Well, people vote… and campaigners also campaign. If you’re not used to political campaigning, what happens on polling day (and indeed the very fact that it’s a super-busy day rather than the quiet day it usually is in the political news coverage) can be a bit of a mystery.
So here is my list of the five main things campaigners get up to on polling day:
1. Delivering campaign literature
Even on polling day, people are still making up their minds for sure how to vote – and those who think they have made up their minds might yet change them. Which is why the leaflets, letters and digital messages carry on going out.
Political knocking-up means calling on voters to remind them it is polling day and to give them a final personal push both to vote and to vote for us. To make best use of the time spent on this, the people called on are usually a mix of people planning to vote for us – for whom a personal visit helps ensure they actually go to vote and stick with their plan to support us – and also supporters of parties who aren’t in with a chance of winning but whose supporters might tactically switch to us. Sometimes other groups may be added in, such as if people who signed a local petition overwhelmingly are backing us and so it makes sense also to knock-up those who signed the petition who we don’t have canvass data for.
The list of names we’re calling on is called, in Lib Dem circles, the shuttleworth (after the printing firm that produced the carbon copy paper used for these lists back in pre-computer days).
Knocking-up can also be done over the phone – which is great for getting through geographically dispersed people quickly but is limited by how many people we have usable phone numbers for.
Either way, knocking-up is much more efficient if done using the MiniVAN app (which also keeps data much more secure than using pieces of paper).
One way of making the knocking-up more effective is to know who has already voted and to exclude them from the lists of people being called on.
Hence telling – party campaigners stationed at polling stations, making a note of who has gone to vote (where people are happy to reveal who they are – most people are). The data from tellers reduces the size of the shuttleworth, making more effective the efforts of people to doorstep or phone people on it.
There’s also a strong likelihood – never properly measured – that having a teller with a rosette on at the polling station helps reinforce the message that the party is active and worth thinking about voting for. Having Lib Dem tellers where there has never been a serious Lib Dem campaign before, for example, could have an impact.
Even so, having a full cover of tellers isn’t the objective for polling day. Rather, it’s to do as good a job as possible of reminding those on the shuttleworth to vote and to vote Lib Dem. Telling is a means to the end.
4. Reminding postal voters to vote
Postal voters can’t vote in person but they can still return their postal ballots to the council or a polling station on polling day. There are strict rules about party supporters not interfering in this process, but it is why postal voters are usually included on the shuttleworth.
A combination of data from knocking-up and tellers will often tell those running polling day that a ward is either going to be won comfortably or lost heavily. In either case, that then means it makes sense to switch resources to helping on polling day in a ward which is close. If, say, you can put in some extra work to win 10 extra votes, it’s better if those 10 are the difference between losing by 5 and winning by 5 than between winning by 1,010 and winning by 1,020.
Allocating resources to maximise their impact on close wards is a far from perfect mix of art and science. What it is definitely, however, is much better than the alternative of people only campaigning wherever is closest to where they live – that makes for a much less efficient use of people’s campaign efforts, a much less efficient operation at securing votes and fewer Lib Dems being elected. Flawed optimisation is much better than definite inefficiency.
Yet it’s also a case people often find reasons to ignore on polling day – partly, understandably, because candidates can have a strong emotional attachment to their ward. That can mean not wanting to believe they are going to lose even though they are heading for a heavy defeat. It can also mean being nervous about whether they will really win even though they are heading for a landslide.
On the flip side, there’s nothing that quite drives the passion of a polling day organiser to try to get people to switch to the most marginal wards that the experience that oh too many of us have had of trying to do this, having a ward team all the data showing is heading for defeat nonetheless refuse to switch to help elsewhere – and then a few hours later be at a count where said ward team gets tonked but another brilliant team loses by a tiny handful of votes. Votes which would have been won had that refusenik team been willing to help. Targeting effort make sense.