2017 digital campaigning: an update

We have previously written about how digital platforms are a huge opportunity for the upcoming General Election, and with just over a month to go, certain tactics and tools are starting to emerge.

Voting

A website has been set up to encourage tactical voting, with the aim of ‘uniting against the Tories’. It allows a person to enter their postcode to see which party a person should vote for to try to defeat the Conservative candidate. However, it doesn’t seem to have the best functionality as upon typing a postcode, the result given was ‘Labour or Lib Dem’. Not exactly tactical, but an obvious result that most people probably could have made themselves. The reason given for voting either Labour or Lib Dem is that it isn’t yet clear who poses the biggest threat to the Conservatives. Despite having a spreadsheet with a huge amount of data and time spent on it, we’re not sure how effective this is really going to be.

Fundraising

Usually in the run up to a general election the local associations for the political parties will hold a number of fundraising dinners, do raffles and other small scale events. This year there simply isn’t time for politicians to make their way round various meal functions so they are getting straight to the point and asking for the money outright. Crowdfunder reported more than £200,000 being raised for political projects on its site within a week of the election being called. It claims that it can change the face(s) of British politics and that until June 8th, it is the “home of political crowdfunding”.

Politicians, such as former Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg, are setting up their own campaign fundraising accounts, outlining exactly how money will be spent. It is a shame Mr Clegg couldn’t think of something more inspirational to spend the money on than leaflets and newsletters - I would much rather donate to a candidate if my money was going to be spent on something other than what many people view as junk mail. Maybe he could take some inspiration from former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean? Although after Ed Miliband’s experience of being watched eating a sandwich, he might be afraid to take such a risk. Still, we think you get the point.

There are also anti-politician campaigns being set up, including the bizarre “Fish Finger for MP”. This aims to put Mr Fish Finger (as he is calling himself) up as a candidate in Westmorland and Lonsdale, the seat that current Lib Dem Leader, Tim Farron, was MP for and is fighting again. It has already raised over £2,000, so it gives him plenty to pay the deposit, help him to ensure he looks “dashing” and also give funds to local causes. The publicity and novelty effect might mean that Mr Fish Finger has his deposit returned if he loses, which is more than can be said for many Lib Dem and Green candidates at the last general election.

Alongside politicians asking for money to get them to Westminster, fundraising is being used to focus on certain issues. Gina Miller, who took the fight against Brexit to the Supreme Court, is raising money via GoFundMe to support anti-Brexit candidates. She isn’t discriminating by party, but is focusing on this single issue. Obviously most of the funding won’t go to the Conservatives, but she has said she would be willing to support Conservative candidates if they are against Brexit, like Anna Soubry. Gina Miller’s original target has already been increased and currently stands at over a third of a million pounds. It will be interesting to see exactly how this money is disseminated and how it gets spent. While that seems like a large sum, if it gets split between a number of candidates or getting people out to vote, it may not go far. Also it is important to see how transparent the spending is.

Support

Political blogger Guido Fawkes has a story today about Labour candidate Chris Bryant setting up a WhatsApp group and inviting people to it, asking for their help in leafleting and canvassing. Apparently many of these people were not Labour voters and a huge number immediately left the group. This kind of tactic has the potential to be a huge annoyance, particularly given the invitation was clearly unsolicited. It also isn’t the most attractive offer - how many people are likely to jump at the chance to knock on 33,000 doors? Those who are willing to do so will probably already have volunteered their services. Perhaps this was a case of the wrong tactic and audience for this request. Opening the message by immediately apologising for sending it clearly shows he wasn’t convinced himself.

We have speculated that the snap election may force the political parties and candidates to innovate, using digital as a key tool in their campaigns. This doesn’t appear to have happened yet and while there is still time, it may be that there still isn’t enough of it. The parties don’t have time to do thorough analysis and calculate their moves, so could be reluctant to try something that is untested. As June 8th draws closer, they may become less cautious but it could be too little too late.

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