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"People will open the door, see I'm a canvasser and sigh"

Canvassing for a political party can be tough – but it’s also addictive, writes Sharon Nolan.

Sharon Nolan

FOR THE LAST number of months, I’ve been out canvassing and campaigning for Niall Ó Tuathail, the Social Democrat candidate for Galway West/South Mayo, and it’s been quite the experience.

Canvassing for a new party and a first time candidate can be good and bad. You’re fighting against the lack of recognition for the party and people who don’t know much about Niall, but at the same time, there are plenty of people we encounter who are hungry for some kind of change in our political system.

Sometimes people just don’t want to know and just write off anyone who wants to get involved in politics as negative. One thing I know for certain is that we have it a lot easier than someone canvassing for Fine Gael or Labour!

The issues at the doorsteps

The issues that come up most commonly on the doors I’ve canvassed are queries about what the party would do to change the health system, housing, Niall’s stance on the 8th amendment, religious discrimination in schools, our taxing strategies, homelessness, and water charges. I think I recite the stances on those issues in my sleep at this stage.

Getting people to even answer the door can be a challenge in of itself sometimes. I’ve seen people sit on the couch looking out at me and specifically ignore the knock on the door. I once had a kid answer the door to tell me “My mam told me to say she’s in the shower so she doesn’t have to come out to talk to you”.

Another child shouted “there’s nobody home” out the letter box. I can understand their perspective; sometimes after a long day you don’t want someone trying to engage you with discussion on your doorstep, but it can be frustrating from my perspective.

223238f7-6378-43a8-8df2-294cf83f26baSocial Democrat canvassers in Galway WestSource: Sharon Nolan

The main thing that I find striking about my interactions with the public while canvassing is how many people are tired of the way politics is traditionally run in this country. They open the door, see that I’m a canvasser, and sigh.

 

People are angry

People are angry and in need of change, but have been let down by so many governments in the past they’ve just stopped believing in it. There’s a troubling level of apathy and disillusionment with politics, and personally I feel some of the bigger parties are benefiting from that as it’s keeping turnout low so only the party-loyal voters are turning out time and time again.

It’s also heartbreaking to hear stories from the people who have been left in dire straits due to current government cutbacks. It keeps the fire in my belly to keep going out night after night, and to hopefully show people that there are other alternatives out there.

I’ve had my fair share of excitement while out canvassing. I’ve been literally chased away from a few doors who were very anti-politics and didn’t care that we were a new party. You have a few who are not interested in the party, but just want to keep you chatting at the door to eat up your precious canvassing time, although I’ve gotten better at picking up on the warning signs for them. I’ve had people slam the door in my face after taking a look at me, and had the odd sexist or personal remarks against me, though thankfully they’re very few and far between.

One of my personal worst experiences was a few weeks ago when a particularly conservative woman that did all but throw holy water at me after treating me to a 5-minute rant on ‘how social welfare was a blight on modern society’ and other derogatory comments not fit for repeating. When possible, if I encounter someone with differing views, I just smile and thank them for their time and walk away. It’s the best response to take.

I know I’ve spoken a lot about the negatives but I adore canvassing. It’s definitely addictive. There’s nothing better than having a hearty discussion with someone on a doorstep, meeting people who share your world view, or seeing someone get inspired by your own enthusiasm. I’ve met some wonderful and gracious people, petted many a dog, and even befriended a few kids who’ve ran to see who’s chatting at the door with their parents.

I love being part of Niall’s team and seeing the formation of the Social Democrats as a party. It’s an uphill battle, but one the party is well able for.

Read: All the latest general election news > 

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