Tales from the canvass – filtering out the noise

With the election in full swing activity on social media and blog sites from political activists has inevitably stepped up a gear. Trying to glean anything of value from their canvass updates, for those interested but not involved, is almost as difficult as actually reading reactions on a canvass properly.

Most of the political hacks will tell us ‘Excellent night canvassing area a, great response, main thing raised was issue b (something they focus on)’. We certainly won’t be told of bad responses and the main issue being something they have no control over or have dealt with poorly.

In a limited number of cases party activists are already framing the race as between their candidate and one other, trying to present the fight as a straight ‘them or us’. In other cases we have the fight presented as too close to call when the activist is supporting a candidate previously on the edge or out of the battle.

This information, in the vast majority cases, will be of very little value particularly in constituencies where 3+ candidates hold a chance of victory.When canvassing the only true picture that can be gained is how a response is in comparison to previous canvasses of the same people. Many people inevitably lie so retaining an overall picture between elections and comparing is the only way to get some sense of what is happening.

People will tell a canvasser they are voting for them – some are telling the truth, some looking them to go away – it is a skill to ensure in a limited time that you work out the real position. A team of poor or new canvassers can greatly distort the picture a party is building. If last time you canvassed an area you had 500 positive responses and this time you have 550 this can go towards building a picture of possible growth that may be demonstrated on polling day. If you didn’t keep records of previous canvass returns the information collected is next to useless for predicting the battlefield.

Prediction absolutely relies on having a decent record of what people said in previous years – if parties don’t have that information they can’t make a true assessment on how the fight is shaping up.

In areas of one identity if they have information on their own previous canvass they can then realistically make a prediction on how their main intra-communal competitor might do.

In mixed areas things become even more difficult with canvassers dealing with two types of negative, one from within a community that may be inclined to identify with them on some level and one from a community that could identify with several other parties.

In mixed areas a party cannot tell you how the vote is going for the other tribe. As a rule a unionist will not tell a nationalist canvasser which party they are voting for and vice versa.

This means it is fiction when a unionist or nationalist declares the position in the intra-tribe battle of the other side. When done this can only be assumption and most likely spin based on framing the fight in a way that benefits them.

So what am I saying? Political activists informing us how the election is shaping up is next to worthless. It needs to be based on accurate canvass records taken over years from across both communities – most don’t actually gather that information properly and if they do they are still going to present their canvassing returns as supportive of the position they want people to digest.

You can’t filter out the noise from them on social media (unless you turn them off) but if you holdout they may give an interesting story about dog bites or falling over.

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