‘Fighting force?  What Lib Dem members and supporters did for the party in #GE2015’ (with Monica Poletti and Paul Webb), Liberal Democrat Newswire, 2 April 2017

The Lib Dems have quite a reputation as election campaigners, renowned and resented in equal measure for their Focus leaflets, their ‘Can’t win here’ bar-charts and their ubiquitous dayglo diamonds. Indeed one of the reasons why, at least before the 2015 meltdown, the party often managed to win more seats than one might have predicted from its overall vote share was its ability to mobilise its members and supporters more than some of its competitors ever could.

It’s worth homing in on that phrase ‘members and supporters’ for a moment because recent research conducted for our party members project suggests that election campaigning is very much a matter of the latter as well as the former.

Using surveys conducted a week or two after the 2015 general election, we’re able to explore what Lib Dem members and Lib Dem-supporting non-members did for their party during the campaign. The details – and those for five other parties – can be found here. But here are a few take-homes.

First – and perhaps not surprisingly given how demoralised some Lib Dems probably felt during the coalition – we found that Lib Dem members were on average a little more active in the campaign than Tory and Ukip members, but a little less active than their Labour, Green and SNP counterparts.

Second, and in spite of this, Lib Dem members, although they couldn’t compete in the online stakes (on Facebook and Twitter) with Labour and especially Green and SNP members, did come top when it came to – yes, you’ve guessed it – leafleting even if they weren’t as keen as putting posters in their windows as we thought they might be!

Third, Lib Dem members are less demographically representative than the people out there in the electorate who told YouGov (who fielded our surveys for us) that they really like the Lib Dems. Or at least that was the case in May 2015 when we conducted our research.

Although their average age was about the same (just over 50), Lib Dem members were much more likely to be male (69% of them were men) than were Lib-Dem supporting non-members (57% of whom were women). They were also rather more middle class, with 76% being classed as ABC1 compared to 68% of strong supporters, and to be graduates (56% vs 45%). Members also thought of themselves as slightly more to the left-of-centre, but not by much.

Finally, we found that (as was the case in all parties) on an individual level, Lib Dem members do far more for their party at election time than do strong supporters, especially when it comes to the hard stuff like leafleting and canvassing. But – and it’s a big but – many of those supporters do get involved when it matters. And since there are so many more people out there who aren’t members but who strongly support the Lib Dems than there are members, then the sum total of campaign activity they undertake is at least as great, if not greater, that of party members.

Members, then, are vital, which is why the increase in Lib Dem membership is so encouraging. But that’s not just because they are the doughtiest election campaigners. It’s also because they may well play a part in persuading those who don’t want to go as far as joining formally that they can still help the party anyway.

Originally published at: http://us2.campaign-archive2.com/?u=4761a1f83089fd89eba4fef19&id=a41b6db4b7&e=[UNIQID]


About tpbale

I teach politics at Queen Mary University of London.
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