With an AV referendum coming (most likely in the spring), there is plenty that local parties can already be doing to help win the referendum. I’ve already talked about the importance of fielding more local election candidates, so today’s post is about starting to ask questions of the public.
It’s never too early to start gathering voting intention data, even if you don’t yet know the exact candidate line-up, and likewise it’s never too early to start gathering referendum voting intentions, even if we don’t yet know the exact question.
When it comes to electoral reform, opinion polls show us that the public’s views can be very variable depending on what aspect of the issue they are asked about. In order to generate useful data for referendum campaigning, a broad question in our literature that picks out the hardcore pros and antis as well as getting a feel for the broader issues of ‘fair votes’ is, at this stage at least, the most useful. For example:
The Government is planning to hold a referendum on changing the voting system used at general elections from first past the post to a fairer system, the Alternative Vote. Do you:
(a) Strongly support changing to the Alternative Vote
(b) Support changing to the Alternative Vote
(c) Not sure
(d) Oppose changing to the Alternative Vote
(e) Strongly oppose changing to the Alternative Vote
You can start putting that question in residents’ surveys, add it to grumble sheets, run an online survey that you email people about and so on. If you then store the data in EARS you can start to match it up with other data (such as age, voting intention and Mosaic) to what groups of people are the strongest supporters or opponents of change.
A further question that is useful to add where you have space is:
… and what is the main reason for your view?
That will help give an idea of what arguments will most persuade people in your area.
A big danger with political messaging is that you use messages which you personally find persuasive – but if you are active in a political party and involved in deciding the content of political material you are a very untypical person! (If you ever have a moment, leaf through Duncan Brack’s Why I Am A Liberal Democrat. It’s striking that the issues which motivate people who end up being life-long party activists are often very different from those which motivate the public at general elections during those lives.)
Getting qualitative feedback from this second question will help make those local discussions much more productive and rooted in what the public thinks of issues.
There will be plenty of good advice coming about what messages to use, and electoral reform is an areas where there is a wealth of research about the public’s attitudes, but there is nothing like the local feedback to both help fine tune the message for your area – and to persuade doubters that the message that appeals to them may not always be the one that appeals to the public.
Meanwhile … The Guardian has news of Conservatives campaigning against AV.