Do Political Campaigns Matter? Campaign Effects in Elections and Referendums

By David M. Farrell; Rudiger Schmitt-Beck | Go to book overview
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Post-Fordism in the constituencies?

The continuing development of constituency campaigning in Britain

David Denver and Gordon Hands

As Chapter 1 in this volume suggests, there have been important recent changes in the style of election campaigning-amounting broadly to a process of 'modernization'-and authors have used various conceptual frameworks to describe and explain this process. This chapter focuses on constituency-level campaigning in British general elections. We describe how this too has changed, in line with the developments summarized in Table 1.1, and also consider conceptual frameworks used to understand these changes. In addition, we present some evidence about the effectiveness of new campaigning techniques in improving electoral performance.

Pippa Norris distinguishes three phases in the development of campaigning in Britain-pre-modern, modern and post-modern. Pre-modern or traditional campaigning was low budget, ad hoc, local and decentralized and was characterized by 'direct communications between citizens and their representatives' (Norris 1997a: 76), but this declined after 1945 to be replaced by modern campaigning. The latter involved a longer time scale, was dominated by television, opinion polls and daily press conferences and was nationally co-ordinated by specialists and professionals from central party headquarters. In the 1990s, however, campaigning in Britain began to move into a 'post-modern' phase, coming to be characterized by 'specialized narrowcasting leading to a greater fragmentation of media outlets, messages and audiences' (ibid.: 87). We now have the permanent campaign, nationally co-ordinated but with decentralized operations, extensive media management, greater use of focus groups and selective mail shots and advertisements.

Norris's focus is almost entirely upon campaigning at national level and the kinds of changes that she identifies have been well documented (see Kavanagh 1995; Scammell 1995; Rosenbaum 1997). In the major parties national campaigning has become highly professionalized and is now a sophisticated exercise in political marketing. The parties employ professional experts to develop a 'media strategy', to give advice on how to improve the image of party leaders (including how they should dress, speak and have their hair cut), to design posters and logos, to devise slogans, to suggest who should (and should not) appear on television and which policies should be


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