History

Why you should read old election manuals – especially if you’re a political scientist

One of my reasons for reading old election manuals, aside from the love of the physical format of old books and the amusement from what now reads as esoteric advice, is the insights they give into trends in political campaigning which otherwise get missed.

Take this from the 7th (1922) edition of Woodings, the standard Liberal Party election manual in the late 19th and early 20th centuries:

Woodings manual extract re correspondence with voters

The hint this text – not present in the original 1892 edition – gives us about an upsurge in questions from voters to candidates in the early 20th century is just the sort of practical detail about what voters and candidates really get up to that otherwise gets mostly lost from the historical record.

There’s much more to politics than what happens in Parliament and there’s much more to what happens in elections than speeches. Election manuals get you into the reality of how elections really were fought.

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