days of a campaign, there are some basic rules which should see you right if you decide to knock on people's doors.
  • If you have never canvassed before, tag along with someone fairly experienced to learn the ropes. In dark areas or on streets with long driveways it can be safer to canvass in pairs even if both are used to canvassing.
  • Always smile and look positive when the door is opened. As the old TV ad used to say first impressions do last.
  • Present the canvass card or leaflet with the candidate's name and picture towards the person. It focuses them on what message you are trying to sell.
  • Clearly state what you are doing: "I'm canvassing on behalf of Jim Murphy of the Monster Raving Loony Mad Party who is running in this constituency".
  • Then take a second and see what reaction you are getting. Either the person will already be looking to close the door or will be looking for a chance to ask a question
    or make a comment. Let them have their say - canvassing is a conversation not a broadcast medium.
  • If they don't do either of the above ask them a question: "Have you considered who you are going to vote for in the election?" People like being asked their opinion and so that should elicit some response. If it doesn't then you're best off just finishing up with a parting line "Well please consider giving Jim your number one".
  • If the candidate is with you don't leave them alone at a door - they may get stuck and need help moving on to the next house.
  • Always remain polite. If you disagree with someone, don't get in a fight. If you disagree with party policy, now is not the time to bring it up - you are acting as the salesman here!
  • Make sure the printed material ends up in the person's hand. They may look at it before throwing it in the green bin.
So far there haven't been too many strange incidents on the doorsteps. Most of the issues being brought up are the national ones - economy, jobs, health, education and emmigration. Very few local issues have been mentioned except when down in Ringsend and Sandymount where the Incinierator continues to be of serious concern. At one door I did meet the stereotypical anti-abortion campaigner for whom all other issues are secondary. After 30 seconds of being told how I killed babies and that she could never vote for Labour because of what they do to the unborn all I could do was agree to disagree and wish her a pleasant evening. But apart from that people have been pleasant enough considering the dark and wet evenings. Mind you, I wouldn't like to be an FF canvasser based on some of the things that have been said to me.

So all in all, canvassing is a great way to get clued in to what the polulation at large are thinking. Being heavily involved in politics means we often don't see the wood for the trees and knocking on doors brings a big dose of reality back into the process. Sure, it won't make you as fit as a brisk leaflet drop for two hours, but it will open your eyes and mind to how other people live and think. Give it a go sometime!

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