With in particular another Parliamentary by-election on the books, there’s likely to be an upsurge of Liberal Democrat members and supporters with questions about the number of leaflets the party delivers in such contests.
So here’s a quick guide to the most frequently asked questions…
Q. Do leaflets work?
A. Yup. There’s plenty of evidence, both internal party evidence (e.g. tracking changes in canvass data in the aftermath of leaflets) and also from academic research. Examples of the latter are here and here. Plus there’s the evidence of what other parties have done when they’ve walloped us in elections.
Q. OK, one leaflet I understand. But why so many?
A. The typical leaflet gets only a few seconds consideration from a member of the public – so you need to do a lot of leaflets to get anything more than the merest sliver of information over.
Q. But what about digital campaigning?
A. No prizes for guessing that I’ll answer by saying that it is a crucial part of modern campaigning. It’s not a choice between online and offline though. It’s a bit like asking if we should put vowels or consonants in the next press release. The answer is both.
One big starting advantage that leaflets have, however, is that we can find out where pretty much every letterbox in the constituency or ward is – and we’re legally allowed to push something through it. Online campaigning has many strengths, but it doesn’t have that same immediate extensive reach.
Q. Come on, don’t you see how old fashioned leaflets are? Get with the 21st century!
A. Looks at what the most digitally savvy and successful companies do, even those whose whole business is based on the internet. Both MailChimp and Apple, for example, do extensive publicity and marketing activities offline alongside their super-smart online activities.
Q. That’s all very well, but what about all these complaints from people?
People vary greatly in their interest in leaflets and toleration of them, which means that if nobody is complaining then you are doing less than the most intolerant person likes to receive – and far less than the average person is happy to receive.
Complaints shouldn’t be ignored. They do though need to be judged carefully – just as the occasional complaint when canvassing from someone who doesn’t like being called on doesn’t mean that we’re doing too much door knocking.
Q. But surely sometimes those complaints have a point?
Aside from politeness, another good reason not to dismiss such complaints out of hand is that ‘you’re doing too many’ often subtly means something different.
Complaints about quantity often mask problems with quality – people think there are too many leaflets because they find them boring, irrelevant or both. When people are interested in something, they are willing to read huge amounts about it. But they need to find it interesting.
Or they may reveal a bit of a mix-up with our logistical arrangements, with leaflets not being spaced out in the way we planned. That’s useful to know.
Q. OK, but surely there must be some limit beyond which too many leaflets really is too many?
A. Yes, it is possible to do too many just as it is (in theory, so people tell me) possible to eat too much chocolate.
Looking at the evidence, though, that limit looks to be well beyond our delivery capacity in all but the most exceptional of circumstances. If we get the quality right (see above), the issue is our capacity to deliver not the limit of efficacy.
Q. Is there anything else I should know about leafleting?
A. There’s more to delivering leaflets than meets the eye, as explained in my leafleting tips video.