Tag Archive | "election campaigns"

How the East was Lost.. and How to Win It Again

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How the East was Lost.. and How to Win It Again

Posted on 25 February 2011 by admin

An unflinching look at the bad results Labour suffered in the
East, and ideas for how Labour can change its policies and the
way it does business, to reclaim the ground it has lost.

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Lewis Baston and Bob Blizzard January 2011

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Pollwatch: Debate sees Lib Dems’ star rising to set Tory nerves jangling (April 16 2010)

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Pollwatch: Debate sees Lib Dems’ star rising to set Tory nerves jangling (April 16 2010)

Posted on 16 April 2010 by admin

The party in yellow always sees a spike during campiagns due to higher visibility but Conservatives should still be wary

Even if the first reports of the post-debate boost for Nick Clegg were a bit outlandish, it seems that the leadership debates have added to the usual lift that the Lib Dems get from election campaigns.

There have been already been several inconsistent accounts published concerning which of the larger two parties would suffer most from a rise in Lib Dem support. The answer must be, unfortunately, “it depends”. But in terms of the parties’ aims in the election it is more likely that the Conservatives will have most cause to regret Nick Clegg’s equal time and his effective use of it.

Gaining seats from the Lib Dems is an element of the Conservative strategy to get over the winning line of 326 seats in the new House of Commons. Pre-campaign polls with figures like Con 40, Lib Dem 19 implied a 5.5% swing towards the Tories. Based on uniform swing (a particularly rough approximation when it comes to Lib Dems) this would gain 23 seats for the Tories, an important contribution to their target of 116 gains, which allowing for boundary changes would get them to 326.

Even before the debate, there was evidence that the Conservatives were struggling in their efforts to win seats from the Lib Dems. YouGov’s regional trends showed them doing poorly in the south-west, where many of these seats are located, and the Crosby/Textor poll of marginal seats showed no Tory progress at all in the Lib Dem held marginals. The Tories may still pick off a few of the 23, but might also lose one or two to the Lib Dems such as Eastbourne. If there are no net gains from the Lib Dems, the Tories have to find 23 seats from somewhere else. It gets worse – the party is under-performing in Scotland and would be lucky to gain any of the apparently vulnerable SNP seats or more than one or two from Scottish Labour.

There are 24 Lib Dem seats and two SNP among the 116 numerically most vulnerable to the Conservatives. If there were a neat, even swing from all others to the Tories, seat 116 (Waveney in Suffolk) would fall with a 6% swing. Taking Lib Dem and SNP seats, plus the more ambitious targets from Scottish Labour, off the boards means the required swing from Labour alone increases to 8 per cent. An 8-point national swing implies a Conservative lead over Labour of 13 points, although allowing for a 1.5% overperformance in targets from Labour would take it down to the Tories needing a 10-point lead to win. It is still a very tall order.

But what about Labour? A Lib Dem surge harms them as well, but perhaps less than one might think. There are eight Labour seats vulnerable to a 2% swing to the Lib Dems, but a sharp swing of 7% would only net the Lib Dems 10 more seats from Labour. In practice, however, Lib Dems always perform patchily, winning outsized swings to gain seats that did not look at all marginal (like Solihull and Manchester Withington in 2005) while missing some apparently easier targets (like Dorset West and Oxford East in 2005).

A national boost would probably in reality help bring in some long shots. The real danger for Labour is that Lib Dem voters might become unwilling to give tactical votes to vulnerable Labour candidates in marginals where there is a Labour-Conservative fight, and thereby hand the seat to the Tories (as happened in several places in 2005, like Shipley and St Albans). This would in turn make it easier for the Tories to gain the seats they need at Labour’s expense. But there were already widespread conjectures about “tactical unwind” happening.

If the Lib Dem boost is sustained, as it may well be (although not at the fanciful levels suggested in initial reports of the ComRes poll), it poses a clear threat to the Conservatives’ chances of achieving their strategic aim, a parliamentary majority (or a sufficiently predominant position in a hung parliament to run a minority government which could reliably get legislation passed).

It poses less of a threat to Labour, because fewer seats are directly at stake, and Labour’s strategic aims are more nuanced than just the big ask of a parliamentary majority. By brandishing an olive branch at Clegg during the debate, Gordon Brown was bidding for progressive voters for Labour, but also preparing the ground for Labour’s Plan B – a coalition, or minority government with an explicit accommodation with the Lib Dems.

Published 16/4/2010

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/apr/16/pollwatch-debate-lib-dems-tories

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Push Me, Pull Me (April 14 2010)

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Push Me, Pull Me (April 14 2010)

Posted on 14 April 2010 by admin

Election polling has evolved since the 1970s and pushes parties towards the centre ground

Election campaigns have always been changing and evolving.  The idea of an election campaign as a coherent story, unfolding over time, does not really apply to some contests such as 1950 and 1955, when there was an almost aimless meandering across the policy landscape punctuated by the big speeches by the party leaders and other main figures.   The election campaign took more shape in 1959 – essentially the first television election – and through the 1960s and 1970s. There have been polls since 1945, but the close election of 1964 was arguably the first in which the ‘horse race’ aspect of an election started to dominate in the media with polls providing the evidence for the state of the race every few days.  In 1970, the Conservative campaign deployed the first effective use of modern negative campaigning.  Nine years later, Saatchi & Saatchi famously revolutionised election advertising.  But in between the fall of Edward Heath and the rise of Margaret Thatcher, there was another important development.

Perhaps the first poll-driven election campaign was Harold Wilson’s Labour campaign of February 1974, which used MORI to pilot the party to a narrow and somewhat improbable victory. Wilson was brilliantly reactive, responding to campaign events such as bad economic figures and government missteps and changing the terms of debate from the Tories’ ground of ‘Who Governs?’ to Labour’s – the government’s record on prices and industrial relations. Wilson astutely dodged around the contents of Labour’s manifesto, which was a left-wing programme of nationalisation he had no intention of implementing. The purpose of the polls in this election was not to look at headline figures, but at the underlying attitudes and opinions on the issues that were driving political choice. The polls have been used to craft the parties’ narratives during the election ever since. Although focus groups were used in the 1970s, their real heyday has been since 1997 when they have tested party messages and the electorate’s perceptions exhaustively.  The 1990s also saw the rise of the ‘grid’, in which party messages, issues and leading figures are deployed in a rigorously planned fashion.

On one level, a modern election campaign is a fierce contest for control of the narrative.  Each party is attempting to tell their story about the state of Britain and what needs to be done, and calculates that if they are able to do so unobstructed then their narrative will convince people to vote for them.  However, it is never possible to get the message across unobstructed.  The parties compete with each other, with the media (now in all its electronic wildness) and with events (both ‘known unknowns’ like announcements of economic statistics, and ‘unknown unknowns’ that happen unpredictably) for control over the agenda. Crudely, a party ‘wins’ a day in the campaign if the real events that are prominent in the media conform to what was planned in its grid. As well as all this chaotic competition, there is also feedback – that the profusion of public and private polls is giving everyone nearly instant knowledge of what is going well or badly, and who is ahead and behind. Polls can change a campaign instantly, with a good poll creating confidence or complacency, and bad ones causing lurches into despair. It is not without reason that they are sometimes compared to mood-altering drugs.

The 2010 campaign has more published polls than ever before, with the almost-daily YouGov series for the Sun being a notable innovation. To continue the drug analogy, the political classes are getting habituated through heavy use, and this is perhaps not a bad thing. Every now and then there is a ‘rogue’ poll outside the normal range of sampling error, and these tend to attract the most interest in the media for the standard ‘man bites dog’ reason that the unusual is news. In past elections, rogue polls have sometimes had major influence, famously so in 1987 when one precipitated ‘Wobbly Thursday’ in the Tory campaign. But thanks to the sheer weight of polling, rogues are now likely to be swamped by polls that are closer to the mark. It will take a proper trend, not an outlier, for voting intention polls to change the tone of an election.

It is at a deep level that the parties’ strategies are influenced by the findings from their private polling about what the public wants to hear. One cannot blame the parties for using the best available techniques for crafting and putting out their messages. Nor can one blame the electors for thinking that the parties sound the same, because they are all talking at the same swing voters in marginal seats in the same sort of language. It is a consequence of the electoral system.  And a question, perhaps, for another day.

http://www.critical-reaction.co.uk/2562/14-04-2010-push-me-pull-me

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