How to campaign in a general election

This post discusses traditional campaigning methods in a general election i.e. those followed by political parties, for those that want to participate. It’s not strictly necessary to be associated with a political party to participate in elections although I would suggest that you operate in an open and honest manner e.g. by behaving honestly based on established, verifiable facts and disclosing your group’s contact details on leaflets and when asked. I have postponed this posting since I was worried that it may assist the opposition. Then I realised and appreciated that we are many …

General elections are about electing a candidate to represent their constituency as a Member of Parliament (MP). Under the UK’s first past the post electoral system, it’s all about securing more votes than any other candidate. Because there is more to achieve than available resources – usually voluntary workers – there is a concern to be as effective as possible. Being effective means persuading as many people as possible to vote for your candidate or not voting for a likely close opposing candidate for the effort that you expend. Politics can turn nasty or abusive because less votes for your nearest opponent has the same effect as more votes for your side, because people often have deeply-help political views and because people involved in politics are often insane.

It’s a long time since I’ve done this but political parties depend on 4 main methods to campaign: the election communication, leaflets, canvassing and turning out the vote. They also use a copy of the Electoral Register which is a list of all the people who can vote. There may be newer ways to campaign online today but I would expect that most people you reach that way are probably already committed (or should be ;).

The electoral communication is a letter that each political party gets delivered for free by the post office [ed: Royal Mail]. Political parties often ask for help stuffing envelopes so that’s what’s going on there.

Leaflets are often ignored and never read. If you go for leaflets, I would suggest a simple graphic and short message perhaps with a url to follow up. Leaflets can also double as posters to display in a window. It’s worth considering having different simple leaflets and delivering them not to every home, perhaps one to so many homes. I suggest that you should identify your group on the leaflet with a shortened address e.g. p&p by group name, house number, postcode.

Canvassing is knocking on doors and engaging people in conversation. This is often not done by political parties since it is so labour-intensive. This is probably the most effective way of campaigning since you reach the highest proportion of the electorate this way and you can present your case in person. What to expect: If you’re polite and well presented, most people will engage with you. Many people will be very poorly informed, some people will be rude, some people will be mad. How to do it: Prepare beforehand so that you have e.g. a leaflet to leave behind if they have no time for you “Can I just leave this for you to look at?”, ask if they’ll be free later, do it with a partner until you get comfortable with it, if a pair do opposite sides of a street you can call your mate over for help. If you’re doing it informally yourself just do however many houses you choose on your own street and meet your neighbours ;)

Turning out the vote is about making sure that those who have said that they will support your candidate actually vote on election day. You can ring them if you have their number, knock on their door or turn up in a car to give them a lift. Political parties make notes while canvassing. There may be some data protection issues involved in making records (especially electronic records) without registering and having people’s consent.

You can – of course – approach a political party and volunteer to campaign for them. If you’re devising a campaign independent of political parties, I suggest that you should be realistic in your assessment and expectations (unlike some political party). Elections are well documented so that you can research what to expect online. I have been successful gambling on general elections: we’ve had general elections in 2015 and 2017 as a guide. If you gamble, I suggest that you hedge (gambling term is dutch or dutching) your bets. [8/11/19 Gamblers can benefit from odds that are often skewed on general elections due to inexperienced gamblers having unrealistic expectations. There are also many different bets offered. I personally don’t gamble other than on politics – you’ve got to be in it to lose.]

ed 17.30 https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/advance-article/doi/10.1093/biosci/biz088/5610806

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