political

What do the academics say? Delivering lots of leaflets works

Welcome to the latest in my occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today the findings from Liberal Democrat campaigns officer turned academic John Ault.

His book Liberal Democrats in Cornwall – Culture, Character or Campaigns? includes the results of surveys in nine seats around the UK ahead of the 2010 general election where voting intention was compared with number of leaflets received from the Lib Dems outside of election time in the preceding year:

  • Average Lib Dem support across all voters: 23%
  • Average Lib Dem support across voters who recalled receiving 6+ Lib Dem leaflets: 37%

That 14% uplift is massive and took place even between people who did and did not receive lots of leaflets within the same constituency.

A word of caution is appropriate about whether this is solely due to leaflets as it may be that the people most likely to receive intensive literature campaigns were also most likely to be on the receiving end of other campaigning too. However, this variation took place despite overall low levels of canvassing being found in the survey. Moreover, the variation between ‘received lots of leaflets’ and ‘didn’t receive lots of leaflets’ was present within constituencies, and therefore does not reflect varying levels of Lib Dem press coverage in different places either.

In part the variation in the volume of literature may have been driven by assiduous local campaigners being keen to report back regularly to voters on their activities. But if that is the case it is simply a variation on the overall message, as the pattern would still be that people on the receiving end of high campaign intensity are more likely to vote Lib Dem.

As for how to put together the sort of organisation which can sustain a high intensity campaign, and make it a high quality one too, take a look at 101 Ways To Win An Election.

You can read the other posts in the What do the academics say? series here.

13 comments
Paul Holmes
Paul Holmes

Caron, I think I think the evidence is that exactly the same principle applies post 2010 as before -it's just harder work in a hostile climate. In the 2013 County elections, well into the electoral doldrums of 2011-2015, we gained an average 10% of the vote in areas of the constituency where we did not campaign and an average 31% where we did. Note that our national opinion poll average was around 8% then. So leaflet delivery still worked - but was having to push against the tide instead of with it.

Nick Hollinghurst
Nick Hollinghurst

Belated New Year's Resolution: Thus encouraged - dust down and re-read 101 Ways!

Colin Eldridge
Colin Eldridge

As I recall there was some very interesting research done on the effect of leaflet deliveries during the 2005 General Election and its correlation to increases in vote share. One of the seats in the study was Manchester Withington which had one of the biggest swings ever at a General Election.  

ralasdair
ralasdair

@markpack - I suspect there's a confirmation bias. Lib Dem supporters more likely to remember LD leaflets than non-LD supporters.

markpack
markpack

@ralasdair The data looks to me to be proof against that as the (only) explanation though @johnault1 may well have more to say on that

anboa4
anboa4

@markpack I say that based on leaflet volume our council LD chap should come way behind takeaways, taxis, odd jobbers etc but above Lab/Con

RichardDickson2902
RichardDickson2902

Our campaigning needs to reflect the ever-broadening use of different media (online, paper, street, event) by our target audiences, as well as the increased use of doordrops by commercial service providers which means that our unaddressed leaflets have to compete with more noise than ever. Hardly surprising therefore that there seem to be an increasing number of letterboxes saying 'Addressed mail only'. It's not just in areas with a high incidence of multiple occupancy of properties that an addressed letter is far more likely to be read and considered.

MattDowneyMPD
MattDowneyMPD

Could this not be an example of correlation rather that causation? Those remembering that they received leaflets could be more inclined to remember those leaflets if they were already predisposed towards the party in some way.

caronmlindsay
caronmlindsay

I am slightly unsure as to whether this would still apply. There was a lot of goodwill towards us in 2010. Back then, we were saying we weren't like the others and people believed us. Now, we aren't like the others, but people don't believe us any more. Therefore our leaflets have less currency. 


We need to rebuild that trust before our leaflets will be that effective again, and that's why I think, and have said for a couple of years, that it's conversations that are most important at the moment. If we spend time talking to people, we can change their mind and then our leaflets will have the same effect that John is talking about. 

MarkPack
MarkPack moderator

@caronmlindsay Agree with the gist of what you say Caron. The one twist I'd add is that given the relative failure of our 2010 target seat campaign (votes up but seats down) there was quite a 'too many leaflets don't work' backlash then. Likewise digital campaigning was pretty prevalent then too - another factor often related to the 'do lots of leaflets work' question.


So knowing that the evidence for 2010 stacks up in favour of lots of leaflets working that is useful, even if as you say we always need to be aware that situations change with Parliamentary cycles. And quality shouldn't be the enemy of quantity - 
http://www.markpack.org.uk/31697/five-of-the-most-common-mistakes-that-lib-dem-campaigners-make/

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