The aim of this report shall be to analyse three key strengths and three key weaknesses of the Conservative general election campaign of 2010. Integrated into this analysis will be two suggested improvements that might be made in order to maximise the party’s chances of electoral success in the next general election.
In terms of strengths, this report highlights ‘the local campaign’, ‘obtaining the support of the print press’, and ‘the representation of David Cameron’ as the three areas of the party’s general election campaign that were particularly successful. The report also suggests key improvements which could be applied to ‘the local campaign’ in order to make it even more effective in the next general election.
In terms of weaknesses, this report highlights ‘misjudged policies’, ‘the failure to secure votes from both Scotland and ethnic minorities’ and ‘agreeing to televised debates’ as three areas of the party’s general election campaign that were particularly unsuccessful. The report also suggests key improvements which could be applied to ‘the failure to secure votes from both Scotland and ethnic minorities’ in order to minimalize this weakness in the next general election.
1. The local campaign
One of the areas of the 2010 general election campaign where the party did significantly better than in previous years was in the identifying and targeting of marginal seats for local campaigning.
The importance of the local campaign
Whilst some electoral theorists such as Holbrook (1996, p.613) argue that voters do not change their mind as a result of local campaigns, this is a point of view that should be disregarded by the party. As Fisher et al. (2011, p.816) argue, failure to campaign would more than likely lead to a substantial loss of votes. Moreover, with the decline of partisan alignment in modern politics, the local campaign has the potential to be pivotal in winning swing voters.
In terms of influencing swing voters, the local election campaign can have an important impact. As Pattie and Johnston’s (2010, p.502) regression analysis shows, ‘the more voters saw of a party’s local campaign, the more likely they were to change their vote in the course of the contest to vote for that party or against its rivals’.
In past elections the party has lagged behind Labour and the Liberal Democrats in successfully attaining support through the local campaign. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have previously coordinated their local and national campaigns methodically whereas the Conservatives have wasted considerable campaign resources on safe seats where victory was inevitable (Pattie and Johnston, 2003). Even more importantly, while the local campaigns of Labour and the Liberal Democrats were able to gain votes, the same could not be said of previous Conservative local campaigns (Denver and Hands, 1996).
Strengths in 2010
In contrast to previous campaigns where the party wasted resources, this campaign was especially successful in using a divisional system to classify the marginality of seats. This system ranged from the ‘premier league’ made up of seats the party was anticipating to gain without substantial effort, to a third division which consisted of seats that the party could only gain if the election campaign as a whole was going extremely well.
However, it is one skill to just identify the varying marginality of seats and a completely different skill to successfully target the voters within them. This is where the party was particularly efficient in the 2010 election campaign. As Montgomerie (2010, p.8) shows, up to “2.5 million voters in swing seats were directly mailed on the issues that mattered most to them”.
The net effect of the identifying and targeting of swing voters within crucial marginal seats was to equalize the comfortable advantage that Labour had possessed over the party in the past 20 years. As highlighted by Pattie and Johnston (2010, p.501) “In 2010 not only did the party becoming much more effective at targeting resources to marginal seats, but the local campaign itself influenced voters’ final decisions and is winning over support the party might not otherwise enjoy”.
The local campaign - future improvements
In terms of future developments, the local campaign can be improved in two ways in order to increase the party’s chances of electoral success in the next general election campaign.