When canvassing, is asking voter intention / past a good idea?

Asking voter intention is of course a very common thing when canvassing, but is it a good idea?

The reason I ask is because very often, people act according to how they perceive themselves. For example, I already think of myself as a natural SLP voter (obviously), and will actually struggle to vote otherwise for the elections we’re not contesting. The question therefore is whether you should (perhaps inadvertently) affirm people’s self-perception of the way they vote when canvassing.

I think it depends on the circumstances.

If you’re a well-known party, and canvassing in an area that usually votes your way, then asking voter intention is a good idea. For example, if I were in an “SLP area”, with natural “SLP voters”, then asking them the question would mean they affirm that self-perception as an SLP voter, and are likely to vote that way.

However, if you’re less well-known, then it may pose a huge risk. For example, asking how they vote in a Conservative area will do no good whatsoever. One of the first things they’ll say at the door will be “I vote Conservative”, so any chance of persuading them to vote otherwise is spoilt. Saying anything negative about “their ” party will be seen as offensive, and anything positive about your own will likely be negated by the effect of getting them to state the way they’ve “always” voted in the past.

There are of course extraordinary circumstances. For example, some campaigners from other parties are finding that asking voter intention in some previously pro-Labour areas will produce great results, with people perhaps saying “never again”. It means they’ll immediately consider the next alternative (presumably the party that’s second in the constituency), and will be affirming their intention to never vote Labour.

Perhaps the best option then in order to gain wavering voters or “independents” is to avoid the question altogether, in the meantime using a positive pro-SLP message in order to persuade them to be natural SLP voters.

The other downside to not asking is that you don’t gain any sense of where exactly the pro and anti areas are! Perhaps then it’s best to ask which way they’ve voted only after you’ve been elected and are confident that the area may indeed have been pro-SLP.


5 Responses to When canvassing, is asking voter intention / past a good idea?

  1. Robson says:

    I think you answered your own question – because it depends on the circumstances, you have to do it anyway, and you’ll never find out unless you do it. You may lose some votes along the way but you can get an accurate picture of where you’re going and how much further you need to go to get somewhere. Also, you’re not just there for the VID and shouldn’t be, the doorstep (or the telephone) is the place where the voters can get to know the SLP and its activists, so get them talking about something else first! That Conservative may not stay Conservative forever if they see the SLP month in month out and no sign of their local Tories.

    • antonhowes says:

      Although for the SLP avoiding the question seems best, perhaps a good way of getting around the problem when VID-ing is absolutely necessary would be to ask a slightly different question:

      Instead of opening with “How have you voted/ will you be voting”, perhaps a better option would be to finish a decent discussion with “So will you be voting for the SLP?”

      I’ll maybe discuss this in a later post, although you’re more than welcome to contribute posts as well! 🙂

      • Robson says:

        i’d argue that there are many ways of asking for voter ID – your Labour example is not extraordinary.

        Lots of people will bring up the clues as to how they’ve voted during the conversation even if they are opposed to

        it’s testament to how people are open to different approaches to this question, and how the skilled canvasser must work their way to asking the right question. few people will say right out after one or two canvasses that they’ll vote SLP because why should they before they know exactly what that vote can achieve where they are relative to the others?

        Of course I’d rather we didn’t V-ID directly at all, it’s remarkably illiberal in many ways. And hypocritical for my party to complain of an encroaching database state when its constituent parties contribute to one within it…

  2. Stu says:

    Surely, you’d ask them who they’ll vote for, then follow that up with positive questions about what they like about that party – and then point out where the SLP (or whoever) is compatible with the things they like about that party – and where it would be an improvement.

    That said, I am universally rude to anyone who has the audacity to knock on my front door – particularly if they’re trying to change my mind about something – and I’ve never felt the need to knock on anyone else’s. On that basis I’m probably not much help.

    • antonhowes says:

      Stu, that’s exactly what I’m discussing – whether this very common canvassing method is actually a good idea. I suspect that for large, well-known parties it can be, but for smaller parties, in more cases than not, it’ll be a bad thing.
      Hehe you just did ad hominem on yourself! Of course your views are helpful!

      You see, arguing with someone is harder when you’ve only just got them to say that they’re something else. For example, if I asked you your favourite colour, you might say “green”. I’d then have to argue (an impossible task) to change your mind to something else. People don’t really like changing their mind, and tend to want to stay how they are once they’ve made their mind up. By asking them the question, you’re forcing them to make their mind up, and then trying to make them change it again. It’s a futile task.

      A better approach may be to say how great “purple” is, and then ask if they like it and whether they agree with you. There’s a much higher chance that they will, with a much easier debate to persuade them to. Essentially, as a party that they’ve never voted for before, you have to make sure that they don’t have this point of reference. Once they have voted that way before, it becomes a lot easier, and you can indeed ask them how they’ve voted before. On hearing your party’s name, you know you’ve won the argument before any can begin.

      It’s for similar reasons that we have an unofficial ban on negative campaigning – it’s better to have a positive message about your own party that effectively replaces any voter sentiment towards other parties. For example, with a negative campaign, you immediately invite comparison. This means that a voter will get to the ballot box (presuming they do) and then recall all the canvassers they’d seen and compare them before ticking a box (as well as taking the arduous decision of working out a load of other stuff, such as policies, getting rid of an incumbent, etc.)
      However, if you have a relentlessly positive message that in fact barely mentions (if at all) the other parties, then they’re likely to enter that polling booth, find their SLP box, put their cross in it and be done with it.

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