Constituency Campaigning in the 2015 British General Election

Lead Research Organisation: Brunel University
Department Name: Politics, History and Law

Abstract

Constituency level campaigning has become crucial to the electoral strategies of all the major parties in Britain, and a significant academic literature - initially regarded as 'revisionist' - has emerged. This work - now regarded as mainstream - has revealed many things including how campaigns have changed over time; how parties have responded to wider changes in society, the electorate, and within their own parties; and the degree to which parties are able to harness their resources effectively to fight elections. They have also informed discussions about power within parties - how far central party organisations are able to coordinate constituency party campaigns and how much is left to the grass-roots. And finally, they have furthered our understanding of how voters respond to cues from the parties, and the extent to which voters can be mobilized.

This study will examine constituency campaigning at the 2015 British General Election and will provide not only a continuation of a unique and valuable time series that began in 1992, but also a programme of innovation that furthers our understanding of the impact, role, and nature of campaigns in the modern political arena. The study will seek to address four underlying research questions:

1) What is the electoral impact of constituency campaigns?
2) How have campaign techniques evolved?
3) How are party campaign organisations evolving?
4) What is the impact of constituency campaigns on different groups of electors?

The study will feature data gathered through a survey of election agents, candidate spending data, and individual level data captured through the main British Election Study (BES) and the British Election Study Internet Panel (BESIP). It will provide an empirical account of the style and intensity of constituency campaigning in 2015; investigate the role of the parties' central organisations in planning and managing constituency campaigns; gather data on voter perceptions of the campaigns (both long and short), and investigate the electoral effects of constituency campaigning in a changed electoral context both in terms of party votes shares and turnout. There will also be innovations to this well established study. Principally: extending the study to candidates from UKIP; a detailed focus on e-campaigning techniques; an extended focus on the role of members and supporters in campaigns; greater focus on candidate effects, and the application of new and improved methods for understanding the impact of campaigns on electors.

The study will also pool data from this study and all previous constituency campaign studies dating back to 1992 and combine these with candidate spending data, census and geographic data over the same period. This will permit extensive longitudinal analysis, greater hypothesis testing and theory building. The pooling of these data will allow us, for example, to analyse of the impact of boundary revisions on local parties' abilities to mount effective subsequent campaigns; to measure over time whether free campaign efforts are more electorally effective than those that incur cost; whether the process of increasingly rigorous targeting by parties impacts upon turnout; whether campaign intensity and style varies by geography and social composition, and whether campaigning in seats where parties have little prospect of victory is of any electoral benefit in subsequent local government elections.

Planned Impact

Academic Impact
The research findings will be published in key international academic journals such as the British Journal of Political Science and Electoral Studies. Dissemination will also occur through conferences including the American Political Science Association, Political Studies Association, the European Consortium for Political Research, and Elections, Public Opinion and Parties (EPOP) conferences. Presentations from previous projects have delivered impact on attendees and those registered for the conference. For example, the paper on constituency campaigning at the 2010 general elections presented at APSA in 2010 has, to date, been downloaded 104 times from the Social Science Research Network with 372 Abstract Views.

The research will also have an impact on the broader campaign studies community. This research team's members are regarded as leaders in studies of district level campaigning with previous work being widely cited. The theoretical and methodological advances generated by the study will have significant impact.

In addition, the work on constituency campaigns has now become an established part of the broader study of British general elections. As such, the findings will have an impact on the current and future BES teams. Finally, the findings and outputs will have an impact on fellow researchers - Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie - who focus on mainly on candidate spending in general elections. Both teams have collaborated in designing the questions on campaign contacts that feature in the BES.

Data
The team will produce fully documented datasets, which will be deposited at the UK Data Archive. These will be datasets containing responses to the questionnaire-based survey and candidate spending data. Transcripts of interviews with party officers will be provided on an anonymous basis only where agreed by the interviewee.

Wider Stakeholders
The project will have an impact on both political parties and government agencies. Previous studies have helped political parties better understand the impact of campaigning, developments in campaigning and the prevalence of supporters in campaign work. Critically, it has allowed the parties to better understand not only their own campaigns, but compare them with those of other parties. Feedback from parties suggests that past projects have influenced thinking on future campaign strategies. We expect similar impact with this project.

The project will also have an impact on the Electoral Commission, providing an important source of information on how campaigns are organised, and if funding is received from the Commission as in previous elections, on the understanding of electoral procedures and the perceived quality of information provided to candidates.

Post-election, it is possible that the issue of party funding will again be examined. In this case, Fisher's pre-eminence in that field will again provide the opportunity to feed findings from this project into the evidence base to inform policy proposals

We will reach non-academic audiences via direct communication (e.g. with political parties and the Electoral Commission through post-study presentations); through the media (where Fisher has a long history of active engagement); and via the internet: a regularly updated website managed by the Research Associate will be used publicise the work of the team to both academic and non-academic users. This will provide interim findings, news from the project and working papers, plus links to other relevant projects and resources. These findings will also be publicised via the PSA blog site and the LSE British Politics blog, where Fisher has previously published, together with the BES blog site.

Publications

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Fisher J (2015) Party Finance: The Death of the National Campaign? in Parliamentary Affairs

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Fisher J (2020) Electoral integrity - The winner takes it all? Evidence from three British general elections in The British Journal of Politics and International Relations

 
Description Parties and candidates target campaign resources where they are most likely to pay electoral dividends. At the individual level it has been shown that some individuals are more likely to be persuaded by campaign contacts than others (Arcenaux and Nickerson, 2009). In a parallel tradition of measuring campaign effectiveness at the macro-level, a number of scholars have demonstrated that local candidate campaign effort measured is significantly related to electoral performance (Fieldhouse & Cutts, 2009; Fisher et al 2018). However, while there is evidence suggestive of macro level effects, there is little systematic evidence about the district level conditions under which campaign efforts are most productive. Drawing on extensive data across six UK general elections between 1992 and 2015, we advance a theory of local campaign efficacy and test using a general model of popularity equilibrium. We demonstrate that there is a curvilinear relationship between the underlying level of party support in an electoral district and the intensity of the district-level campaign -there is a 'sweet-spot' for maximising the returns of campaign effort.
Exploitation Route This research is already used extensively by political parties
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description First, the research to date has been used by the political parties in planning their field campaigns, demonstrating how targeting is very effective in delivering electoral benefits, and which forms of campaign contact are most likely to mobilize electors. Parties are in regular contact about the results and presentations have been delivered to parties where the offer was taken up. In addition, electoral agents have reported using our questionnaire as a useful checklist for planning their campaigns. Second, the work has informed public debate. For example, I was commissioned by the BBC to write an article for the BBC Website on election campaigning in advance of the 2017 General Election. The article - General election 2017: How much do the parties know about you? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-39779158 was read by 250,000 people in the first two days after publication Thirdly, I have appeared regularly in the media (television, radio, newspapers and online) discussing and drawing upon our work on election campaigning. Appearances have included Sky News, BBC Westminster Hour, BBC Political Thinking, Regional Radio, National and regional newspapers.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal

 
Title Survey of election agents for study of constituency campaigning at the 2015 British general election 
Description  
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
URL http://reshare.ukdataservice.ac.uk/id/eprint/852527
 
Description Attitudes of Electoral Agents on the Administration of the General Election 
Organisation The Electoral Commission
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Additional question were added to the survey of electoral agents to solicit their views on the administration of the 2015 general election
Collaborator Contribution A report was delivered to the Electoral Commission in September 2015 and the findings incorporated into the Commission's report on the 2015 general election
Impact Attitudes of Electoral Agents on the Administration of the 2015 General Election. Report Produced for the Electoral Commission
Start Year 2015
 
Description Report for the Electoral Commission on Permitted Participants at the 2016 EU Referendum 
Organisation The Electoral Commission
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution I designed questions in collaboration with the Electoral Commission to assess the ease with which permitted participants were able to work under the relevant legislation (Political Parties, Elections & Referendums Act). This was informed by work on campaigning and electoral administration undertaken at general elections. The report was delivered to the Commission in August 2016
Collaborator Contribution The Electoral Commission co-designed the questionnaire and schedule of questions for qualitative interviews. It also assisted in sampling those selected for qualitative interview
Impact This report informed the Electoral Commission's reporting on the Referendum, available at: https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/223267/Report-on-the-regulation-of-campaigners-at-the-EU-referendum.pdf
Start Year 2016
 
Description Appearance on BBC The Westminster Hour 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was invited to appear on the BBC Westminster Hour in March 2016 to explain how campaigning techniques would be used in the EU Referendum
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Campaigning Without Lead Time: The Potential Effects 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was an invited presentation delivered at UCL at a post 2017 election event organised by the Constitution Unit
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/constitution-unit-events/ucl-post-election-panel
 
Description Commissioned article on election campaigning for the BBC website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was commissioned to write a headline article for the BBC website on methods of election campaigning during the 2017 campaign. The web article received over 250,000 hits in the first two days
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-39779158
 
Description Invited advice to the Ethiopian Electoral Board on campaign and party funding regulation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited advice to the Ethiopian Electoral Board on campaign and party funding regulation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited presentation from the National Democratic Institute and British Embassy in Tirana to a delegation of Albania MPs, regulators, and journalists 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited presentation from the National Democratic Institute and British Embassy in Tirana to a delegation of Albania MPs, regulators, and journalists. The presentation concerned the effective regulation of election campaigns and political finance
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Newspaper and Press Coverage 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Multiple appearance in both national and international media (TV, Radio, Newspapers, Online) discussing campaign techniques and impacts. Includes: Sky, BBC, ITV, Channel 4, RTE, Daily Telegraph, Norwegian TV, Korean TV, Bloomberg, Associated Press
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010,2011,2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017
 
Description Presentation for Practioners and Journalists 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A briefing event was organised in conjunction with the Political Studies Association. It was held at the Institute for Government and featured presentation from this and other ESRC funded projects (details below). The event was chaired by Nick Robinson from the BBC and attracted an audience of party practitioners and journalists. The presentations were as follows: Justin Fisher (Brunel University London) The Impact of Constituency Campaigns on the 2017 Election; Paul Webb (University of Sussex) Twice in a Row: Party Members and Campaigning in the 2015 and 2017 General Elections; Annemarie Walter (University of Nottingham) The Unintended Consequences of Negative Campaigning - The General Elections of 2015 and 2017; Cees Van Der Eijk (University of Nottingham) Citizen's Reactions to the Campaign in the General Elections of 2015 and 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.psa.ac.uk/psa/news/election-campaigning-laid-bare
 
Description Presentation to Labour Party HQ 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A invited bespoke presentation was made to campaign staff at Labour headquarters on the effectiveness on constituency campaigning at the 2015 general election. We offer this to all parties and make presentations on a non-partisan basis, treated all data in the strictest confidence
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Witness to the Scottish Parliament Finance and Constitution Committee, Referendums (Scotland) Bill 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Witness to the Scottish Parliament Finance and Constitution Committee, Referendums (Scotland) Bill. In the Committee's final report, Fisher's written and oral evidence was cited some fourteen times, and in three substantive areas highlighted in Fisher's written evidence (referendum spending limits, reforms in respect of the provision of electoral registers to participants, and the need for sufficient time in advance of the referendum to conduct necessary administration), the Committee either supported Fisher's recommendations or recommended they be considered by the Scottish government
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://sp-bpr-en-prod-cdnep.azureedge.net/published/FCC/2019/10/31/Stage-1-report-on-the-Referendum...