What do the academics say? Ashcroft’s campaigning worked

Welcome to the latest in our occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today – the impact of the Ashcroft-funded Conservative key seats campaign in the run-up to the 2010 election.

The latest edition of the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties (Volume 22, No.3) includes, “Laying the Foundations for Electoral Success: Conservative Pre-Campaign Canvassing before the 2010 UK General Election” by David Cutts, Ron Johnston, Charles Pattie and Justin Fisher:

The efforts of Lord Ashcroft’s team involved the expenditure of several million pounds during the pre-election campaign period in an effort to win over voters in key battleground seats. But was it effective? … We provide substantial evidence that it was … Frequency also mattered. The Conservatives were far more likely to win Labour-held seats if constituencies received money from Lord Ashcroft’s team on two or more occasions.

In total in 2007-9 Ashcroft’s company Bearwood Services Ltd gave the Conservative party £3,628,238.62 the authors point out, adding that the activity such monies financed was mostly canvassing and literature (leaflets or direct mail):

Its strategy involved three main tasks:

  1. identifying potential Conservative voters through (mostly telephone) surveys;
  2. sending party literature to those targeted voters through direct mailings (some 74 million items were sent out between October 2007 and polling day, with 17 million in the last five months before polling day…); and
  3. making grants to local parties to assist in their work to promote their candidates’ profile

… the combined elements of the strategy meant that the 14 million or so electors in the 200 constituencies … received on average seven pieces of centrally-produced literature each, alongside more that was generated locally.

Given the relative success of all that effort, it is likely to be repeated on an even greater scale for the 2015 election. That will be a tough challenge for Liberal Democrats to match, helped however by one other conclusion from this research:

The Liberal Democrats benefited most from intensive campaign effort.

Longer-term Liberal Democrat campaigning had more of an impact than that which took place during the short-term campaign.

Ashcroft’s own account of the work contains much useful information about the work he oversaw, hence my review of his book last year starting:

Controversial Conservative peer Michael Ashcroft has done campaigners in all parties a service with the frankness of his book on the 2010 general election, Minority Verdict.

My full review of Michael Ashcroft’s book is here and you can buy the book here.

You can read the other posts in our What do the academics say? series here.

* Mark Pack is a member of the Federal Board and editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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5 Comments

  • Tony Dawson 14th Sep '12 - 3:50pm

    Bearing in mind the considerable variation in results in Lib Dem-Tory marginals/targets, it would be interesting to know which Lib Dem seats Mr Ashcroft financed the opponents heavily and consistently.

  • There are few greater justifications for remaining a Liberal Democrat than the presence of Lord Ashcroft and his baleful influence on UK politics. At constituency level should be hammering home the message that the Tory Party is the foot servant of rich and powerful individuals like him and Murdoch. Unfortunately, this fact doesn’t seem to perturb voters in the slightest. They may moan about corruption in politics but when faced with a party that is a wholly owned subsidiary of Ashcroft Plc. they still vote for it in droves.

    This man cost us the seats we so richly deserved at the last election and which would have given us vital bargaining power in the post election period. He should not be forgiven.

  • Keith Browning 14th Sep '12 - 10:32pm

    A targetted anti-Ashcroft campaign in the relevant constituencies might help to redress the balance. At least it might expose the propaganda for what it is.

  • “Lord” Ashcroft

  • David Evans 16th Sep '12 - 8:23am

    @Keith,

    But where, bearing in mind our current position re membership, finances etc are we going to get the resources to deliver “A targetted anti-Ashcroft campaign in the relevant constituencies”?

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