Candidates ready to knock on doors, get voters on side
IT’S a rainy weekday in Huonville and a solitary figure huddles under an umbrella clutching a bunch of brochures.
It could be any door-todoor salesman, maybe a religious group or same-sex marriage campaigner.
But this is the Premier, Will Hodgman, knocking on doors in a battling area of his seat of Franklin. Only in Tasmania? The state’s politicians may be going digital, ramping up their use of social media, but they know elections are won in analog. Recent Labor upset victories in the Legislative Council came on the back of massive grassroots campaigns, and it’s a template already being borrowed six months out from an election due in March.
“The Premier’s got to show people that he wants it, that he wants to win,” University of Melbourne Election Watch director Nicholas Reece told the Sunday Tasmanian.
“They need to see that he’s trying, and that he’s trying to
earn their vote.” Doorknocking is well and truly under way from all three parties as they seek to engage voters and make politics real again.
From the Premier himself, to Opposition Leader Rebecca White and teams of Greens targeting regions affected by fish farming, the pre-campaign campaign is truly on.
Like the slow food movement of meals cooked for hours from scratch, many are calling for a slow politics that takes the real ingredients of people’s concerns and bakes them into policy.
“Sometimes the biggest issues in the community aren’t the issues that are on the front page or leading the TV news bulletins, and that direct feedback about community concerns is vital,” Liberal Party state director Sam McQuestin said.
“The fact that the Premier regularly goes doorknocking is evidence of how important it is in order to stay in touch.”
It’s worked interstate, es- pecially for the readily mobilised forces of Labor.
And it worked spectacularly for MLC Sarah Lovell, who unseated independent incumbent Tony Mulder in the seat of Rumney in May.
Ms Lovell’s team directly contacted 11,000 of the electorate’s 28,000 voters at their front doors or by phone.
They began campaigning daily three months out from polling day, initially for two hours a day before ramping it up to 4-5 hours in the month before. “Social media is a convenient way for people to kind of check you out but it’s not a particularly effective way for really engaging with people,” Ms Lovell said.
“Everyone’s on it and it’s quick and it’s easy but in terms of really engaging with people and making genuine connections, conversations are really the best way to go.”
Candidates from all parties are at pains to stress they’re at your front door to listen.
They don’t even need to know every policy inside out, Ms Lovell says.
“People actually don’t want to talk about policies, they want to talk about what’s important to them,” she said.
Most often that is health, daylight is second, then education and jobs. But not always. “Sometimes they just want to talk about their pets or their daughter’s graduation results,” Greens Franklin candidate Holly Ewin said.
“Sometimes it’s about federal issues or local issues or issues with the neighbour and constructing the fence.”
Exchanges are mostly respectful, and offers of a cuppa are common, but campaigning has its more interesting moments too.
“I’ve had some people come to the door probably not expecting someone and perhaps not dressed as appropriately as they might be if they were expecting someone,” Ms Lovell said.
Behind the smiles and listening is a science that parties are trying to perfect.
Data from polling booths is analysed so that candidates know within a front veranda where all the swinging voters live.
“At the very least they will know which parts of the electorate tend to swing more than others,” Mr Reece said.
“Then they target their efforts to those parts of electorates where they know swinging voters are to be found.”
Volunteers, sometimes from respected professions like the emergency services or teaching, are trained in dealing with difficult questions and highlighting the choice voters face, Mr Reece says.
“If you get a phone call from someone who says: ‘I’m a teacher at your local school and I’m ringing to tell you why I’m voting Labor’, it’s a pretty powerful campaign tactic,” he says.
The ALP’s union connections mean it is often considered to have a natural on-theground advantage, but all parties will be donning the walking shoes in the next six months.
“You can never do enough doorknocking,” Mr McQuestin says.
“It’s important to doorknock all year around, regardless of when the election is.
“The issues that will win or lose a vote don’t just happen in the few weeks before election day.”
e fact that the Premier regularly goes doorknocking is evidence of how important it is in order to stay in touch. SAM MCQUESTIN, TASMANIAN LIBERALS STATE DIRECTOR