EVERY EVENING, AS I finish up work, colleagues tend to ask what everyone else is up to. No one asks me anymore because they know I’ll give them the same answer every day between now and 26 February.
Canvassing takes over the lives of every political groupie in Ireland during an election campaign. There’s the planning of the canvass, the actual canvass, the canvass post-mortem and then, of course, the now traditional “Great response on the doors tonight in X” tweet that every candidate and their hacks release.
Add in the pic of the group of beaming, smiling (mostly cold) canvassers huddled beside a street sign and we’re all on message again!
We all do it. We all know it’s waffle. But what else would we write? The truth?
The fact is most people don’t open their doors and those that do don’t really want to talk to us, let alone speak about the future of the country.
Canvassing is rarely as exciting, uplifting or inspiring as we make it out to be.
I’ve been canvassing since around 2004. It’s rarely as positive as most of my tweets have made it out to be.
Even in 2007, after the post-Dobson bounce for Fianna Fáil, I got screamed at, chased and harangued.
2011 was a nightmare. I was luckier than most. My town of Kells is what we in Fianna Fáil call ‘staunch’. The party polled just under 30%, which, when compared to what was happening across the rest of the country, was heavenly.
Friends in Dublin reported such viciousness that many couldn’t go out again. People who had canvassed for decades just retired to their living rooms, or at best volunteered to drop leaflets.
For all its flaws, I love it
Fast forward to 2016. Things have changed. We aren’t being chased from doors (whenever they open). But let’s be frank: until last week, most people were indifferent to our attempts to engage and have positive, meaningful conversations.
How many people have had their voting preferences changed because of me directly talking to them on the door? Not that many. To be fair, when the candidate speaks to a voter on their doorstep it makes a bigger difference.
Ordinary street soldiers have one job. Get doors open and keep them open for as long as possible until the candidate can run up the driveway and say hello.
Is there a better way? Doubtful. Will social media replace traditional door to door canvassing? I hope to God not.
For all its flaws, and I moan about canvassing every day, I love it. It’s part of the democratic process. It’s people stepping up from all political traditions and doing their civic duty.
So when someone knocks on your door over the next few days, do them a favour (and maybe yourself), and ask them a question. They are dying to speak to someone and feel that their entire night hasn’t just been about a glorified leaflet drop.
Must check where I’m canvassing tonight now…
A Meath man by birth, and currently working in the world of communications and PR, Donnacha Maguire is a Fianna Fáil member supporting Paul McAuliffe’s campaign in Dublin North West.