Yes – if you can afford the time. (And obviously, so long as you respect any “no knocking” signs – whether people are worried about the pandemic, or for any other reason.)
In past elections, door-to-door canvassing was a central part of almost every candidate’s election strategy. When you were only trying to reach one-seventh of the Island, you could just about plan to knock on every door in your district during the campaign period.
That’s not going to be possible this time – you will not be able to get around the Island in the time you have available. So if you plan for door-knocking to be the only, or the central, way you reach voters, you are probably going to put yourself at a disadvantage. You need to think about how else you can get your message out there.
On the other hand, if you can fit in some door-knocking, you will probably differentiate yourself positively from other candidates, in the eyes of the few voters who you meet face-to-face. Voters will be pleased that you’ve taken the time and made the effort to show up in person.
I am enthusiastic about door-knocking because I found it such a positive experience myself. When you canvass from door to door, you discover that, on the whole, most people are fairly friendly, fairly moderate in their views, and pretty supportive and respectful of the fact that you’re doing a job they would never want to do.
That’s completely different from the picture you get on social media (after all, social media is a place where people go to let off steam when they’re angry or dismayed). You genuinely do meet the “silent majority”, and they’re pretty nice, reasonable people. You don’t agree with them on everything, but (to borrow Jo Cox’ words) you have far more in with each other than the things which divide you.
And, of course, you’re out and about, walking along the streets of this beautiful Island, and more often than not, seeing Guernsey at its natural – and human – best.
I remember thinking, at the time, how much I wished I could bottle that experience and keep it with me for the difficult times ahead. I think in the end I did, metaphorically speaking. I tend to remind myself of what I learnt by going door-to-door, when things are politically hard, or when media or social media debates show the bitter side of our community, and I feel disillusioned about it all.
Before I sound too rose-tinted, a couple of notes of caution:
It isn’t quite the same for returning candidates. Once you’ve been in the States a while, you can be blamed for all sorts of things you’ve done (and plenty of things that were nothing to do with you, too!). I know that if I were canvassing again this time, I wouldn’t be painting such a sunny picture of it.
And it’s hard work. Physically and mentally. Physically, you could be covering miles a day, on foot or by bike. If you’re not used to that, it’s going to take a toll. Make sure to rest, and if you’re injured or unwell, give yourself time to recover. If you push it, you risk putting yourself out of action completely, and you don’t want that.
As for the mental side: like a surprising number of politicians, I’m pretty shy on a personal level. I’ve got no problem standing up and speaking in front of crowds of people – the part of this job I find the hardest is the schmoozing and small talk. So you can imagine, knocking on strangers’ doors did not come naturally to me. I had to take a deep breath (or several), psych myself up, then put on my Friendly Politician Face and knock on that door. If you’re like me, you might also find it heavy-going; but if you can find the courage to do it, it really is well worth it.
That leaves the question of – if you can’t canvass everywhere, how do you decide where to canvass in an island-wide election?
As I see it, there are basically 3 options:
If your friends and family are willing to volunteer to be part of Team You, you might be able to cover the whole Island between you. This would require a huge amount of time and dedication on their part, though; and it would probably have quite limited impact, because they won’t be able to answer every question a voter might have on your behalf. However, this might work if your main aim is to drop off a manifesto or a postcard at every house.
Or you might feel that island-wide voting is, ironically, a great time to adopt a parish, and focus all your canvassing on that parish – whether it’s the place you live, or another parish you have a particular link with. It’s not necessarily as silly as it sounds. A lot of people regret the loss of parish Deputies as a result of island-wide voting: you could make a favourable impression with those voters by trying to maintain some form of link. But it is a bit of a gamble – will you alienate voters from other parishes by doing so?
Or, finally, you might pick a few streets at random from each parish, and try to canvass those. Randomness is important – consider picking addresses from the Electoral Roll, rather than defaulting to streets you already know. Door-knocking opens your eyes to ways people live, often very different from your own experience (or your immediate social circle). It’s likely you will see extremes of deprivation and ill-health, and of luxury and comfort, that you were oblivious to beforehand. When you face policy issues in the years ahead, you’ll be better placed to think about their consequences for the lives of people, from all different walks of life, that you have met.
This last approach is the method I’d probably choose, if I were standing again. It gives you a snapshot of island life – far from a complete picture, but something useful. And it allows you to make face-to-face contact with voters from across the Island, and hopefully make a favourable impression by doing so. If you have the time and ability to fit in any door-knocking, it is a powerful experience, and one I have always valued immensely.
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