Campaign Corner: Should you still target during a PR election?

Welcome to a new series of posts, each of which will look to give three tips about commonly asked campaign issues. Do get in touch if you have any questions you would like to suggest.

Today’s Campaign Corner question: Should you still target during PR list elections, such as for the London Assembly or the European Parliament?

A very good question – and one that I could easily write more than three tips about! But here are three:

  1. Repetition is what persuades people to change their votes: so it is much better to campaign repeatedly over a small area than to stretch thin over a large area, as it is the former that gets the levels of repetition which starts to win votes.
  2. Each election should be a building block towards the next: winning, say, 50 new supporters in a ward that you will fight seriously at the next local elections (or constituency at the next Scottish / Welsh / Westminster elections) is more useful in the long-run than 50 new supporters in an area which won’t be fought seriously at the next election – so when choosing where to go for repetition, think ahead.
  3. Use campaign tactics which reach people in wider areas at no extra effort: whether it is effective photo stunts for the local newspaper, letter writing to the letters pages of regional newspapers or running an effective Facebook page with news from across a council area, there are many campaign steps which both support the repetition in those concentrated areas by reaching people in them and also – at no extra effort – reach people in other areas too. For example, if you get coverage in the local newspaper, that gets read not only by voters in the areas you are concentrating on but also by people elsewhere in its catchment area. These sorts of campaign tactics are gold dust.

For some further thoughts on this, see Lynne Featherstone’s five wishes for what the party should do from 2008. Those five steps have aged pretty well despite the big changes in political and organisational circumstances since then. Yet steps one-three have died a death and though step five was something I put in place when I was working for the party (websites to cover every local party which did not have its own) that system has also largely atrophied since. Only step four is showing some life since, both with ALDC’s improved template packs and publications such as the one from myself and Shaun Roberts.

Got any other tips? You can post them up in the comment thread below or if you’ve got any questions that you would rather not ask in public (e.g. about the particular circumstances in your local party), please head over to the Campaigning section of our Members’ Forum and post up a message there.

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  • Liberal Neil 24th Oct '11 - 12:59am

    Definitely the right approach.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Oct '11 - 8:38am

    The problem with list elections and our party is that when the votes go to one big pool it seems harder to get people activated to go out and work their own patch. I suspect most people think “It doesn’t matter if we don;t do much because others will work in this election”. Also the elections where the list systems are used are seen as secondary ones. Of course, while this is the case it makes sense to target those areas which are targets for FPTP elections for all the reasons Mark gives.

    What opponents of proportional systems don’t seem to get (because mostly they are innumerate) is that just because there is a large multi-member constituency does not mean one has to get votes evenly distributed across it. To win a seat one has to get a quota of votes – that quota could come all from one corner, and one could spend all one’s effort working that corner to win it there.

    STV makes this more obvious because one is more obviously winning a quota there, properly done it could very much be about individuals picking where they are going to get their quota from and working hard to win it there. One could imagine some sort of divying up of the constituency amongst the candidates of the same party so that each would have in effect their own “individual constituency” within it where they are the lead candidate going out to win first preferences. That cannot be done with list systems, which are in effect just STV where voters are forced to vote 1-2-3 for candidates in a fixed order determined by the party and can’t deviate outside the party rather than having the full power of STV. The nice thing about this divying up system is that one is not restricted to geographically contiguous areas pre-selected by the boundary commission.

    The equivalent of targeting is that one might do this divying up, but then only one of the self-chosen individual constituencies is worked, or two or however many can be reasonably targeted with the resources available. It’s the repetition factor – better that a small group of voters hears a lot than all voters hear a little.

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