As I mentioned on the blog last week, I’m going to be having all sorts of fun over the coming weeks and months with the British Election Study (BES) data. One of the first things that I have used it for is to begin looking for systematic evidence on the parties’ ground campaigns in Wales. I’ll present a few bits of that evidence here.
First of all, how successful were each of the parties at contacting voters? The table below displays the proportion of the nearly 1600 respondents to the BES post-election online survey in Wales who reported having been contacted by each of the main parties during the final four weeks of the campaign. The majority of respondents claimed to have been contacted by at least one party. (This overall percentage of respondents reporting contact is likely to be slightly over-stated, due to the now well-attested tendency of on-line surveys to be somewhat biased towards more politically interested and engaged citizens. More important than the absolute figures reported in this table, and those further below, are probably the differences between the parties.)
Voter Contact Rates During the Campaign
|Not contacted by any party||42%|
Source: British Election Study On-Line Panel Study, Wave 6 (post-election wave); number of respondents = 1556. Percentages sum to well over 100 because many respondents reported contact by more than one party during the campaign.
The main message from this table is that Labour appear to have been some way ahead of their rivals on voter contacts in Wales. The Conservatives were the second most active party, followed respectively by Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP, with the Greens some distance behind all the other parties. (I should perhaps add that the previous wave of the survey, conducted during the campaign period itself, produced very similar results. So that boosts our confidence in the robustness of the data here).
The parties did not, however, all campaign in quite the same ways. The next table displays details on the types of contact made by each of the parties. The data show some significant commonalities between the parties – in particular that contact through direct mail or leaflets was by far the most common method for all of them. Indeed, very similar proportions of respondents reported contact by this method from all of the parties. Labour, though, stand out in terms of the much greater volume of in-person contacts made with people at their homes: #LabourDoorstep was clearly much more than just an internet meme. At the other end of the spectrum, UKIP and the Greens appear to have done far less doorstep canvassing – perhaps because they lacked the organisation and human resources for such an effort. It is also notable that the three traditional UK parties made much the most use of email to contact voters, with the Conservatives putting particular efforts into this method. The Liberal Democrats appear to have placed a greater emphasis than other parties on telephone canvassing – perhaps reflecting not only a paucity of grassroots campaigners in much of Wales but also that three of their four target seats were large, rural constituencies with dispersed populations.
Types of Voter Contact during the Campaign by Party (%)
Source: British Election Study On-Line Panel Study, Wave 6 (post-election wave); percentages in table are of those respondents who reported being contacted during the campaign by a party (as per the previous table).
All very interesting so far. But I was also interested to see how much of this activity was actually going on in the places where the parties needed it to occur? To assess this, I divide the forty Welsh constituencies, for each of the four established main parties in Wales, into three categories: Safe, Competitive, and Hopeless. (How the seats were categorised for each party is detailed here). What proportion of BES respondents living in each category of seat were contacted by each party? The data, presented in the next table, tell a fascinating story. Labour did contact far more Welsh voters than any other party – but many of them, it appears, were in the wrong places. A substantial proportion of the voter contacts it made were in seats it was never going to win, while many others were in seats it was not at all likely to lose.
Contact Rate for Main Parties in Types of Seat
Source: British Election Study On-Line Panel Study, Wave 6 (post-election wave).
All the other three parties, but particularly the Conservatives and to an even greater extent the Liberal Democrats, were more effective at targeting their voter contact efforts in the marginal constituencies – those where they either faced a tough defence or had realistic hopes of capturing a seat. Astonishingly, the BES data suggests that though it had a much higher overall rate of voter contact than the other parties, Labour actually contacted fewer voters in their key seats than either the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats did in theirs, and barely more than Plaid Cymru.
Some words of caution would be wise in interpreting this final table. Respondents were only asked about contacts from the parties in the final four weeks of the campaign, while campaigning in some of the key marginal seats had been going on for months, if not years. It’s also true to say that the data here only reflects a simple binary: where you contacted, or not, by a party? It provides us with no information about the number of contacts that some key voters in key seats might have received. Third, Labour had vigorous young candidates in some seats – such as Brecon & Radnor, and Ceredigion – who seem to have fough energetic local campaigns in seats that would surely not have been Labour targets. This might skew Labour’s figures in the above table somewhat.
Nonetheless, the evidence here does suggest the possibility of some significant flaws, if not in the planning then at least in the execution, of Labour’s ground campaign in Wales. It will be interesting to explore this further.