As next year’s Assembly election looms ever larger, one of the things that the parties will be – or, at least, certainly should be – focussing on is their local campaigning effort. It’s fair to say that local campaigning used to be seen by most political scientists as pretty unimportant within elections – a quaint but essentially meaningless ritual to keep the party workers occupied. A substantial body of research has now shown pretty conclusively that local campaigning can and often does make a substantial electoral difference.
The bulk of this research, however, and particularly in the UK has concentrated on state-wide elections to the ‘national’ legislature. Very little work has looked at campaigning in the context of sub-state level elections, such as those to the National Assembly for Wales. This is a pity – not least because the two-ballot, semi-proportional system we use for National Assembly elections makes the calculations around local campaigning rather interesting. To what extent should, and do, parties focus on key marginal constituencies when there are also regional list seats to be won?
One small step towards developing a much more complete knowledge about local campaigning in devolved elections has now been made, with an article published in the UK Political Studies Association’s journal Politics. I was one of the co-authors, alongside my friends Prof Ron Johnston of the University of Bristol, Prof Charles Pattie of the University of Sheffield, and Dr David Cutts of the University of Bath.
I’m not going to try and summarise an entire article in one blog post. However, among our key empirical findings were:
- Parties focused their campaigning on targeted constituencies: those where they were trying to defend, or those where they had a good chance of removing the incumbent party
- Within targeted constituencies, they focused their efforts on those likely to vote for them (because either their databases from past elections or/and their more recent canvassing returns identified such individuals, or/and their experience of where their supporters are concentrated suggested which areas should be the focus of their attention)
- Those who supported a party in the constituency contests and were contacted by it were also more likely to support it at the regional contests too.
We also think our findings reinforce the importance of local efforts to ‘get-out-the-vote’, something which has been a major finding in research in the USA. Voters generally appreciate not being taken for granted, and respond positively to being informed personally about the election and having their support solicited. Those contacted responded by voting for the party that got in touch with them in much greater numbers than those not contacted. The more effort it expended in getting-out-the-vote, the better each party’s performance.
The article is available online, to those of you who have access via an institutional or individual subscription to the journal, here. To those without such access, a near-final version of the paper, in PDF format, is available here. Happy reading.