I was asked yesterday by a friend what “all this stuff about a ground war” in the election campaign is about. I was not surprised as elections have created an entire language within the Westminster bubble for themselves. We have great titles for people running this ground war – Director of Field Operations and an ‘army of volunteers’.
I attended a briefing yesterday on the progress of one such ‘ground’ campaign and who was winning and who was losing. For obvious reasons I won’t be divulging the details of the strategy, targets, progress and the variety of stats outlined about retention rates, switchers, drift, and voter i/d.
But as I have been pointing out during this campaign it is even harder to predict the result against a Uniform swing this time than ever before. We know there is an incumbency factor but we now also need to take into account greater drift between parties and multi party choice. We also know that elections are won and lost usually in the 100 or so Key marginal seats. Add the SNP dynamic and the Uniform swing based on national polls is next to useless. The Ashcroft polling has been helpful in showing there are big differences in what is happening in the Key Seats. One of the most fascinating is the level of contact experienced by voters in these seats. In the last round I saw about 55% of people had seen something of the Tories and over 70% had seen something from Labour. This is what the ‘Ground War’ is all about. It is about targeting these Key Seats and working them like mad on top of what is happening with the air war fought in the national media, TV and radio and the focus that always ends up on the Leaders.
Unlike an Ashcroft Poll (about 1000 people) on the ground party activists will have contacted tens of thousands of the 70,000 electorate. They will be delivering leaflets and direct mail. They will be knocking doors and making telephone calls. It is argued that Labour has the advantage in this Ground War because it has a much bigger and active membership willing to do this voluntary work. Often in my Key Seat of Loughborugh we have seen days on twitter with over 150 activists out on the streets.
Whilst the Tories have money to spend on expensive leaflets and direct mail, it does seem for the time being personal contact from the parties still matters. Social media has not completely made this street by street, door by door campaigning redundant yet. I hope for the sake of democracy it never disappears. Being exposed to arguments on the streets, in the gardens and on the doorsteps of constituents was surprisingly always good fun!
The Leaders debate (opposition only) is no substitute tonight!