If you live in an area where elections are happening this year, someone you know will probably complain: “I had a politician knocking on my door the other day. It’s typical – they only ever show up when they want your vote!” Indeed, you may not only agree with the sentiment, but have expressed it yourself!
In today’s post, I’m going to flip the perspective around and show you what it looks like to be the person knocking on the doors. To begin with, I will ask a question: “Is it reasonable to expect you will be able to talk directly to every election candidate?”
Well, let me show you what it would look like if I were to try to speak to every voter in my own ward of Littlemore. According to the electoral roll, Littlemore ward contains 2624 homes, and 4860 voters – that is, a little under two voters per household. From past experience it takes me roughly one hour to leaflet 100 homes, so just to leaflet every household, that would take one person 26 hours. That’s just sending a bit of paper through the door, most of which will end up in the recycling bin – sadly for the candidates, but happily for the environment!
Let’s imagine instead that you are a prospective voter, and you get a knock on the door from a candidate, and haven’t yet decided how you will vote. How long might you want to spend talking to a candidate? 60 seconds? Five minutes? Ten minutes?
Let’s for the sake of argument suppose that the candidate manages to limit their conversations to two minutes, and allow an extra minute for getting between doors – that means 20 conversations per hour. If you knock on every door, and by some miracle everyone was (1) at home, and (2) willing to talk to you, it would take 130 hours for one person to talk to every household. Even then, you would not have necessarily spoken to every voter – only to whichever person answered the door!
Attempting to speak to every resident increases the time involved again. Calling back to houses with multiple occupants will add roughly 100 hours extra time. So far therefore, the poor candidate would need to spend 230 hours (for perspective, there are 168 hours in one week) to successfully speak to every elector in Littlemore, and that’s before you factor in longer conversations, needing to call back where nobody is at home, and the time needed to walk from door to door – to say nothing of the fact that voters want their candidates to actually do case work and try to fix problems in the local area!
So a candidate could spend one week just knocking on doors … provided they gave up their job and their weekend, and didn’t mind only getting six hours to wash, sleep, and eat. This example demonstrates a powerful truth – nobody can win an election on their own. It is physically impossible for a candidate to speak to every single person in their area during an election. The only way they can reach out to everybody is through a team of volunteers giving up their time and energy to support them. When politicians thank their team in election speeches it is no mere platitude – they recognise they did not get there by themselves.
I admit that I feel that burden keenly; as a new parent I’m hardly flush with spare time to begin with – between working a full-time job, ensuring my wife has time to rest, playing my part in caring for our son and looking after the household, and making sure I keep myself healthy and well.
What does that mean in practice? Well, it means accepting my own limitations – that even with the best will in the world, there is only so much time I can give to campaigning. It means relying on friends, whether in the party or outside, to help me to engage with Littlemore’s residents. And while I should always aspire to speak to as many people as possible, it also means accepting that I am not superhuman – and I won’t get to speak to everyone.
Does this change how you feel about candidates and canvassers? Are there ways that we can communicate better with you? I hope whatever you think about this perspective on campaigning, you feel better informed after reading it!