The most important campaigning message

Last week’s Politics Home poll provided another example of what both public and private party research has consistently shown for at least 15 years. The biggest obstacle to persuading people to vote Liberal Democrat isn’t getting them to agree with a particular policy or to like a particular candidate or leader. It’s persuading people that we can win in that constituency or ward.

In last week’s Politics Home poll 44% said they would “definitely” or “probably” Liberal Democrat if we had “a serious chance of winning in your constituency”. That finding is nothing new as you can see, for example, from Russell & Fieldhouse’s Neither Left nor Right who show that consistently many more people agree with our policies and beliefs than vote for us.

Persuading people we have a chance can be frustratingly difficult, even where we won the election last time round. You’d have thought that would be pretty solid evidence for us having a chance next time – but that is only the case for people who know that we won last time. Even in constituencies with Liberal Democrat MPs, there is often a significant chunk of the population who pay almost no attention to politics and go on political choice auto-pilot, assuming we must be out of the race unless our efforts jog them into thinking again.

What do the academics say? The science of bar charts

Pie charts make an occasional appearance in political leaflets but bar charts are very much the dominant form. Why? more

This does not mean that our policies or the qualities of our candidates do not matter, nor that the national story has no impact at all, particularly in seats where we are not yet at the point where we can credibly persuade people we can win. But it does mean that in those seats where we can, persuading people of that is vital – and that is about much more than simply sticking a bar chart or two on leaflets during the last few weeks before polling day.

Regularly quoting Liberal Democrat councillors, assembly members and Parliamentarians helps remind people that we can and do win elections. It is also why stories emphasising our popularity and success are important – such as the story about the record growth in local party membership or the photo featuring a candidate with local residents. And it’s why the well-designed bar chart should be a regular feature of literature.

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