How to track your voters in an STV PR system? SF’s system can help…

Whilst I am trying to recover my post election wits and figure out the various party profiles, Vixens have some reading for the vanquished of the last few days… Sinn Fein’s secret electoral sauce… (parts two and three)…

It’s a great system and much more widely known about these days than it used to be, although not everyone has the residual full time professional structure that Sinn Fein has to be able to carry it all through.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • OneNI

    Nothing that the main parties on the mainland haven’t been doing for thirty years or more. Indeed they have another level of complexity in their targeting and marketing that goes WAY beyond this.

  • redhugh78

    ‘..although not everyone has the residual full time professional structure that Sinn Fein has to be able to carry it all through’

    – Quite insulting really. In fact as someone who helps out SF at election time, it is the multitude of people who give up their time for free to canvass etc that SF can rely upon to carry them through, that’s where the other parties who have to pay people to poster etc will never equal the shinners.

  • Zeno

    The only people who came out to canvas me was the Alliance, I told them there was no need for the Alliance Party and they could be replaced by One Barrister and The Equality Commission since that is their decision making process.
    No SF/DUP/SDLP or any other.

  • ayeYerMa

    There is something particularly sinister and manipulative about the Provos sending individually addressed envelopes and mail-merged letters to each individual member of the household. I can imagine a certain type of naive first-time voter teenager receiving a letter and thinking they are somehow special.

  • New Yorker

    From Vixens website, Part Three:
    “Post it notes, with the numbers written on them, and smuggled outside to the caravan / gazebo / office. There, they are given to a central person who marks them off a chart sheet – and compared with whether a person is a green or a yellow. Come 6pm, Sinn Fein put a last push on going out to the doors, and basically trying to trail their green voters who havent made it to the polling station out. That’s where the car comes in, they’ll even try to take you there themselves.”

    Is this true? Do they “smuggle” out information that is restricted to the polling station? Do they insist on driving voters to a polling station?

  • Politico68

    Pretty standard, all parties in the South have a similar system, i just assumed the north was the same ..

  • This is all standard operational practice for the main parties in GB as well.

    The weakest element, as compared to across the water, is communicating the marked registers to the committee rooms. In England there is a tradition of “tellers” sitting outside the polling station and politely asking voters for their poll numbers on their way in. All parties (usually) cooperate with each other in this process.

    It’s not clear to me that there is a legal way of communicating that info if it has been gained from inside the polling station, but no doubt all concerned are scrupulously observing the letter of the law.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    I know of one canvassing technique – dunno how common it is – but it has been very successful for a high profile (successful) Euro election candidate. He doesn’t go on the canvass himself, remains at base camp. If a voter brings up a particular issue, canvasser takes note & phone no. & rings candidate with details. Candidate rings voter back within minutes. Voter feels candidate has made an effort for him / her personally. Job done.

  • Stewart Finn

    I cant believe everyone isn’t doing some variation of this. I have seen a much more complex system first hand on American campaigns and also ran a cut down version in previous Assembly elections with fewer resources. Anyone without a system like this cant be canvassing very efficiently leading up to an election.

    I know anecdotally Alliance were repeat callers at houses in east Belfast so I assumed they were working a GOTV system from a (perceived) supporter database. Lots and lots of people complained about not being canvassed which again would lead me to believe that come close to an election people are talking primarily to a list of people with a high likelihood of voting as opposed to blindly knocking doors. There is a time for blindly knocking doors but in my view it is not in the month leading up to an election, ideally by then you would know a lot more about many of the residents in the area.

  • Stewart – entirely agree. It’s not often appreciated that the Electoral Office sells electronic copies of a) the electoral register, which you can then data crunch against if you want, and b) the marked register indicating who has actually voted in a particular election (see for details). Obviously for a well-organised and tech-savvy political operation, this information is like gold dust.

  • Stewart Finn

    Yes combining that resource with:
    A list of those who have been helped with a constituency issue
    A semi regular door knocking leaflet/newsletter drop where the canvasser assesses and records the likelihood of a vote
    And incorporating where possible new/social media contacts into this as well

    …should mean that in the 6 months leading up to an election you have a (hopefully sizeable) list of likely voters and high preferences who you can concentrate on a) getting on the register and b) going to the polling station to vote. When we are having 3 election years on the bounce…I’d like to think parties are better organised, in regular (but useful) contact with their potential voters and improving their canvassing efficiency and content (the canvassing I experienced this election as a door answerer…was nothing short of abysmal).

    I think there is a certain level of complacency mixed with a ‘this is how we have always done it’ attitude. I am delighted that people like Gerry Carroll were able to break into the council election and mix things up a bit. I don’t know how his campaign was run but he clearly stood out from the crowd and I would speculate that his vote was a reward for work done – which he then crucially promoted and told people about and then specifically asked them to vote for him….that is all we are really talking about here…just that all that is recorded and analysed (and that can be done in a fairly simple system).

    Obviously all that gets harder to manage in a Westminster or Assembly election but principles are the same. In a local government election when you are talking about potentially 600 odd votes being a poll topper..the smaller you canvassing team the MORE stuff like this should be regular practice.

  • Stewart Finn

    Nicholas I should add that while it has been a while since I have worked with the electoral register; from experience it was a really useful resource but poorly implemented. The information was incomplete, inconsistent and difficult to work with….but it was there.

  • SDLP supporter

    AYM @ 1.23 am. Get a grip. God knows, I’m no fan of the Provos but there’s nothing manipulative nor sinister about sending out welcome letters to first time voters.

    For what it’s worth, my reasonably successful SDLP branch uses an electronic system which tracks the elector’s voting record over the past half dozen elections or so. If s/he never votes, there’s no point wasting time at their door, because they’re never going to vote, even if a JFK or a Mandela was your candidate.

    The first essential is a really thorough canvass by an experienced, savvy team which is able to read the elector at the doorstep. Recording someone as a supporter who grunts at you, tries to get you away from the door ASAP, who is non-committal, who tells you “I’ll read your literature” or “I haven’t made up my mind yet” is totally and utterly stupid, and I’ve seen it done.

    When you have a robust canvass and the voting record, then all you have to do is house changes or new electors.

    For what it’s worth, in my opinion the SDLP had a fair few parasites as councillors elected on the coat-tails of Hume/Mallon etc because the IRA were killing people and it was enough to say that the local SDLP were the Catholics who didn’t believe in killing people. Once they got their arses on a seat, these parasites made sure there was no local organisation which could throw up people who might challenge them.

    Those wasters and free-loaders who were franchising out the SDLP brand name are nearly all gone now, DG. However, a new set of mistakes are being made, for example parachuting people into DEAs where there is zero organisation structure and candidates who don’t know the first thing about fighting elections. Fighting elections is a skill and a trade and it has to be learned, like every other life skill.

  • SDLP supporter

    For what it’s worth, I would venture to suggest that, if they have any sense, the backroom strategists in the South’s coalition parties are looking into the backgrounds of a lot of the new SF councillors. I would hazard a guess that a lot of them have eased themselves into (non) jobs on the public payroll as community workers, animateurs, co-ordinators, facilitators and the like, which leaves them plenty of time to go about their political work. I know of a certain former SF councillor in Belfast and her husband’s main job was to drive her around while nominally he was on the payroll of some “community” group.

    NI has something like 30,000 people in the community sector. Not all of them are as I describe above, but a fair few of them are.

  • Sorry to disappoint Mick but SF have moved on from Sheena’s ‘Torrent’ model to a much more sophisticated one based on a US model. IMO, the great value of their current system is that it allows resources to be directed centrally – this is crucial when resources can be stretched to the limit because of fighting elections simultaneously on both sides of the border.