Saturday 3 December 2016

Canvassing: sturdy shoes, thick skin and a strong handshake

There's an art to the door-to-door trudge once every five years, writes Johnny Fallon

Johnny Fallon

Published 08/02/2016 | 02:30

There's an art to the door-to-door trudge once every five years
There's an art to the door-to-door trudge once every five years
Canvasser cartoon

You are probably sitting there warm and comfortable. You might even have one of those terribly clever 'No canvassers or junk mail' stickers in your window. Feeling very happy indeed.

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Well, the canvassers are out there. In rain, hail or shine, they trudge on. They hear all the compliments and take all the abuse. There is nothing they haven't heard before. Giving up their evenings, wearing out shoes trudging wearily on to help their candidate. They are from all parties and Independents and they are there to make a case. They are what keep democracy going. So they deserve some respect no matter who they represent.

The art of canvassing is not as easy as it first appears. It's a difficult job to do well. Preparation starts months in advance.

Incumbent TDs have an advantage because they have been hearing about issues all over the constituency for the past five years. New candidates have to research and prepare. There is no point hitting an estate and not knowing what the local issues in the area are. From traffic to trees, playgrounds to flooding - you have to have an answer. The TD always knows the latest story so always sounds more authoritative, unless the research is done by new candidates.

It's not just about knocking on the door either. A door opening, a leaflet passed and moving on is quickly forgotten. It has to be better than that. The real challenge is to make a connection. Every person you canvass has to be an individual - they must feel special for the two minutes you are talking to them. If you start with asking for the vote or laying out your policy you will just ensure they nod, close the door and march back inside grumpier than ever.

Nobody who does a hard day's work and comes home to make dinner, get the kids to bed, watch the football or have a shower really wants to hear that doorbell and be met with your three priorities for the next five years.

The good canvasser takes in all the details around them. The state of the pavement outside your house, any nice plants in your garden, the car you drive, the opinions expressed on your bumper sticker, the football team you support, kids toys in the garden, golf clubs in the porch, the smell of food wafting from inside the house, and what's on the TV clearly visible in your front room window. All of this gives the canvasser a raft of information about you.

Any one of these things is the important ice-breaker. They support the same football team, they play golf too, they love your car or bike or their kids have the very same toy.

Once that connection is made, it's all personal. Then the message can be tailored to suit your interests. It's all about drawing you out for those couple of minutes. The key is to make you feel like you are different. Once that is done, your anger is lessened and, more importantly, you may remember the nice guy or girl who called to your door and asked for that vote. They know better than to argue with you and they always try to keep smiling.

It's important to always stand facing the opening of the door with your back to the hinge side. That way you always look open and disarming. Stand the other direction and when the door opens you will be peering over your shoulder and look defensive.

The canvasser must get their point across quickly and move on. There is a lot of ground to cover hopefully leaving something in the memory of the person behind each door. And you thought it was all just 'ask for the vote and close the gate behind you', didn't you?

Johnny Fallon is a political analyst, author and commentator

Irish Independent

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