What do the academics say? Ashcroft’s campaigning worked

Welcome to the latest in my occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today – the impact of the Ashcroft-funded Conservative key seats campaign in the run-up to the 2010 election.

The latest edition of the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties (Volume 22, No.3) includes, “Laying the Foundations for Electoral Success: Conservative Pre-Campaign Canvassing before the 2010 UK General Election” by David Cutts, Ron Johnston, Charles Pattie and Justin Fisher:

The efforts of Lord Ashcroft’s team involved the expenditure of several million pounds during the pre-election campaign period in an effort to win over voters in key battleground seats. But was it effective? … We provide substantial evidence that it was … Frequency also mattered. The Conservatives were far more likely to win Labour-held seats if constituencies received money from Lord Ashcroft’s team on two or more occasions.

In total in 2007-9 Ashcroft’s company Bearwood Services Ltd gave the Conservative party £3,628,238.62 the authors point out, adding that the activity such monies financed was mostly canvassing and literature (leaflets or direct mail):

Its strategy involved three main tasks:

  1. identifying potential Conservative voters through (mostly telephone) surveys;
  2. sending party literature to those targeted voters through direct mailings (some 74 million items were sent out between October 2007 and polling day, with 17 million in the last five months before polling day…); and
  3. making grants to local parties to assist in their work to promote their candidates’ profile

… the combined elements of the strategy meant that the 14 million or so electors in the 200 constituencies … received on average seven pieces of centrally-produced literature each, alongside more that was generated locally.

Given the relative success of all that effort, it is likely to be repeated on an even greater scale for the 2015 election. That will be a tough challenge for Liberal Democrats to match, helped however by one other conclusion from this research:

The Liberal Democrats benefited most from intensive campaign effort.

Longer-term Liberal Democrat campaigning had more of an impact than that which took place during the short-term campaign.

Ashcroft’s own account of the work contains much useful information about the work he oversaw, hence my review of his book last year starting:

Controversial Conservative peer Michael Ashcroft has done campaigners in all parties a service with the frankness of his book on the 2010 general election, Minority Verdict.

My full review of Michael Ashcroft’s book is here and you can buy the book here.

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

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