LibLink: Are we delivering too many leaflets?

Party President Mark Pack gives the answer – NO!

He writes:

Q. Do leaflets work?

A. Yes.

Q. Really?

A. Yup. There’s plenty of evidence, both internal party evidence (e.g. tracking changes in canvass data in the aftermath of leaflets) and also from academic research. Examples of the latter are here and here, and there’s also polling evidence of voters remembering getting leaflets and being influenced by them. Plus there’s the evidence of what other parties have done when they’ve walloped us in elections.

Q. OK, one leaflet I understand. But why so many?

A. The typical leaflet gets only a few seconds consideration from a member of the public – so you need to do a lot of leaflets to get anything more than the merest sliver of information over.

He then quotes research from the Electoral Commission after the 2019 General Election which includes this:

Over half the people who took part in our survey after the election said they saw campaign materials from parties and candidates, around a third said they got information from the televised leader debates or online sources.

  • 55% of people who took part in our research after the election said that they got information from leaflets/flyers
  • 32% from a party leader debate on television
  • 29% from newspapers or news websites
  • 24% from social media posts and adverts by campaigners

Mark Pack continues:

Q. That’s all very well, but what about all these complaints from people?

It’s a comment that often comes up during successful campaigns. The reason why it’ s not the problem it may first appear is that people vary greatly in their interest in leaflets and toleration of them, which means that if nobody is complaining then you are doing less than the most intolerant person likes to receive – and far less than the average person is happy to receive.

Complaints shouldn’t be ignored (and if lots of people are complaining about too many leaflets that may mean that the leaflets and the message aren’t interesting enough to them). They do though need to be judged carefully and the occasional complaint isn’t a cause for doing less – just as the occasional complaint when canvassing from someone who doesn’t like being called on doesn’t mean that we’re doing too much door knocking.

There’s more good stuff in his article here.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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17 Comments

  • David Blake 24th May '24 - 7:43am

    Leaflets work, but they have to contain more than just ‘Labour can’t win here’. We need to get people voting for us because of our policies and values, not just because we can get the Tories out.

  • Steve Trevethan 24th May '24 - 8:26am

    Might we please have a pamphlet or three on the harsh harm done to so many in our policy-deprived,
    not-rich fellow citizens and the some 25% of our children who are continually deprived of enough to eat?

    £2.90 Basic hourly Tate for P &O cook
    £280 Ditto pay for P &O boss Peter Hebblethwaite

    Can you guess which set of people contribute most to inflation?

  • Gwyn Williams 24th May '24 - 10:14am

    As a student some 44 years ago, I delivered leaflets in a byelection in a new(ish)housing estate on the outskirts of Reading. It was uneventful until a furious lady emerged from a house and threw the leaflet that I had just delivered in the bin. She shouted at me that she had had too many leaflets and went back inside. This was long before the tsunami of unsolicited literature which every fast food outlet, supermarket and energy grant provider inflicts on the public.
    There have always been a minority who will have a negative reaction to leaflets. The issue now is to make the leaflet stand out from the others.

  • David Evans 24th May '24 - 1:12pm

    It is very disappointing the see that the usual messages being still trotted out to the same old easy questions and simplistic answers thereby avoiding facing up to difficult questions that deserve real consideration.

    The real questions and correct answers should be:

    Q1) Do leaflets work?
    A1) In the vast majority of cases – YES, but not absolutely always.

    Q2) What situations arise that prove the “not always” caveat.
    A2) When the mechanistic leafleting element of campaigning is allowed to run riot and undermine all the other key elements of the campaign e.g.
    – canvassing i.e. talking and listening to people to find out what is going on,
    – messaging i.e. quality content in leaflet, and
    – display i.e. quality leaflet design to get it noticed just that bit more,

    Q3) When has this occurred?
    A3) Prime examples occur in targeted by-elections, where enormously over ambitions leaflet plans are rolled out by the centre, beyond any reasonable estimate of delivery capacity. In order to hit this target, deliverers are given four separate items (three leaflets and one addressed envelope) to deliver simultaneously. Being a very nice sunny day on each occasion, we had residents in gardens immediately putting them in their bins with a “We don’t want any more of this rubbish …”

    Reporting back to HQ, the standard answer came back “Oh well, they wouldn’t have voted for us”.

    Mark Pack is right to say “They need to be judged carefully,” but that bit just doesn’t happen.

  • Peter Davies 24th May '24 - 3:27pm

    @Hugo. If your seat is broke, it’s not winable. Outside elections, I’d agree that the party needs to give more help to seats which could be targets in future but they need to be ruthless once the campaign starts.

  • Nonconformistradical 24th May '24 - 4:10pm

    Peter Davies is right.

    Hugh – if you seat was genuinely winnable you’d have the money and been very hard at it knocking on doors long before now.

    What happens after this election is a different matter. If we do well and make a significant number of gains then hopefully that will increase financial donations. Some of the extra funds need to go to the next group of seats who might become winnable in the next election to build them up – and some need to go towards areas which might have been fairly successful in the past and are judged to have the potneital to do so again.

  • Mick Taylor 24th May '24 - 5:37pm

    You most certainly can deliver too many leaflets. In the Brecon and Radnor by-election we almost leafleted ourselves out of victory. I both canvassed and delivered in that by-election and I can tell you that many many people in this rural seat slammed the door in my face when I tried to deliver yet another leaflet. On election day, more than a handful told me they wouldn’t be voting because they were disgusted by the environmental cost of so much paper and the boring receptiveness of the message. These were former Lib Dem voters – some lifelong – who had been totally put off by excessive leafletting. When I was knocking up far too many people said words to effect of ‘oh no not another leaflet’.
    So Mark can bluster about the effect of leaflets – and by the way, I do know the difference between people who are against us or not, after 60 years as a party activist – but the party do need to come up with other ways of getting the message out than burying people in leaflets.

  • Whether you’re delivering leaflets or campaigning in another way thanks and good luck!

  • The Lib Dem evidence on the effect of leaflets is weak and tends to suffer from confirmation bias (focussing on the evidence that supports your preconceptions and ignoring the evidence that does not). It certainly would not meet the criteria for validity as scientific evidence – especially because leaflets are part of a wider campaign and there is never a proper comparative trial.
    I had the same experience as Mick at the Brecon and Radnor Byelection – which reduced my enthusiasm for supporting the subsequent byelections.
    The emphasis on the quantity of leaflets is often at the expense of quality – so that volunteers spend a lot of time delivering leaflets that contain very little content (or very little new content) that would actually influence how people vote.

  • Peter Davies 24th May '24 - 11:19pm

    It may be possible to deliver too many leaflets in a bye-election. We won’t get close to what we did in B & R in this election.

  • The by-elections mentioned, including Brecon & Radnor (2019), were all won with enormous swings. Some sort of myth has developed about B&R, based on the usual “they slammed the door in my face” anecdotes. Leaflets work. There is no evidence from any data set when more leaflets has led to fewer votes.

  • Mick Taylor 25th May '24 - 6:49am

    Thanks Simon Pike for your support. To be fair, the party has started putting more emphasis on door knocking and offers people who haven’t done it before on the spot training. North Shropshire seemed to have a better balance. My experience tells me that door knocking is really important and for years it was sacrificed in favour of ever more (and often vacuous) leaflets and as a palliative for people who didn’t have experience of canvassing.

  • Peter Davies 25th May '24 - 8:14am

    It’s not really surprising that delivering more leaflets increases our votes. Presumably target letters and door knocking also work. Where we need research is on the relative effectiveness of different techniques and which groups they influence.

  • Ruth Bright 25th May '24 - 1:31pm

    Loads of people were outside yesterday mending cars, mowing lawns etc so I did my favourite thing – basically delivering but doing “Liz Jarvis” ra ra ra when I got the chance to speak to someone. It is a sad indictment of my social life but it was good fun.

  • David Evans 27th May '24 - 3:29am

    Kit,

    I sad to have to contradict you, but there is evidence. You seem to be choosing to ignore it and that is a concern.

    All the best,

    David

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