Canvassing for beginners

Jeffrey Donaldson canvassing in Lagan ValleyBring pens, maps, water and a coat. Wear comfortable shoes. Don’t forget to eat. Keep track of the bookies’ odds. Develop a sixth sense for whether a house is empty or occupied.

It’s all good advice for candidates canvassing around the doors of their prospective constituency.

During last year’s Euro election I blogged about the process of checking postal ballots, polling day, the main verification of votes, and the eventual counting of the ballot papers. This year I’ve gone a bit further back in the process and I’ve been traipsing around after candidates as they canvass, asking how and why they do what they do to try and secure your vote on election day.

Living back in the Lagan Valley constituency, I sent the same “Can I come out some night with you and watch you canvass?” email to all six candidates, and five responded positively. Sinn Féin’s Paul Butler failed to reply.

With 65,257 eligible people on the Electoral Register for Lagan Valley, and the Royal Mail recognising 38,600 different addresses, there are a lot of potential doors to knock.

Mark blogged a couple of times recently about the theory and practice of canvassing. I’m going to follow that up with my observations from the streets of Lagan Valley.

I only saw evidence of one party recording voter intentions as they canvassed. Daphne Trimble’s band of UCUNF canvassers were duly noting – and sometimes even asking outright – whether householders would be giving them their X on polling day. The information was to be fed into Merlin, the Tory party’s Electoral Relationship Management system (their explanation, not mine), and would allow wavering households to be revisited and voting intentions to be measured over time. (In a recent Telegraph article, Merlin’s shortcomings were discussed – “It’s about as much use as a cat flap in a submarine”.) But they need to remember to bring along pens!

Trevor Lunn (Alliance), Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP) and Keith Harbinson (TUV) all ruled out noting voting intentions on the doorstep, questioning the value. I’ve no idea whether Sinn Féin were continuing their normal practice of recording intentions now that the Lagan Valley constituency has undergone boundary changes that will adversely affect the nationalist vote.

Donaldson explained that he preferred to work off the tallies (the first preference voting breakdown of a sample of 100 or so votes from every ballot box in the constituency) to highlight areas to concentrate on in future years. He admitted that the technique would be more useful for candidates challenging rather than the incumbent.

I’ll have a look at the doorstep patter and householder’s reactions in the next post, but I was surprised at how uninvasive and passive both Donaldson and Harbinson were when introducing themselves and handing over their literature to people.

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