How leaflets (and canvassing) raise turnout in British elections

Welcome to the latest in my occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today – how leaflets, which we know from other research work at helping to win elections, also help to raise turnout.

(You may have seen this research before as I covered it originally in 2017. But I’ve now updated what follows as the research itself has worked its way through the academic system.)

The following conclusions are from a field experiment carried out by Joshua Townsley during the 2017 local elections. Voters in a ward were randomly selected to receive either no campaign activity on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, a leaflet or a leaflet and a doorstep canvass:
Joshua Townsley research experiment details on how voters were split into different groups

Liberal Democrat leaflet used in Joshua Townsley's experiment

The results of this were:
Josy Townsley research finding on GOTV

(Slide taken from ‘Knock-Knock’: The role of personal contact between local parties and voters during election campaigns in Britain by Joshua Townsley, presented at EPOP 2017. PV = postal voters. NPV = non-postal voters. F2F = face to face.)

The relatively small additional impact of canvassing compared to doing just a leaflet does not necessarily mean that canvassing on its own wouldn’t have been as effective, or even more effective, than leafleting on its own.

Given the ability to leaflet more houses per hour than the number of households who can be canvassed per hour, however, the smallish additional effect of canvassing is suggestive for campaign priorities. All the more so when the finding from a field experiment previously carried out in Tower Hamlets, which showed leafleting coming out well compared with canvassing, are taken into account.

For more details on this research see, “Is it worth door-knocking? Evidence from a United Kingdom-based Get Out The Vote (GOTV) field experiment on the effect of party leaflets and canvass visits on voter turnout“, Political Science Research and Methods, 3 October 2018. The figures in the slide above have been slightly revised in this version but the overall conclusions are the same.

You can read the other posts in the Evidence-based campaigning: what the academic research says series here, including the potentially contradictory findings from a 38 Degrees experiment


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