The Voter’s Guide to Canvassing

Rule one: don’t just shout at calling politicians. Not straight away

And they’re off: posters in Dublin. Photograph: David Sleator

And they’re off: posters in Dublin. Photograph: David Sleator

Sat, Apr 26, 2014, 01:00

Following the release of Fine Gael’s Guide to Canvassing , a DVD and booklet that gave candidates and supporters handy tips about how to deport themselves on the doorsteps, it’s time for a similar initiative for those whose doors they’ll be knocking on. Here, then, is the Voter’s Guide to Canvassing .

During next month’s council and European elections, you’re faced with some very important choices. Will you descend immediately into yelling and ranting at canvassers? Or will you give the candidate time and attention on the off chance that you will one day need a pothole fixed? And then descend into yelling and ranting.

Appropriate greetings include, “H ello”, “I t’s nice to see you,” or, “ Someone alert the Garda that you’re safe and well after whatever kidnap ordeal kept you locked away for the past five years!”

Make sure to be aware of the relevant issues when greeting local -election candidates, such as the bus stop promised for the end of the road, or the overgrown grass on your estate’s green. When you’re greeting European- election candidates, be similarly abreast of key issues crucial to the work of your MEP, such as, u m, that European thing, and, well, that policy on farming or something.

While many voters go to the door with the intention of giving a calling politician a piece of their mind, being faced with a surprisingly pleasant and interested candidate can prove so disarming that it is easy to switch from anger to obliging quicker than the arguing couple in Father Ted . In a scenario where you feel the sudden urge to be sympathetic and generous to the candidate, try to avoid going overboard. It’s okay to promise a vote of some form, but don’t announce, “L ike my grandfather and great-grandfather before him, I’ll be voting Anti-Austerity Alliance 1, 2 and 3!”

Remember that although each European-election candidate has answered the same question at every door step, it is the first time you will have asked it. So savour that half-second of soul-sagging restraint while they gather themselves to yet again answer the question: “What exactly does an MEP do?”

Be smart on the issues. If you simply make statements on the main issues, it is too easy for the canvassers to roll with what they know you want to hear. Instead, ask non committal questions in order to get a true sense of a candidate’s views. For example, “What’s your view on the new housing development?” or “Do you believe local transport facilities are adequate?” or “Where do you stand on the theory that the EU is in fact an Illuminati-controlled conspiracy towards a New World order facilitating the rise of the anti-Christ?”

You can gauge the candidate’s sincerity by how their responses double as questions aimed to draw out your own views. (For example, “That is a very complex and nuanced issue?”)

Evenings between 7pm and 9pm are generally considered the best times to answer the door, as you’re docile after your dinner. Keep in mind that canvassers are advised not to call during “event” soap-opera episodes, major televised sporting fixtures or when you’re catching up on Game of Thrones .

Ensure you are dressed appropriately. Or dressed at all.

If you do wish to unnerve a candidate, while still conveying a grasp of the issues of importance, try to be clever about it. For instance, open the door just a crack and interrupt the canvasser’s introduction by saying, “Oh, thank God. Please help me. Alert the authorities. I’m being kept prisoner in this house against my will . . . by negative equity and uncaring bank policies!”

Although it is extremely tempting to greet every Fianna Fáil canvasser with a raging diatribe against everything they did to th is country, and look at the state we’re in, and how do they have the nerve to show up here, and how can the candidate stomach representing what was once the corrupt, rotten heart of a political system that brought this country to its knees, just remember you voted for Fianna Fáil in every single election for 30 years.

The canvassers are instructed to offer you a lift to the polling station should you require one on the day. You should take them up on that offer, asking them to stop at the bank machine, Lidl and then the playschool, so you can grab the kids along the way. Only then should you tell them you forgot that you weren’t registered to vote in the first place.


@shanehegarty
shegarty@irishtimes.com

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