Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Beware the knock…..What that canvasser knows about you

The people of Meath East are currently facing a wave of canvassers. The ability and talent of these teams will vary. I am sure that most of you can remember some canvassers and forget others. That is the key to success, its all about engagement, finding a way to stay in the memory, to strike up some connection with the voter. Now, I am sure many of you are also the type who will say ‘I can’t wait for these canvassers; I’m going to give them a piece of my mind’. A good canvasser is more than ready, believe you me. A good canvasser is prepared, informed and uses a host of tools, from Mind mapping to basic psychology without ever even thinking about it.

It may be a dying art but you will still be sucked in every so often by the guy or girl who knows what they are doing. So, to level the playing field and help you out I thought I’d give you some insight into how the canvassers mind works and what they are actually doing when they come to your door.

It all starts some weeks before. A candidate will assemble a team and part of this team will be sent off to research issues for various areas. This is not complex; a simple Google search these days will throw up everything from letters to the papers, residents’ groups concerns, statistics, school newsletters, sports clubs announcements and the like. Once this information is compiled and organised it can be broken down by area and presented to the canvass teams so that I, as a canvasser, am already well familiar with the major issues affecting your estate or area before I ever go out.

Preparation is everything in politics, nobody likes a surprise and knowing your answers before you go out is critical. But what you really want to know is what is going on in my canvasser head as I approach your door isn’t it? Well that process starts as I leave the garden of your neighbour and start to focus on you. For all the talk of policy and argument, the only real failure for a canvasser is the person who nods and closes the door as quick. My job is to engage you, to talk to you, to find the ice breaker and connection so that you will remember the ‘nice chap’ who asked you to vote for Joe Bloggs. It’s my job to be a human and nice face. It’s my job to find a conversation and area of agreement with you.

It will take at most 15 seconds to reach your door and in that time the following will happen. I check the road outside your house, looking for pot holes, drains, problems with trees or roots, broken pavements, unkempt verges all things that you are likely to be annoyed by and want someone to address. If I can raise the issue before you do by telling you the pavement is shocking and laugh at how I nearly fell over while saying our candidate will try to do something about it, then your anger will not be as easy to throw at me.

Then I check out your garden. How well is it kept? This can tell me a lot about you, your pride, your resources, and your hobbies. I note the plants that you have there. If all else fails I can always ask you how you got that wonderful pampas grass to grow so well when mine just never seem to take. Then I note the presence, or lack of, other things in the garden such as children’s toys, bicycles, sports equipment, all of these let me know your priorities. I can share a story about my kids, ask about local schools ask about that bicycle or sport because when I want to make a connection I will adapt to become a new enthusiast even to a sport I hate. You may not know me or see me again so a little exaggeration of my interest is no harm. The important thing is that I draw you out.

Moving up your driveway I take full stock of your car. The make, the model, the year. It will give me the best insight into your level of affluence and even perhaps your environmental views. A car where the registration plate and the garage sale sticker are both from the same county may even indicate your geographic relationship to another area. How you keep the car will also indicate much, as will the items (if any) that you leave strewn on the back seat. Child seats may indicate your family age groups, toys, documents, newspapers all tell a story. In the modern age people don’t wear their heart on their sleeve so much as they wear their heart on their bumper stickers. For a huge amount of you I can pick up on your issues from political support, tax campaigns, sports clubs, charities, radio station preference or hobbies through the stickers in your car, a god send to any canvasser in predicting arguments or finding a nice ice breaker to get you talking.

By this stage I am approaching the door, near your front window. It remains the case that for the majority of people their TV still sits in their front room and I can either hear it or see it as I approach. I take note of what you are watching. I’ll always apologise for interrupting Eastenders or the football and then quickly ask you what’s happening in them. I’ll feign much interest in whether Phil Mitchell is taking his revenge yet, if I know that is what you are into. I may ask the score in the match and bemoan how I’m missing it, and ask you to describe that Messi goal. Of course I’ll also support whatever football club I have noticed you supporting too. That TV screen is important though, it lets me know your interests and your family’s interests from sport to current affairs.

Now I’m at your door. If you have a porch I need to check this out. People leave all kinds of stuff in their porch. Their sports gear, golf, football, their jackets or overcoats, walking aids. One of the most telling features is footwear. Nowadays it’s quite common for people to leave shoes in the porch. This can often tell me who is in the house, children, teenagers, an adult. It can tell me something about professions too, business shoes, builder’s boots, expensive dress shoes, comfy work shoes, specialist footwear etc, again pointing to whom I am going to meet. I now note any other election material in the porch, flyers or leaflets that remain on floor not bothered about, or perhaps placed on a table to be looked at or, heaven forbid, crumpled up and thrown there. This may prove a vital insight into your political opinion.

By now I am reaching for the doorbell. Carefully I stand sideways, with my back to the hinge side of the door. No matter how slightly you open it I can see you and meet you with a broad smile. Its important never to stand facing the hinge side of the door, otherwise I would end up peering around at you as you open the door over my shoulder and that is a far less open stance and invites anger.

When you do finally open that door, I will take note of everything I see. The clothes you are wearing, your hair, what you are holding, the way you are standing, the interior of your house, its furnishings, the pictures in the hallway, the items left in view, the sounds from inside the house, perhaps you are cooking dinner, every cook likes to be complimented by a starving waif on the doorstep.

You have opened up your life to me before I have even said ‘Hello’. It may take less than 15 seconds but I am as prepared for you as anyone can be, indeed I am probably more prepared than you are at that moment and despite being on your territory I am at a distinct advantage of knowing a lot more about you than you do about me.

So be wary. A good canvasser is no fool. They are sussing you out, trying to make that connection. That joke, that friendly approach that may just stick in your mind when it comes to casting that vote. You will feel like that canvasser is dropping guard, being interested and personal, talking to you out of a genuine like of you and shared interests, before having to go off wearily to face all the other people. You were the important person. Of course it’s all true, until I reach the end of your garden and start to focus on the road outside your neighbour’s house…..

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