Reviewing how we campaign

Liberal Democrat campaigns are well known for their strong community focus, their mountains of leaflets and their incessant door knocking. This strategy has shown some success from Chesham and Amersham to Tiverton and Honiton, to our great local election results.

However, to say that this is the only way to win elections would be short sighted. We’ve seen right wing forces like Trump and the Brexit campaign effectively harness digital technologies and micro targeting to win against the odds. But is this something that we should be doing?

Some academics have looked to answer these questions, showing how digital techniques have grown in importance. However, these studies have often overlooked local elections and their key role in our politics. I want to change this.

I’m studying Public and Political Communications at the University of Sheffield and am researching how Liberal Democrats campaign, and most importantly, what campaigning methods work. This interest has come from several years of working as a Lib Dem local organiser and for ALDC.

This study will look at the 2022 local elections and seek to determine, based on statistical analysis, which campaigning methods contributed most to our impressive victories. Is canvassing more important than direct mail? Is Facebook more important than Instagram?

But, to do this I need your help.

I’m working with ALDC to survey Lib Dem campaigners asking for all of the campaigning activity that you undertook for your campaign. Anyone can take this survey, whether you campaigned in a city or a rural ward, in England, Scotland or Wales and whether the campaign was successful or not.

The questions will ask for the number of leaflets you delivered, the number of doors knocked on, along with everything else. So, it will help to have Connect and your campaign plan to hand so that you can remember the figures.

All data will be held by the University of Sheffield and we take no personal information from the survey.

With a good sample, we should be able to draw conclusions that can help shape the future of how we campaign as a party. So, please click the link below and take the survey today!

Take the survey here:

* Max is a Lib Dem activist and former organiser, who is now researching at the University of Sheffield.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • David Evans 2nd Jul '22 - 12:57pm

    Hello Max, I think your research is very pertinent to our party and will be very important as we develop our campaigns. Do you need the help of a statistician?

  • Lloyd Harris 3rd Jul '22 - 8:53am

    There is a Campaign Innovation Fund setup already, is this part of that work?

  • John Barrett 4th Jul '22 - 9:58am

    For many years campaigners have tried to find the answer to the question of how best to spend any money that becomes available late on in a campaign, to have the maximum effect.

    I do not believe that this question has been given enough thought or research to produce the right answer, which may be different in different places, or because of what has been done throughout each individual campaign.

    There is nothing more frustrating than losing an election after a recount and knowing that better advice the week before could have won the day.

    Hopefully your work will produce some of that overdue good advice.

  • Peter John Hirst 4th Jul '22 - 4:35pm

    The answer should be based on what works tempered by some common sense. Resources need to be used wisely. Can we justify the environmental costs of loads of leaflets even if it wins a few extra votes? Also the environmental costs of travelling esp in rural areas needs to be factored in. Practicing what we preach is something worth communicating if it’s true.

  • Paul Holmes 4th Jul '22 - 11:55pm

    I have been interested in what actually works in campaigns ever since I first started standing for election and organising campaigns for others some 35 years ago. So I will read your findings with interest when they are published.

    We didn’t have elections in 2022 so do not fall within your reserach group. But as background perhaps:

    In our all up Borough Council elections in 2019 we almost doubled our number of Cllrs taking 7 from Labour (best LD result against Labour in the country that year) and 1 from UKIP. Unlike our opponents we didn’t spend a penny on social media advertising, indeed we barely used social media at all.

    Likewise in 2021, when we trebled our County Cllrs, making the only LD gains in Derbyshire.

    I recall that Wimbeldon LD’s did a practical study of this around 3 years ago? In a Council by election they treated each Polling District differently and measured the increase in LD vote in each area. Social media came bottom. A combination of literature and canvassing got the best result.

  • Paul Holmes 5th Jul '22 - 12:15am

    How far is it true that Trump and Leave won ‘against the odds by harnessing digital technologies and micro targeting?’

    Yes Trump lost the popular vote against Clinton but won more seats in the electoral college. That is a feature of FPTP that we see occur in the UK too though -in the 1950’s and 70’s for example long before digital campaigning appeared. His key to success was targeting traditional Democrat voting areas in ‘left behind’ Rust Belt States much as the Conservatives did in the equivalent Red Wall seats in 2019. Micro targeting wasn’t needed for that.

    As for the Leave campaign, Cambridge Analytica in their company publicity claimed that their data is ‘what won it’ and the Cummings hagiography in the TV play endorsed that. But didn’t later legal proceedings undermine the Cambridge Analytica claims? How much does micro targeting matter when the Referendum had a high turnout and the highest number of votes ever cast in a UK election?

    I recall similar claims about Obama’s online campaign in 2008. A year later I read a piece from his campaign manager noting that yes, they had done more digital/online than any previous Presidential candidate. But they had also delivered more leaflets and knocked on more doors than any previous Presidential candidate as well.

  • David Evans 5th Jul '22 - 8:12am

    Peter John Hurst – I note your comments, but as we all know “The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society,” and we won’t do that unless we will more elections.

    We won in North Shropshire and Tiverton and Honiton by getting out there and talking to real rural voters and we had to do it by car. We have done it for many years in Somerset, parts of Devon, Cornwall and Westmorland and if we are serious about winning we have to do it again.

    So far our success has led to our country at last being on the verge of getting rid of Boris Johnson and the Conservatives.

    I would suggest that if we are serious about “practicing what we preach”, we have to accept that in destroying this corrupt and evil government, “the environmental costs of travelling esp in rural areas” are tiny compared to the long term benefits.

  • David Evans 5th Jul '22 - 10:36am

    Also, as an aside, we might even manage to stop a coal mine!

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