From top: Counting during the last General Election in Citywest; Dan Boyle
I was elected at my first election to what was then Cork Corporation, now Cork City Council. I was active in my local community, and was strongly associated with a campaign to improve the management of, and seek the earliest closure of the nearby city dump.
These were the reasons for most of my support. I did these things because I believed them to be worth doing, and I hoped that in the context of an election that some voters might think that was worth the consideration of their vote.
I wouldn’t have had the inclination nor the capacity to have engaged in market research, to test for issues that might play best with voters.
In subsequent elections I never acquired that inclination. It seemed to me to be a fairly hollow choice; either you contested elections on the basis of who you were and what you had done, or you moulded yourself into something you were told the voters wanted.
That second choice ran against everything I wanted to be in public life for. I suppose a refusal to play that game would prove a constant electoral negative for me.
In those subsequent elections I thought, naively now I know, that I should seek the support of those who didn’t participate in elections. Four out of every ten voters didn’t. To convince even some of them should help put me in the running, I thought.
In the mid nineties this seemed to have something of an effect. In a by-election then (when I came close to stopping Hugh Coveney winning the seat) I canvassed everywhere and anywhere I could. Canvassing the Deanrock Flats in Togher (since thankfully re-developed) was a huge political education for me.
I won 17% of the vote in that election. I was the obvious protest candidate. Even I realised that it would be difficult to maintain that vote in future elections, although I did maintain about three quarters of that vote.
As a candidate for a smaller party resources and manpower are always less than adequate. The temptation to cut through with less is ever present. The irony is that those short cuts tend only to be available to those with the resources to buy them.
The short cuts devised were quite legal, if unsatisfactory. The concentration in canvassing was made in areas where we had already done well, seeking to improve our votes there. This meant canvassing less in areas where people were less likely to vote, or support for a Green candidate was less likely to happen.
One canvassing tool that I tended not to use, was available from the local authority. This was the marked register. This shows which voters had cast a vote in a previous election (but not how they voted).
That would have been stored in the collective memory banks of the traditional parties. Until recent elections this analogue data would have proven quite accurate.
Then came the enlightenment. This short period where people have pondered more deeply on their political choices, being rightly more indiscriminate in making those choices.
We should value more our political system that still requires pen and paper to cast votes, demands of candidates to interact directly and personally with the voting public, a public that itself is at its most fickle in our country’s history.
The alternative of the electronic mining of personal data, with the creating of algorithms on how people tend to think, is taking the democratic political World to very dark places.
Ireland was an antidote in a previous dark age. We should be so again.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle
Top pic: Rollingnews