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New Orleans In modern politics obsessions run hot and heavy as election day looms ahead. One cycle it might be microtargeting with sophisticated databases categorizing voters and messages. Another cycle it’s small donors and social media. But for my money, there’s still nothing like the ground game even if it’s the old standby sitting on the back pages while the fashion this year gets the headline.
Seeing a column in The Economist entitled “Knock knock: Old-fashioned canvassing can still make all the difference,” brings joy to an old door knocking fool. In an aside, I have to admit I’m having a mini-crisis of sorts reading The Economist. For years I have done so in a low-boil thinking it was my duty to read the global perspective of a conservative, business weekly. Now suddenly a history is written with reviews everywhere claiming they are the voice of liberalism. Liberals?!? I’m at sea. Who are these people? Regardless, if someone burrowed deep in their number is going to praise door knocking, they must be related to me somehow.
And, praise Bagehot does in full measure, saying,
“…canvassing provides parties with local knowledge. Banging on doors is not only the best way to identify your supporters. It is also the best way to gauge degrees of warmth or hostility. Waverers can be targeted for another visit. Get-off-my-lawn types can be written off. Old-fashioned canvassing works seamlessly with modern technology, as canvassers use apps like MiniVAN Touch that allow them to feed doorstep responses into a central database. These data are then used for the get-out-the-vote effort on election day, when thousands of volunteers will make sure that ‘definites’ get to the polling station and ‘persuadables’ are given one last push. Even more important is the fact that canvassing forces politicians to look voters in the eye – to deal with their constituents as individuals, rather than as concocted stereotypes….”
Ok, this is obviously a British take on the fine art, but he’s speaking to a global truth, and the appreciation for the classic arts and respected trades is welcomed, thank you.
In fact, even though the mainstream received wisdom is that the Labour Party has little hope in the mid-December election, and that the Conservatives and Brexiteers will carry the day, this columnist and his praise of canvassing is reminding one and all that the door-to-door work would be underestimated at the peril of the other parties and could still carry the day. Polls reported most recently show them closely the gap after a slow start.
Their not-so-secret weapon, which the columnist freely acknowledges is the fact that “Labour has …done better at preserving the long-standing tradition of street politics while embracing innovations. Labour has created a new class of three pound or $3.90 cent supporters in order to boost its numbers.” Door knocking and membership, you have to love it. At least, I should say, I love it!
Some of the lessons we are still having to learn are all the old ones that remain evergreen.