It's less than a hundred days till signs like these appear over the UK

It’s less than a hundred days till signs like these appear over the UK

Cicero Elections is a political intelligence hub providing analysis and comment in the run-up to May 2015. Through in-depth tracking of local voting patterns and correlating voter intentions with economic indicators, Cicero Elections is able to provide a unique insight into the possible outcomes of the next General Election.

Whilst the 50for15 team will see the campaign from the perspective of individual voters, campaigners and candidates, the Cicero Elections team will be based in London, along with the campaign headquarters of all the main English parties.

The two views will be very different. Whilst 50for15 will experience the personal face-to-face front line of an election campaign, Westminster will be talking about national polling, large-scale election strategies, and backroom dealings between the parties. However, each party knows how crucial the marginals are in such a tight election. A few thousand votes swinging one direction or another have the potential to decide who enters Downing Street in May.

Air and ground wars

In terms of how parties decide to deploy resources, campaigns are divided into two parts: the ground war and the air war. The ground wars are more personal with grassroots campaigners knocking on doors, putting leaflets into hands and approaching people in coffee shops; whilst the air war is the higher-level messaging seen on TV and in the press, and heard on the radio.

Every party needs to strike the right balance when dividing resources between these two strategies. Research has shown that the most effective form of campaigning is to have personal conversations with potential voters, however, this is also the most ‘expensive’ approach as parties only have so many campaigners available to knock on doors. Campaigns frequently use phone banks to reach out to voters, but examination of voter behaviour shows that a phone call is barely 10% as effective as a face-to-face conversation. However, a call from a phone bank is still more likely to convince a floating voter to back a party than a leaflet through the door, which appears to have a negligible effect on voting intention.

Dominating the air waves

Whilst effective campaigning on the ground is key in close seats, performing well in the air war is also a necessary part of any campaign, as it is through the media (papers, TV, radio) that most voters will learn the most about the parties and their candidates. Lynton Crosby, the Conservatives’ election “guru”, argues that people only think about politics for four minutes each day and it’s the party’s job to dominate those four minutes.

People who follow politics will already be developing a ‘Groundhog Day’ familiarity with the political debates between the parties: Conservatives promote their economic competence whilst the Labour Party are increasingly looking like an NHS campaigning group. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats are offering fairness, as UKIP man the anti-immigration and anti-political institution stand.

The Parties’ messaging on their key issues is deliberately narrow and repetitive as the opportunities for making connections in voters’ minds between issues and parties are few and far between. The air war is not subtle because it can’t afford to be. In a crowded market place, you need to be loud and eye-catching in order to flog your wares, and today’s political landscape is more crowded than ever.

Coming through your front door

However, the air war can only do so much, and the parties realise this and are responding accordingly. In areas where there are majorities of only a few hundred votes, it’s worth deploying the most effective tactics, even if they are the most resource-consuming.

As a result, the Conservatives have launched RoadTrip2015, a project which ferries young supporters around the country to knock on doors, and have also asked MPs and parliamentary candidates from safe seats to deploy in more marginal seats to knock on doors. Similarly Labour are pairing up target seats with nearby safer seats to build stronger campaign teams, whilst the Liberal Democrats are focusing the vast majority of their manpower and funding on retaining as many of their seats as possible rather than appeal across the UK.

It is in this ground war that the value of different resources comes to the fore. Whilst the Conservatives boast the largest campaign war chest and stand to dominate the air war, it is the Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters who have proven themselves as the most numerous and willing to get out onto the streets. As mentioned, just one conversation on the doorstep is worth more than any number of expensive leaflets.

However, this election is running so close that it’s already being described as 650 by-elections taking place on the same day across the country. In such a large-scale yet finely-poised election as this, the parties will be hoping that their campaigning strengths will give them the edge over their opponents: Victory depends on it.

Photo by Pete via Flickr.