Old traditions die hard in UK election campaigning

March 29, 2010

number10A study of constituency-level campaign techniques undertaken by Brunel University ahead of a general election expected in early May shows that direct mail is by far the most common method of contact used by politicians to reach potential voters.

Of the 27 percent of the electorate contacted by one of the three main political parties in February, about 90 percent received some form of communication through the post via direct mail, the study shows. Some 92 percent said they had been reached through mailings from the Liberal Democrats, 89 percent from the Conservative Party and 81 percent from the Labour Party.

Although a lot of people have spoken about this being the first new media election in the UK, and there is some evidence of email and Facebook being used, traditional campaign methods are still dominant, says Justin Fisher, director of the Magna Carta Society at Brunel University in West London.

“What we can say about social media is that it may enhance or complement more traditional forms of campaigning, but the idea that it’s going to replace traditional campaigning at least at this stage is very wide of the mark,” Fisher said.

Just over 1,000 people were interviewed for the study.

The Conservative Party, which needs to gain 116 seats in the election to win a majority of 1, have been most aggressive in their campaigning, reaching 60 percent of those polled, compared to 44 percent reached by Labour and 43 percent by the Libdems.

Overall, Labour are making most use of the telephone, the Libdems are making most use of direct mail and the Conservatives are making most use of email in reaching out to the electorate, according to the study.

Of those polled, 14 percent said they were telephoned by Labour, 5 percent by the Conservatives and 7 percent by the Libdems.

Email was used by the Conservatives to reach 18 percent of those polled and 12 percent were reached by Labour and the Libdems via email.

Labour made the most home visits, with 12 percent of those polled saying they had received contact from the Labour Party, 10 percent from the Conservatives and 7 percent from the Libdems.

Evidence from previous elections shows that having money and members is not enough; intensive, organised campaigning is required to get beneficial results.

“When compared with the effects of ‘free’ campaigning, the impact of money is either significantly lessened or disappears,” Fisher said during an election briefing event in London hosted by the Magna Carta Institute.

“It’s not how much you’ve got, but what you do with it.”

Watch the video below of Fisher talking to Reuters about social media and the election campaign, or if you can’t see it, please click on the headline of this blog post to view it.

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