I am receiving notices from comrades planning to travel to Batley & Spen to help Labour’s ground campaign. I wish them well. It’s part of Momentum’s mythology that they almost won it for Labour in 2017 with the new ground campaign/doorstep but how useful is it?

There’s probably something to learn from the London Elections earlier this year and I concentrated on my ward earlier this year.

Common wisdom is that it makes between 2% and 6% difference, but here are some papers that suggest differently.

This is based on US field work, The Minimal Persuasive Effects of Campaign Contact in General Elections: Evidence from 49 Field Experiments by Kalla & Brookman. This is a publisher landing page with an abstract, and this, Most Campaign Outreach Has Zero Effect on Voters is a review in the Atlantic. It may be a mistake to draw too much from this, as the Atlantic Review suggests that GOTV is useful, it’s just that persuasion is a problem. Here’s the citation for Kalla and Brookman.

KALLA, J., & BROOCKMAN, D. (2018). The Minimal Persuasive Effects of Campaign Contact in General Elections: Evidence from 49 Field Experiments. American Political Science Review,112(1), 148-166. doi:10.1017/S0003055417000363

When I wrote this, What does “system update required” say about Labour’s IT?, I suggested that contact creator is a bit crap now and that other parties are open sourcing their voter id/gotv software. The recommendation I make for IS strategy is to only build what gives you competitive advantage.

See also,

Cardy, Emily Arthur. “An Experimental Field Study of the GOTV and Persuasion Effects of Partisan Direct Mail and Phone Calls.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 601, 2005, pp. 28–40. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25046123. Accessed 8 Aug. 2023. Cardy suggests that internet assets help first time voters.

Chaulk, K. (2019). Campaigning for the Future: Voter Turnout and the Effectiveness of Campaigns., from the abstract, @semanticscholar, “internet usage increased the probability of voting whereas canvassing and social media did not have significant effects.”

Townsley, J. (2018). Is it worth door-knocking? Evidence from a United Kingdom-based Get Out The Vote (GOTV) field experiment on the effect of party leaflets and canvass visits on voter turnout. Political Science Research and Methods, 1-15. doi:10.1017/psrm.2018.39. This paper, is exceptionally well cross referenced, the conclusion, is that leaflets are good, canvassing has very little effect, even on turnout. This was based on a LibDem campaign in 2017, and concludes that leaflets work, face to face contact less so.

Pär Nyman, 2017, Door-to-door canvassing in the European elections: Evidence from a Swedish field experiment, Electoral Studies, Volume 45, 2017, Pages 110-118, ISSN 0261-3794, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2016.12.002. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0261379416302748)
Abstract: In this paper I report the results from a door-to-door canvassing experiment conducted in Sweden during the 2014 European elections. The canvassing was performed by members of the Social Democratic Party and the experiment closely resembles the partisan nature of most mobilizing campaigns in Europe. The paper is one of the first to provide causal evidence for the mobilizing effectiveness of canvassing outside the United States. Living in a household that was visited by canvassers increases the probability of voting by 3.6 percentage points. This effect is entirely driven by estimates twice as large for occasional and first-time voters.

Bailey, M. A., Hopkins, D. J., & Rogers, T. (2016). Unresponsive and Unpersuaded: The Unintended Consequences of a Voter Persuasion Effort. Political Behavior. Another paper suggesting minimal effect.

Brookman & Kalla (2016) “Durably reducing transphobia: A field experiment on door-to-door canvassing”, publisher: Science, PubDate: 8 Apr 2016 Vol 352, Issue 6282 pp. 220-224 DOI: 10.1126/science.aad9713, the Sciene hosting page, says, “In the last several U.S. presidential elections, the campaign mantra has focused on making sure that voters already aligned with one’s candidate do get out to vote. There is a long history of unsuccessful efforts to change people’s attitudes. Nevertheless, Broockman and Kalla conducted a field experiment showing that Miami voters shifted their attitudes toward transgender individuals and maintained those changed positions for 3 months

However, this commentary, whose sources are all early noughties with nothing post 2006, “Lessons from GOTV experiments”, from Yale, uses techniques from Gerber and Green, and concludes that personalisation is key, they question the effectiveness of mass email, social networks are a powerful positive, quality, timing and delivery are important, maybe more so than content, the jury is out on phone banks, and mass media is important, but we don’t know how much.

Gerber A & Green D (2000) The effects of canvassing, telephone calls, on direct mail on voter turnout: a field experiment. American political science review Vol 94, No 3 pp653– 663; they argue that direct canvassing impact is substantial, direct mail less so, and phone banking negligible. .

This is not conclusive, although things change, and where the research is done is almost certainly a relevant factor. Gerber & Green suggest that face-2-face is declining in effectiveness.

4 Replies

  1. I added the comment and xref to What does “system update required” say about Labour’s IT?, in it I suggested that contact creator is a bit crap now and that other parties are open sourcing their voter id/gotv software.

  2. I had another look at this in Jan 23. The literature is undecided; the impact of face to face work is unclear, but where I start from is that common wisdom says it’s worth about 3% to 6%. It is also felt that some parties are better than others at it. If it’s worth 5% then it needs to be done because one’s opponents even if they have a week doorstep capability can use direct mail or social media to reach their supporters. i.e. labour’s doorstep campaign is defensive.

    The other think which I would emphasis today is one of my early findings, again common wisdom in Labour, is that doorstep work does not persuade!

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