On the canvass – An Irishwoman’s Diary on the perils of electioneering
“You find yourself standing at an unanswered door, with a leaflet in your hand, and there is a dog the size of a small pony growling at you through the glass panel on the side.” Photograph: iStock
Dogs. There are an awful lot of them out there. It’s something you don’t really notice until you find yourself standing at an unanswered door, with a leaflet in your hand, and there is a dog the size of a small pony growling at you through the glass panel on the side.
That’s when the hound is not, and I swear this is true, casting an eye in the direction of the letterbox. Me. Letterbox. Letterbox. Me.
The message couldn’t have been any clearer if that growling had managed to contort itself into a “Feelin’ lucky?”
It’s election season, and for us canvassers that means night after night pounding the footpaths of local estates.
I’m doing it in Dublin so we’re talking about huge, rambling developments that stretch into Meath and Louth and beyond. Well, there are nights when they certainly seem to.
But for the candidates, every door counts. Might make that difference. Might just tip the balance. My own candidate kicks off these interactions with variations of, predictably enough, hello/how are you?/lovely to meet you. Except that constant repetition of this refrain means there are times when the whole thing slips into a vortex and ends up swirling around in there for what seems like an age.
On more than one occasion, I’ve stood at a neighbouring door and borne witness to interactions that are off and running with a “How are things? Ah, I’m grand. Grand.”
No, the weather really has “improved” before the individual standing on their doorstep has had a chance to clear their throat.
But then canvassing is mad. And exhausting. And at times frustrating.
But according to every survey going, it’s what actually works.
“You’re the only one who came to the door”, a voter announced last time round, “so you’re getting my vote.”
In an ideal world, you’d kind of hope that people would put a little bit more thought into the process, but who were we to argue?
Although during the most recent general election campaign, I ended up doing just that. A woman opened her door and promptly pointed to her neighbour’s tree, which was located on the other side of the boundary fence. “Just look at it”, she exclaimed, “the pigeons sit on those branches and do their business on my car, day after day”.
Without missing a beat, she continued, “If you get rid of that tree and the pigeons, you have my vote.”
I’ve been doing this game long enough to know that, yes indeed, all politics is local. But that woman got me towards the end of the campaign, when I was sick of canvassing and tired and grumpy. And so I went for it. I got to say what I’d been itching to say for weeks. What I’d been dying to get off my chest. That this was an election to do with affairs of the state.
So we parted on possibly not the best of terms.
And I glanced over towards those pigeons, while heading for the gate, and silently wished them all the best in their endeavours.
For the most part, though, those kind of daft encounters tend to be rare enough. The doors are generally fine.
Although this time around, I have noticed a trend that was never there before. There are an awful lot of people out there opening the door in their pyjamas and dressing gown at, say, seven in the evening.
The first time it happened, I found myself looking away in embarrassment and muttering all kinds of apologies. But then it happened again and again. And the people in question were entirely unfazed and slightly confused by my discomfort.
Except for the person who responded to the standard “Sorry to disturb you” with an emphatic “Well, you did! I was in the bath!”, which pretty much killed the conversation on the spot.
But by far the most unnerving experience on the doors, was a few years ago, when I bent down to push a leaflet through the letterbox. and in that instant felt the fingers of a hand from inside the house on the back of my own. I fairly ricocheted from that door, landing half-way down the garden path.
But back to that enormous dog. Our stand-off could only result in one winner. That was clear. Suffice it to say I left that door, confident in the ability of its owners to find out about their local election candidates in other, more innovative ways.