Party Campaigns and their Impact
Thus far, we have examined contextual effects created either by direct interactions among voters or by voters' reactions to events and trends in their regions. In this chapter, we look at effects created by political parties through their campaigning. Political campaigns aim to achieve a number of ends. First, a party must mobilize its own supporters, ensuring that as many vote as possible. But no party can rely solely on this to deliver victory as none commands majority support in the electorate. All parties—especially those in opposition—need to try and win over new supporters at each election. Persuasion tactics are also required. Identifying supporters and ensuring they vote is primarily a local process, carried out by local and regional parties through canvassing activities. Winning over new converts takes place at all scales, from local canvassing efforts through to the national campaign. Perhaps the most easily persuaded are individuals who are likely to vote but have not made up their minds which party to support. Surprisingly many voters are undecided at the start of an election campaign, or change their minds during the campaign. At the start of the 2005 general election campaign, only 47 per cent of respondents to the 2005 British Election Study (BES) said they had already decided which party they would vote for in the upcoming election and 46 per cent said they had not yet decided (Table 6.1).
We can see how many people changed their minds during the campaign by using the 2005 BES, which interviewed a group of voters at the start of the campaign and re-interviewed them after the election. Post-election, just over eight out of every ten who said at the start of the campaign they would definitely vote actually had voted, as had seven in every ten of those who had not yet chosen a party at the outset of the campaign, and just under one out of every five of those who originally said they would abstain (Table 6.1). Almost 20 per cent of all those who thought they knew for sure who they would vote for when the election was called changed their minds and actually abstained. Among those who initially said they had definitely made their choice and who did go on to vote, almost 10 per cent changed their party choice before polling day. Similarly, of those who at the start of the campaign thought they would vote but had not yet decided who to vote for, 28 per cent abstained. In total, an astonishing 60 per cent of those who took part in the 2005 survey were, in effect, floating voters. Some of these floating voters may have been influenced by the campaign.