If you are new to politics and campaigning, probably the very best way to open up communication with the people you are going to ask to vote for you is to distribute a questionnaire.
Questionnaires are a very effective way of opening up dialogue with people in your area, allowing them to tell you about what concerns them and how you could represent them better, whilst starting the long-term job of demonstrating that you not only care about them and what is important to them, but you are also prepared to listen and find out how you can make a difference.
The process is simple, but must be seen through if you are going to get maximum value from the process.
- Design a questionnaire
- Test your questionnaire
- Print enough copies for the area where you are planning to seek election
- Deliver your questionnaire
- Knock on every door to collect your questionnaire
- Collate your results
- Communicate your results
Design a Questionnaire
Probably the most important part to get right, is designing your questionnaire.
You will probably already have a good idea about the issues that the community is experiencing, whether its speeding traffic, development, antisocial behaviour, regularity of bin collections or any one of a number of many others – some which will almost certainly be very specific to the area.
Even if you are certain you know what the issues are, it is always a good idea to ask people for their opinion – whilst being sure that you are not attempting to influence them with your own.
What is very important, is that you should not attempt to mislead people in the area you will be seeking election, by drawing attention to issues which will fall outside the scope and responsibility of that which would be your own as an elected councillor – if you are successful.
This is why it is essential that you understand what the authority you hope to represent is responsible for.
Yes, you might get elected by promising to deliver results which would never be within your control or sphere of influence, but people are not stupid, and will learn not to trust you in a heartbeat – the moment they understand what you have done.
REMEMBER – this exercise is about learning how other people feel about issues affecting their lives. It is not an opportunity to preach or grandstand your own views. Doing so will just annoy people and switch them off to what you can do.
Think of questions which are closed – i.e. they can be answered with a simple yes and no.
Questions should be about local issues, not ideas.
Use a simple word-processing programme like Microsoft Word, and a type face no smaller that 12pt.
Make sure it is easy to read and remember that it is likely that at least some of the people who will read your questionnaire will have difficultly reading, so keep plenty of spaces between questions.
DO NOT write anything that is defamatory about anyone – even if you believe the information to be true.
DO NOT ask for personal information of any kind.
If you do ask for people to provide any information about themselves, you MUST ask them to confirm that they are happy for you to keep their data. Add a check box to be sure.
Do not try to lead people with your questions – if you want an honest response.
Avoid attempting to influence people in the way that you write your questions. A simple test is to look at your question and check if you are using a word or words like because, or have edited what you have said to remove them.
ALWAYS provide an opportunity for people to tell you about issues you have not raised with your questions.
ALWAYS tell people who you are and what you are doing.
Provide an e-mail address at the very least at all times, and ensure that all contact details required during a formal campaign period are correctly available on your questionnaire.
Invite people to contact you to ask you questions and tell you more.
If you would be uncomfortable asking any of your questions face-to-face, DON’T ASK THEM – as they are likely to be received in the same way.
Make clear when you will be calling around to collect completed Questionnaires.
Collect your questionnaires personally.
Test your Questionnaire
Even the best politicians can get things wrong.
What we write and how it sounds as our internal voice may not be how it comes across to others, so it’s always better to check.
Before putting ANY literature through doors, ALWAYS get a few different people to read through and feedback on what you have done.
If the people you ask to review your work are honest, you may feel prickly to what they have to say, but take it on board – and always act upon genuinely advice from people who do not have something to gain by influencing you to go a different way.
Print enough copies for the area where you are planning to seek election
It’s really important that you visit every house in the area where you are seeking election.
You may not want to for as simple a reason as you know a Councillor lives in the house next door and as such feel its almost certain that the people who live there will not vote for you.
The funny thing with politics is, that it doesn’t work like that. The person who lives next door to a Councillor could end up being your greatest supporter – and as one vote could be all you need to secure a win, you should never let any kind of illogical fear rule out visiting just one house!
The Democratic Services Department at the local District Level Authority should be able to provide details of the numbers of properties in the Ward or Division you are going to target. However, there may be restrictions upon how much information they will give you outside of a formal Campaign period, and even then, you may have to provide certain commitments to how you will keep any data secure and what purposes you will use it for.
Get in touch with them to find out about how you can get a copy of the Electoral Roll.
Deliver your Questionnaire
Delivering a leaflet is one of the quickest ways to get to know your patch and the people within it. It gets you seen by people who wouldn’t otherwise recognise you, and putting a name to a face will be one of your greatest allies in securing votes from local people to fight for local issues.
If you have decided to run in an Election that is coming up quickly, you may need to get some help. Just be sure that whoever is delivering leaflets is someone you trust to represent you wherever they may go.
Knock on every door to collect your Questionnaire
Developing a relationship with people is essential in local politics.
When there isn’t a national election of some kind on which coincides with the date of the Election and people are not so tribal with their votes, the people who know you could really make all the difference and in some cases give you a significant win.
When you speak to people and ask their opinion, they will feel that they are important. This can apply to people who might even vote for one of the main Parties at other times. People not only like to know they can access the people who represent them – but that those people who represent them are ready and waiting to listen to them too.
When you call, it is really important to be polite. Introduce yourself and who you are, and tell them that you recently delivered a questionnaire.
Some people will have thrown them away. Others will simply be too busy with life to want to talk. Some will be rude (remember its not personal – most people have a very low opinion of politicians these days). But many will be only too pleased to talk.
Once you have spoken to a few different people on the doorstep, you will get an idea of what really works.
When you are collecting a questionnaire, just keep the focus on the information you are being given and leave telling people about what you plan to do until another time.
Collate your results
When you have collected ALL of your questionnaires – that means all of those you have had returned completed AFTER visiting every address, you need to collate your results.
The best way to do this is on a spreadsheet with a programme like Microsoft Excel. A good idea is to set up a box for yes and a box for no against each question. Then put a 1 in the next space in the column or row against the yes or the no for each question for every form.
You will then be in a position to use the spreadsheet formulas to count up the numbers.
Using a spreadsheet is a very safe and simple way to manage your results. You can easily check that you haven’t missed anybody or have any misleading information as the number of no’s added to the number of yes’s for any one question should always add up to the number of questionnaires.
As you work through the questionnaires, you will begin to see patterns emerging. Some might not be what you were expecting – and its here that you will define yourself against many others, by doing the right thing.
Never try to manipulate data to suit your own needs. Whether that means ignoring the results of a question, or trying to read the information in a way that helps an argument, but which you know is misrepresentative or simply untrue, you will do yourself no favours and immediately fail the people you want to represent.
Always be open. If real data tells you the majority of people want things to go a certain way – that’s what you must go with.
Communicate your results
If you are in the build up to an election, a good questionnaire and the results from it will serve you very well as the basis of your Election Manifesto.
Ideally, the best time to do put a questionnaire out for this purpose, will be a few weeks before the Election is formally called – in perhaps February or early March – if your election is part of the normal cycle, and isn’t a by-election.
ALWAYS give yourself enough time to complete the process!
If you do, you can use the data you have harvested to support your campaign, knowing that your words will resonate with the majority of people AND have the added bonus that they will know you have been listening to them too.
At other times, the best way to communicate what you have found will be through a newsletter, by social media or through a blog – which believe me, local people will soon begin to read when you are talking about the real issues which are important to them.
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