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For months now, Dublin’s election candidates have been knocking on doors, ringing buzzers, schmoozing with voters. Only, not all voters. Some Dubliners, it seems, are being left out: those of us living in apartments.
There are a few reasons for this, it seems, not least the perception that those in apartments don’t vote, and the fact that it’s hard for candidates to get to them. But as more of us cram into the city’s apartment blocks, it risks leaving an increasing number of voters disenfranchised.
Building Higher, Voting Lower
Dublin city has more households living in apartments than any other local authority in the country. In 2011, a third of households lived in flats.
And the trend is up. Between 2006 and 2011, the number of occupied apartments increased by more than 66 percent in south Dublin, and by 27 percent nationwide.
Although their growing numbers may appeal to politicians, apartment dwellers’ past record for coming out in small numbers to vote doesn’t.
Low turnout is an inner-city phenomenon. Dublin’s three inner-city constituencies had the three lowest turnout rates in the country for the 2004 local elections. And this trend was observed in every vote between 1999 and 2004, which included local elections, general elections and referendums.
There’s a perception that this is because working-class inner-city-dwellers aren’t engaged with politics. But that’s not true, says Adrian Kavanagh, a number-crunching lecturer in Maynooth who studies the geography of elections.
In a study of the 2004 local elections, Kavanagh looked at this trend. He discovered that it’s the new private, gated apartments that were the main cause of this low voter turnout.
His research suggests that this is down to high levels of population mobility, with the new, mainly middle-class residents living in apartment blocks having little interest in their new communities. Registers also tend to be wrong.
And this wasn’t just the case for local elections. When compared to the rest of Ireland, these areas with high numbers of private apartments have a considerably lower turnout for general elections too.
In the 2002 general election, 45.5 percent of Dublin’s inner-city electorate voted. That was noticeably lower than the turnout for Dublin as a whole, which was 56.3 percent.
“I suspect the reasons for lower turnout still largely remain the same [for the coming election],” says Kavanagh.
Canvassing Apartments: A Welcome Idea?
One of the problems is, of course, that if these residents aren’t canvassed, they’re probably less likely to vote. And that’s happening.
The old open-balcony Dublin City Council apartments are the easiest to canvass, but the more modern, high-security, gated apartment complexes are a different story.
A spokesperson for Just Property Limited, a landlord service for apartment blocks, says election candidates wouldn’t be able to access complexes without their permission, but they have never received a request for this.
Obviously more and more people live in apartments, says Loughlin Deegan, a Fianna Fáil activist and campaign advisor for councillor Jim O’Callaghan. It’s a big conundrum deciding whether to try get in and canvass door-to-door or not, he says.
It’s an issue Cathal McCann, director of elections for Labour TD Kevin Humphreys, has also thought about. Humphreys’s Dublin Bay South constituency includes a high concentration of apartment blocks.
“We wouldn’t be too keen to do it ourselves,” he says.
McCann doesn’t think going door-to-door in apartment blocks is a good idea because of the security, and because of the fact that people don’t expect a knock on their door in apartments. He says you’d have to drop in leaflets forewarning people of your arrival.
“Even if we get in, people don’t like it much,” he says.
Gary Gannon, Social Democrat candidate for Dublin Central, says he finds it “nearly impossible” to reach people living in apartments. He lives in an apartment himself, and says he wouldn’t appreciate politicians canvassing there.
He tried knocking on apartment doors once during the local elections, after slipping in the door behind a resident. “It wasn’t a comfortable experience for anyone involved,” he says. “You may as well be in their living rooms.”
This time around, he’s decided to leave it to his campaign literature to seduce the city’s apartment dwellers.
While slipping in and knocking on doors in apartment complexes might feel like invading people’s space, Deegan warns against trying to connect with constituents through their intercoms.
“Typically the response is negative,” he says. “Generally the response to buzzing is telling you where to go.”
The View from the Ground
The docklands is home to many modern, secure apartments. At Hanover Quay, after four o’clock on a recent Monday, there is very little footfall. There appear to be more builders and delivery men around than local residents, who often drive straight into the underground car park.
Hovering near apartment doorways, the CCTV cameras and signs confirm that security is present. In the space of 30 minutes, just three residents pass: a middle-aged man unwilling to stop and talk and a chatty young couple.
The couple are quite happy that they can’t be canvassed by politicians and confirm that an election candidate knocking on their door would not receive a warm welcome. “If the bell rings, the first thing I think of is the TV licence inspector,” says Páraic Hendrick.
He doesn’t see the lack of canvassing as a problem. “If you really want to vote for someone, you will get out and do it. You will do the research yourself,” he says. Both he and his girlfriend registered to vote just before the same-sex marriage referendum in May.
This may make it difficult for a new, unknown candidate to make a name for themselves in an area like this.
With so few passers-by, it wouldn’t make sense to canvass here at Hanover Quay. It would probably be more productive to pay a visit to bored staff in nearby shops or the suited professionals smoking outside their offices.
Apartments are often home to younger, more transient people, says Deegan, the Fianna Fáil activist. He says many aren’t registered to vote and the turnout is low. “Campaigners focus on more settled areas,” he says.
He says apartment residents are probably losing out by being inaccessible. Being canvassed is useful for asking questions, he says, and those living in apartments probably aren’t as well represented as those settled in houses.
McCann says people living in apartments frequently change address, but he also believes more and more are settling down, and he wants to take advantage of that in Humphreys’s constituency.
Other Ways to Reach Out?
“Paid postage is the only real way in,” says McCann. It’s targeted, but it’s expensive too.
He sees social media and email as useful – and cheaper – tools for targeting those in apartments, particularly since Humphreys has built up his profile during the last election campaign.
Deegan also says social media is key, because apartment occupants tend to be young. “Social media is balancing out that lack of contact,” he says. And he points out that it’s not just homes that can be canvassed, but churches and shopping centres too.
A trick McCann and Humphreys used during the last election campaign was to canvass outside apartment blocks at peak times when people were going to or coming home from work.
In his research, Kavanagh suggests that to encourage people in apartments to vote, they need to be drawn into the local community first.
McCann says he encourages people to set up residents’ associations in the docklands, and this makes it easier to engage with people.
During the last election, Humphreys also organised some drop-in sessions at local cafés to connect with members of the community. McCann envisages similar meet-and-greets happening this year.
“You really have to do a bit of everything,” he says.
If you live in an apartment and haven’t been canvassed, but want to meet your local candidates, let us know. If we have enough interest, we’ll organise casual neighbourhood meet-and-greets with the candidates running in your constituency. Plug in your details here:
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