The changing shape of modern constituency campaigns: Part I

25 October, 2007

There is an interesting paper available online here called Constituency Campaigning in the 2005 General Election and it looks at what is happening with constituency campaigns in the UK. I’ve taken the data from the paper, inserted in the tables below and put my own spin on it. I’ll be posting up some more later but in the mean time please take a look. Also if you know how to insert tables into your wordpress posts with greater elegance than I have below please tell all.

Table 1. Aspects of traditional campaigning – all parties

1992

1997

2001

2005

% issued traditional election address

97

97

97

Mean number of public meetings

2.5

1.2

0.6

0.7

Mean number of posters distributed

1850

1800

1250

1250

Mean total leaflets distributed

62000

62000

59000

72000

% undertook doorstep canvassing

83

78

70

79

Mean % of electorate canvassed on doorstep

28

22

17

21

% ‘knocked up’ on polling day

54

61

59

69

Mean number of campaign workers

52

48

35

42

Mean number of polling day workers

135

106 70

79

Looks like the public meeting is in very serious decline. This is a missed opportunity for pressure groups to use their influence on the political process when it is most effective as I don’t think that this is a case of candidates being unwilling to do them. I can’t think of an occasion where a candidate has been ungrateful of an audience at election time.

I also think the decline of doorstep canvassing is serious because the voters actually meeting the candidates rather then seeing a rubbish photo on a risograph is simply more effective. But we should not think there was some canvassing golden age as even in 1992 only 28% of the electorate were canvassed.

Considering the fall in the number of activists the remaining ones seem to be doing a pretty good job. Great Britain isn’t ready to fully succumb to the slumber of political apathy just yet

Table 2. Campaign and Polling Day Workers (mean)

Campaign workers

Polling Day workers

1992

1997

2001

2005

1992

1997

2001

2005

Con

92

57

61

84

262

134

121

161

Lab

50

55

32

27

124

127

70

51

Lib Dem

30

33

20

26

65

62

32

45

2001 illustrates that a foregone election will see activism tumble. It also shows the limits of activism as the Conservatives has nearly twice as many campaign workers as Labour yet still got slaughtered when the results came in.

Personally I was somewhat surprised to see that the conservatives have the largest numbers of activists even in their nadir election of 1997 and in the close election of 1992 there activist advantage could well of help them win rather than any Labour tax bombshell as Chris Pattern may have put it.

Iraq has to be a substantial part of the explanation in the decline of Labour activism between 2001 and 2005 but we should not diminish the importance of the fall between 1997 and 2001 when Iraq couldn’t have been the explanation. I think we have to get better as a party at involving members and supporters and in particular we need to get better in getting them more active.

I think that questions should be asked as to why Labour has about twice as many members of the Lib Dems if memory serves me correctly yet can only must marginally more campaign workers in the average seat.

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2 Responses to “The changing shape of modern constituency campaigns: Part I”

  1. Chris Paul said

    Perhaps we need to factor in that the Tories and Lib Dems tell fibs and only Labour’s returns can be trusted?

    The number of leaflets distributed is quite low. That sort of number and more can be distributed free by Royal Mail as every registered voter can be mailed once.

    When Table One says “all parties” is that really all parties? Or just the big three or four?

    A really interesting aspect would be of what the winners do vs the runners up. Particularly what incumbents do versus insurgents when they are turned over.

    There was a by-election down south – Labour came a bad third having been a close second in the general before – and if the leafletage had been made into bar charts it would have reflected the poll numbers pretty accurately.

    You could make the tables in your favourite WP or spreadsheet package and then screen grab the bit you want and treat it as a graphic. That would be more elegant. Possibly.

  2. […] October 27th, 2007 This is the follow on post from the first part […]

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