Canvassing before or during an Election Campaign

Probably one of the things that anyone new to politics will fear most of all is canvassing – or going from door to door, speaking to residents and finding out what they think.

Believe it or not, once you have started to gain some experience, canvassing can be a lot of fun. It gives you a genuine opportunity to speak one-to-one with the people you are asking to vote for you, and also to find out why other people might be seeing you in a different way and possibly getting you wrong.

As a rule, you personally and if that’s not possible, a reliable member of any supporting team that you have, should knock on every door in the Ward or Division where you hope to get elected during the Formal Election Campaign at least once.

If at all possible, you should visit doorsteps more. When I was first elected, my running mate and I had knocked on every door twice and in some cases three or four times right up to 9pm on the day of the election itself.

You don’t have to wait until its actually election time before you canvass.

If you want to be taken seriously by voters of all kinds, you would do well to visit everyone, every few months as an absolute minimum, before you are elected, and once you are elected too.

Suggestions for canvassing during an election campaign:

  • Make a plan for covering certain areas and giving yourself enough time to cover a set part of it every evening or Saturday during the election campaign.
  • Knock on every door and wait long enough for someone to answer.
  • When you do get an answer, always try to smile and be polite.
  • Introduce yourself and tell them what you are doing briefly. (You should devise and remember a sentence that says something like ‘Hello, I’m Adam Tugwell and I’m running for Tewkesbury Borough Council as an Independent Candidate in the Elections on 4th May, when I very much hope to be elected to represent you’.
  • Ask them if they are planning to vote and who they are planning to support.
  • At this point, you should know if pursuing a conversation where you can discuss your manifesto is a good idea. Basically, if they tell you they are voting for another candidate in a very clear way, wish them a nice day and be on your way!
  • If they are open to talking, don’t immediately see a green light to grandstand your ideas.
  • Ask them how they feel about the area and what they would like to see being done.
  • DON’T criticise or talk negatively about the other candidates – no matter how you feel about them. You are running your own race!
  • DON’T make promises you cannot keep.
  • Do run through your commitments, but keep them brief and to perhaps no more than 3 to 5 ‘bullet points’.
  • Be prepared to talk through any or all of your commitments.
  • NEVER lie if you feel cornered by a question or comment in any way. Be honest and say you will research a topic if you have found yourself challenged by what someone has said – it’s a great way to open up communication if you offer to go back or contact them by e-mail or by phone – and they will feel really valued if you do.
  • Make sure that they have a copy of your literature if you have already delivered some, and your contact details for if they wish to get in touch.
  • When you have left the property, make a note about how many votes you believe you can expect from that household.
  • If possible, use a copy of the Electoral Roll to do this.
  • The Electoral Roll will provide names of the people in each house, but it is safest not to use the names to address people when they answer the door, just in case it isn’t them! Names appear on the Electoral Roll which may not be the names people use in their day-to-day lives. You will avoid feeling red-faced or silly, if you happen to stumble upon someone like this by greeting everyone in the same way.

REMEMBER: You must not refer to yourself as being a ‘candidate’ for any election in any way, written, spoken or otherwise, unless and until you have been formally recognised as being a candidate for that specific Election by the Democratic Services Department at the Council which is managing the Election you plan to run in.

Suggestions at other times:

  • Make a plan for covering a certain area, giving yourself enough time to complete it on a Saturday morning.
  • A week or perhaps two weeks before, visit each of the houses and deliver a small leaflet outlining the issues you are working on and making clear that you would like to know what residents think about these, or anything else which might be of concern to them.
  • On the leaflet, tell them when you will be returning, and ask them to display the leaflet where it can be seen on the day you are going to return. That way you will only knock on doors where people want to talk – which wont by any means be all. But you will also save yourself a lot of time too. (People will remember that you have been to their house and have given them the opportunity to speak to you, even if they don’t take up the offer)
  • When you call at a house, like when you are canvassing at election time above, be polite, smile and introduce yourself, making reference to your note. (Which will hopefully be easy for you to point at)
  • Ask them what they would like to talk about, let them speak and make sure you listen!
  • Be open about your thoughts about what you can do.
  • Don’t make promises you cannot keep.
  • Always be prepared to signpost someone who can help them if you genuinely know that you cannot.

Once you have learned a routine and the best way to interact on the doorstep, the experience will be incredibly useful.

One thing you should never do is get involved in an argument on somebody’s doorstep, especially over your policies. It is important to be aware that you don’t always know who you are talking to on a doorstep, and if they support another candidate, they may consider it an investment in supporting the other candidate by wasting your time. The logic being that you will have less time to spend with people who might support you, if you are on their doorstep fruitlessly trying to convince them to change their mind!