Ed Miliband promised at the start of this year that Labour canvassers would try to have “four million conversations” with voters on their doorsteps by polling day. This showed crazed ambition but also a good understanding of the importance of the “ground war” in elections.
Research from the US has shown that the most effective way of persuading people to vote is to have genuine, unscripted conversations with them.
For that you need informed and personable activists, motivated enough to go out in all weathers to face rejection and dogs. Parties can’t pay canvassers, so elections can be swayed by volunteers. Traditionally, the Lib Dems have been best at mobilising canvassers, but Labour and the Tories are catching up, and the Greens and Ukip make up in enthusiasm for what they lack in organisation.
Five doorsteppers helping decide the election share their experiences from the front line.
Thomas Lydon, 23, is canvassing for the Labour Party in Stroud
Best experience?“When people are really complimentary and say they like what you’re doing, or when people say they hate the Tories.”
Worst experience? “People slamming the door in your face and telling you to ‘f-off’. The worst (or funniest) is catching someone ‘in the act’. You get bitten by a dog maybe once a year.”
Ever changed someone’s mind? “Yeah, because we’re in a very marginal seat. There’s a bigger sway here – it’s ludicrously close. You motivate people by saying, ‘You can make a difference.’”
Has anyone made you doubt your party? “Not really. I think I wouldn’t go out and do what I do if I wasn’t sure of what I believed. The main reason I do it is because I know the people standing for election.”
Liam Walker, 24, is chairman of Witney Conservative Future and has been canvassing for the Tories for four and a half years
Best experience?“I was talking to a teacher. She knew a former tutor of mine and we got talking about apprenticeships.”
Worst experience? “Getting sworn at and having the door slammed in your face. That happened at a by-election in Rochester, but people were getting so much through the door. The last thing they probably wanted to see was a Tory.”
Ever changed someone’s mind? “I hope I’ve converted people. I’ve been doing it for four and a half years. If I haven’t converted anybody, then I’m in trouble.”
Has anyone made you doubt your party? “In 2010-11 things weren’t going well. The economy wasn’t doing well but things have improved a lot. Generally people are very impressed with what’s going on.”
Peter Thornton, 63, is a Liberal Democrat Party councillor. He is canvassing for Lib Dem candidate Tim Farron in Cumbria
Best experience?“I knocked on the door with my leaflet ready. I started my spiel and he said: ‘Don’t worry, we’re voting for you.’ Four votes. No need for a leaflet.”
Worst experience? “The thing we all fear is dogs – big dogs, behind big fences. You see these signs and you’re never sure if they mean it. You open the gate gingerly and if you hear a bark you shut it.”
Ever changed someone’s mind? “On the doorstep it’s quite difficult. I spoke to someone who said they were voting Conservative nationally and for us locally.”
Has anyone made you doubt your party? If you listen to people, then you do get different perspectives and, yes, sometimes you think, ‘Oh, I wonder if they have a point there?’ If you are listening with a closed mind, there’s no point.”
Ozoda Muminova, 35, has been out for the Green Party for five years. She’s canvassing in Islington, north London
Best experience?A little boy came to the door with his mother. He wasn’t interested in tuition fees but when he heard we want to make the streets safer to play in, he started clapping.”
Worst experience? Canvassing on a sunny day is difficult – no one is in. I don’t get doors slammed in my face, though.
Ever changed someone's mind? One lady was a card-carrying member of the Labour Party but she said she was really into our fair immigration policy, because her husband was an immigrant.
Has anyone made you doubt your party? People are genuinely nice. They are positive towards the Greens and they know we are a nice party and not filled with hate.
John Hellings, 55, canvasses for Ukip in Southwark, south London
Best experience?“Three or four Labour people came along. Next thing, a lorry driver came past and hooted. He stuck up his thumb and said, ‘Up with Ukip.’”
Worst experience? “You have to have a thick skin. Some colleagues have felt put-upon by the more plain-speaking people. Some feel a bit strongly but we’re not here to threaten or to worry people.”
Ever changed someone’s mind? “There was a guy who didn’t agree with some of our political agenda but he came round because of what Ukip offer in terms of abolishing inheritance tax. He wanted to leave his house to his children.”
Has anyone made you doubt your party? “You’re going to get some people, partly because you disturb them and partly because they’re inclined to vote for other parties. But that is democracy. You don’t worry about that and you don’t cause any grief.”
The Independent has got together with May2015.com to produce a poll of polls that produces the most up-to-date data in as close to real time as is possible.
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