Saturday 1 October 2016

Crunch time for canvassers as 'undecided' numbers grow

The majority of people Carol Hunt is meeting on the doorsteps are still unsure how they are going to vote

Published 24/01/2016 | 02:30

Independent candidate Carol Hunt. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Independent candidate Carol Hunt. Photo: Fergal Phillips

'A plague on all your houses". If I were to honestly encapsulate the impression I'm getting from the electorate at doorsteps into an ancient phrase, it would have to be Shakespeare's ruthless put-down. With more choice than ever before - a huge variety of parties and alliances and Independents to pick and choose from - the prevailing mood seems to be one of mass indecision.

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I know that the latest polls put the number of undecided voters in the country at between about 15pc and 20pc but this one in five estimate is not correlating to what I'm hearing at doorsteps. In eight out of 10 cases what I'm hearing is "I don't know".

I'm not a professional observer of human behaviour, but I don't think people are just trying to fob me off when they say this. They could just say - as one man did - "There's no way I'm ever going to vote for an Independent, but, eh, thanks for your time", before they close the front door, but they're not. They want to talk. And they want me to listen. They want to tell me all the reasons why they don't want to vote for any of the proposals on offer.

Are they being too picky? Spoilt for choice? Is there no pleasing them? Or do they want a bespoke politician, as it were, one tailored to their own specific needs? One by one people are going through all the possible choices on offer, finding fault and issues with all of them, counting them off on their fingers, then stopping to ask, "So, who do I vote for?"

I meet a former Fianna Fail stalwart who insists the party still don't understand the enormity of what it did to the country. He tells me that the embarrassment has not been forgotten; of the Germans arriving, the last dire days of Brian Cowen's leadership, that talk show hosts in the US were using us as comedy material - except for us it wasn't a bad joke. It was reality.

"And not only did they take their colossal pensions, but some of them have the cheek to want back in again," he concludes.

But it seems many who welcomed Fine Gael as our saviours are even more disappointed with the Blueshirts than they were disgusted with Fianna Fail.

"I can't vote for Fine Gael again," a public servant outside a shopping centre tells me. "Twenty years ago I was not well-off, but comfortable. Today I'm putting food back on the [supermarket] shelves because I can't afford to buy it."

He is a classic example of the squeezed middle - the typical FG supporter who feels as if they have carried the weight of recovery on their backs.

Like the second child who eventually gets their chance to shine when the eldest dirties his copybook, much was expected of FG. There was going to be a democratic revolution. There was going to be accountability and fairness and an end to cronyism. But what we got was more of the same. Never has Fine Gael been so indistinguishable from Fianna Fail.

"Heartsore" is how one former Labour supporter told me she felt at the cuts to the vulnerable, the continuance of jobs for the boys, the fact she never realised there was a very powerful "right wing" in Labour and they were in control.

In my own constituency of Dun Laoghaire, the general opinion of Sinn Fein seems to be one of fear. "If I wanted to be ruled by the West Belfast IRA, I'd move up there," said one voter [before looking over his shoulder anxiously in case he had been overheard].

People are happy to admit there are good, articulate politicians in SF, but the legacy of terrorism and murder is still fresh in the minds of many.

And then we come to the various groupings of Others and Independents. The main impression seems to be wariness of the unknown and the fear of wasting a vote. And a dollop of disdain. "The opposition?" asks one man, with eyebrows raised. "How many of them leftie parties are there now?" He starts reeling them off: "The AAA, the PBP, the Socialist Party, the Social Democrats - hang on, are they left or right?"

"Why would I vote for an Independent?" asks one woman. "What power will you have? What can you achieve? Who will you go into power with?"

These questions are very fair in the context of the traditional, sole-trader independent but as a member of a united, nationwide, Independent Alliance of Independents I would hope, if elected, to be in a strong position to influence government policy.

In one way it's easier to canvass people when you haven't been in government, you're not a member of a party and therefore don't have to take responsibility for any of the decisions that have been made. But people are reluctant to vote for Independents because they don't know how a government with a large number of disparate voices will work.

"Are you left or right or what?" I'm asked. When I say it will depend on the context of each piece of particular legislation, they think I'm trying to have my cake and eat it. But it's my job to prove to both electorate and critics that I am a responsible choice - as well as a radical one.

Some voters, however, are so disillusioned by politicians they have become completely apathetic to the entire circus - as they see it. They've had it with politicians of each and every hue. But what's also clear is that an increasingly large number of voters are refusing to be pushed into making up their minds. These voters are sincere and analytical and they take their democratic mandate seriously. They want fairness and accountability as well as economic prosperity and they want change - but they're not sure how far they can rock the boat and still ensure it stays afloat. They want a lot more than they've been given recently from their political representatives but they're anxious about getting less.

Will any of us measure up to their expectations? That remains to be seen, but in the meantime their vote is there to be won - not bought, they see right through that - and whoever manages to secure their confidence and trust will decide the make-up of the next government. The future belongs to the undecideds. When they eventually make up their minds.

Carol Hunt is running as an Independent Alliance candidate in the Dun Laoghaire constituency

Sunday Independent

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