“Quick! Turn on the TV, it’s on!” Our Political Engagement Coordinator Benn Banasik explains the feeling from within an election campaign and how to break through the noise of the election.

The adrenaline rush as the car drives around that famous bend, the commentators announcing that the election is imminent, the pounding of your heart as you quickly realize that your work-life balance is off the cards for the next month or so. There is almost nothing to explain the feeling of excitement yet nervous anticipation and the inevitable questioning if enough planning is done. The phones all ring like a choir in prepared unison. It’s an election!

Over my life I’ve worked for a number of candidates and MPs, even serving a few terms as a local Councillor myself. While the magnitude of elections, the chance of success and the outcome varies, the elections regardless of size hold a number of commonalities. From the outside we may meet a candidate for the local election, pick up a leaflet or two from our letterboxes, even get door-knocked, called or ‘friended’ on Facebook. It has the perception of a well-oiled machine. But no amount of planning can cover everything in the campaign.

As a staffer your leave is cashed in to go out and campaign for your boss or their replacement’s job. You do it because you respect the person you work for, you believe in the cause, you want to get the word out there and more than all of this, you do it because no one else will. As a candidate the start of the election is a marking of a date, for months you’ve been door-knocking on weekends, attending meetings, forums and train stations. You believe you’re the best person for the job, you want to represent to community in which you live or you’re a true believer in the cause of your party or interest.

Maps of the electorate are printed out, letterbox or door-knocking routes are marked and social media presence is increased. 

In the lead up to a campaign the time is set into planning. Maps of the electorate are printed out, letterbox or door-knocking routes are marked and social media presence is increased. The attempts to cut through the media are exhausting but if successful the effort is not in vain. Every day of the campaign up to the day of the election is marked with an activity. Daylight hours are spent with the community and nightlight hours are spent planning the coming days. Instead of driving home, crawling under the desk seems a more efficient use of rest time. If you’re the candidate you try to contact four hundred of your closest friends to staff the booths on Election Day, and if you’re a staffer you try to rope in as many of your friends and family to the same cause.

Countless hours are spent tracking the previous election results, the areas where you must concentrate to ensure victory, and the areas in which your opposition is obviously concentrating. Hundreds of election signs are put up in your supporters' yards or shop windows, each day the damaged ones are quickly replaced. The kilometre reader on your car almost seems to spin in an indiscernible blur. Pairs of shoes are used up pounding the pavement. Your coffee consumption reaches its peak akin to an intravenous drip. The polling released means that you are either faltering or doing well, either way you need to re-double your efforts. The first votes cast show that pre-poll booth numbers are up, does this bode well? Election Day is upon you, the memories all flood into a single experience. Finally the results are declared. Then you get a chance to sleep, but the stress and excitement means you lie awake at night feeling the need to return to the campaign trail.

The sausage sandwich sold at the election booth often measures the excitement of Australian democracy, but there is so much going on behind the scenes.

Sounds stressful? It is. The sausage sandwich sold at the election booth often measures the excitement of Australian democracy, but there is so much going on behind the scenes. Regardless of political persuasion I have always had the utmost respect for anyone putting their name and their face, literally in most cases, out into the community for election. The feelings that are felt by the candidate and campaign staff are like a rollercoaster of ups and downs that slam to a stop at the end of a long period.

I have seen a great variety of engagements with politicians to varying levels of success. The election campaign is when candidates are most likely to speak to their local community and listen to their needs. Because it's in the interest of a good political representative to actively represent their community, it is imperative that we grasp the opportunity to engage our candidates at this time. To make the most of the potential meeting and in an effort to break through the noise of the election period here are some tips. 

  1. Be respectful – There is room for disagreement in the political world but with competing ideologies it is inevitable that debates will take place. Be respectful and acknowledge the effort made to represent a community or interest. Candidates are not paid to run for the seat and being civil sets you on the right foot for a quality engagement.

  2. Be non-confrontational – Further than being respectful, finding ways to portray your view in a non-confrontational way shows that you are willing to discuss. Don’t give up on your values, especially those we all hold dear, but share your views not to argue, but rather to convince.

  3. Be persistent – Staffers are usually the ones who initially ‘vet’ invitations, then the invitations need to be passed to political party representatives, and then the candidate needs to give the okay to secure a time. An initial rejection is not always the end answer and persistence is the key! The candidate and staff are your best advocates in securing a time, so get to know them and let them get to know you.

  4. Be concise – Time is of the essence. A Federal Parliamentarian represents an average of 100,000 people just like you. The election campaign usually goes for just over a month and a half, a little longer this year. The candidate’s time is of the essence, so brief staff along with the candidate if you can, but be concise. Make the point with clarity and be ready to provide more information if required.

  5. Be you – Finally don’t be nervous and don’t act to a part, just be yourself. Your local candidates are seeking your support and want themselves portrayed as honest representatives. We need to be ourselves and make our points uniquely with integrity and honesty.

So, happy Election 2016! Have fun with your engagements and together we can make the difference that we all hope and pray for.

In the lead up to the federal election we have a unique and exciting opportunity to let our local candidates know we care about Australian aid through hosting an Election Afternoon Tea. Click here for more details.

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Benn Banasik is the Political Engagement and Campaign Coordinator of Micah Australia.

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