Let’s Talk About: Canvassing

Some lovely Together for Yes canvassers in Drogheda!

Let’s Talk About: Canvassing

Now that the referendum date is set for May 25th, groups around the country are ramping up their efforts to reach out to local voters. A big part of the Yes campaign will happen through personal interactions with voters in town centres and at their homes. Door-to-door canvassing is a fundamental aspect of political campaigning in Ireland, and there’s good reason –  it works. Asking someone for their vote gives them an opportunity to discuss questions they might have and gives canvassers a chance to remind people of the importance of their vote. What’s more, people are more likely to actually follow through with their vote if they are asked in person.

Decades of research has shown the importance of door to door canvassing. For example, in 2016 researchers at Berkeley and Stanford found that a short conversation with a stranger resulted in significantly reduced prejudice with lasting effects. Having conversations on doorsteps was a really effective tool for ‘Yes Equality’ during the Marriage Equality referendum in 2015. It’s just as necessary to have those conversations about repealing the 8th Amendment now.

So, what do you need to canvass for the campaign? First, and importantly, you do not have to be an expert to make a difference. You just need to have a genuine commitment to changing our country for the better by repealing the 8th Amendment. Speaking with strangers about abortion and the Constitution may feel overwhelming, particularly for those of us who have been personally affected by the 8th Amendment or live with that risk every day. The first thing you need is to contact your local group so you have the support and resources you need. Working with others also means that you can learn from their experiences.

It’s an opportunity to use YOUR voice effectively

Canvassing provides people who are unsure of which way to vote with the opportunity to ask questions and hear pro-choice voices. Many people will never have had these kind of conversations before; the 8th may be an abstract concept. When you canvass you get the opportunity to discuss why you feel strongly about repealing the 8th, and you bring the issue into context in real conversations.

It can sometimes feel like the arguments and narrative around the need to repeal the 8th are largely in the control of the media or those who already have a platform. This can be disempowering, particularly for those who are not well represented at that level, like migrant women or women with disabilities. By getting out and knocking on doors, activists can share their unique perspectives and stories in a tangible way.

You make the case for allowing for safe and accessible abortion care where it’s most useful

It can be easy to get trapped in arguments with anti-choice commentators online. But these engagements aren’t effective: we’re often either arguing with people who won’t be swayed, or backing up people who are already on-side. Social media doesn’t lend itself to nuanced and complex conversations and this can be very frustrating. Canvassing is a much more useful outlet for your energy. When coupled with conversations between friends and families, these interactions at the doorstep are our most effective tool.

You will meet lots of different people

You never know who is going to answer the door. In many houses, you will encounter people people who are already fully committed to voting ‘Yes’ for repeal. Getting these responses feels fantastic! There are a lot of doors to knock on, and the more supporters we can find the better. But don’t forget to invite those enthusiastic ‘Yes’ voters to join the campaign too. Encourage them to engage their friends and family in discussions about the referendum. Give them information to help them start those conversations, and ask them if they need help.

You will also speak with people who are committed to voting ‘No’. This can feel disheartening, and you may be tempted to get into an argument or debate with these people. In such situations, remain polite and try not to get bogged down in negativity. There are a lot of doors to knock on, and your time will be better spent having conversations with those who are open to change.

Most importantly, you will meet people who are unsure about what the 8th Amendment is and what way they are going to vote. These are the doors where canvassers are most needed. As a canvasser, you get to answer people’s genuine question about the 8th Amendment and abortion care in Ireland. You will be able to reassure voters that voting ‘Yes’ will lead to more caring and compassionate healthcare services for everyone.

You can have a great time!

The vast majority of people who try canvassing will come out time and time again. It is definitely worth giving it a try. Canvassing gives you the opportunity to meet other like-minded people who will support and encourage you. There is great enjoyment and camaraderie in being part of a team that is working together to achieve the same objective. It is even better when you can see the benefits of your efforts.

After trying it, you might decide that canvassing is not for you, and that is okay! Listening to yourself is important and there are many ways to contribute. Just talk to your local group and they can connect you with other opportunities.

Your local group is waiting for you!

The reality is that this campaign will be won by people on the ground; by people of all political persuasions and none. The two largest parties in the State are allowing a free vote on the issue, meaning that their resources and political machinery won’t be fully behind the campaign to repeal the 8th. So it is up to us – volunteers and civil society organisations – to spread the word and campaign on every doorstep in the country. Get in touch with your local ARC or Together for Yes group, and give it a try.