From priority areas to ‘tumbleweed territory’: Labour candidates get canvassing masterclass

Regional organiser gives key tips on effective campaign to win votes in local and European elections

Candidates and their teams at the Labour Party national conference got a masterclass in key tips to build an effective canvassing campaign and reach the Holy Grail of number one votes at the upcoming local and European elections.

If a number one proves impossible, Limerick councillor and party regional organiser Conor Sheehan also advised on how to get the “next highest preference”, or even to pick up “whatever bit of a Labour vote there is” in a non-Labour area.

In a special workshop at the Helix, DCU Cllr Sheehan gave a step-by-step guide to the three priority areas for canvassing.

“Priority one is your base, the area where you’d expect to get 20 per cent of the vote.” It may be where a candidate or canvasser is from or lives or where people historically voted Labour.


This is the area to be canvassed three times, minimum twice. “Once to be able to say I’m the candidate, I’m looking for your vote. And the second time is to say the election is Friday, I need you. Turn out for me and I’ll turn up for you.”

Priority two area is “where you’d expect to get 10 per cent to 15 per cent of your vote. That’s an area where if you’re lucky you might get around twice.”

And then there’s priority three area. This is known as “tumbleweed territory”, a particular area where “they’ll be so loyal to one particular party, that the leader of that party could come into their house and shoot their father and they’d still vote for that particular party – they’d do it with gritted teeth.”

The regional organiser told attendees it’s an area where “if you have the time, canvass, but if not just make sure that they get your literature, because if they get your literature whatever bit of a Labour vote is there, you’ll pick it up”.

Canvassing should be scaled up from about three times a week now to five times in the final four to six weeks before the June 7th election day.

Canvassers should take a note of the response at each door, to return to people likely to vote for them. “It also allows you to avoid returning to people who won’t vote for you.”

Members were warned that “you need to build resilience”, to “work smart and avoid running yourself into the ground”.

A canvas is “a targeted conversation” whose aim is a number one vote. “The aim of the conversation is not for you to chitchat.”

He highlighted the canvassing technique of the late former taoiseach John Bruton “who’d go around Meath where he is basically like royalty, and he’d constantly and consistently introduce himself.”

Candidates should make a positive case for themselves but not denigrate others and they were warned to be wary of voters who might support another candidate and “try to get you to say something”.

If a conversation is going on too long with no commitment of a vote “I’d often do something as simple as take two steps back and your slightly withdrawing body language will give someone the hint that you’re looking to conclude things”.

Cllr Sheehan advised his colleagues that “when it comes to immigration try and avoid getting into anything to do with asylum seekers because there’s an awful lot of far-right people out there and they’re whipping up people I would otherwise call sensible”.

“If someone comes up to you with a phone and says “what’s your position on ... just say sorry, not today and keep walking”, because if they are genuine “they will get back to you by phone and you can check their credentials”.

And candidates should always remember that “if there’s an issue that hasn’t been solved in 30 years, you’re not going to solve it”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times