Winning a low-turnout election

As in any year, there are already theories abounding about what may happen in this year’s local elections. Amongst them is a growing consensus that anger, frustration and sheer boredom with politics at the national level could lead to a lower turnout across the country than in previous years.

On its own, lower turnout is neither to be feared nor welcomed but it does create opportunities if the right tactics are applied.

The key aspect we’re looking at here is the ‘shuttleworth’. This is the term given to the list that you will create of people that you need to contact in the run up to polling day and on the day. Golden rules for building your shuttleworth:

  • Your shuttleworth should include 150% of the number of voters you need to win.
  • Your shuttleworth should only include groups of voters you think you will win a higher proportion of than your main opposition.
  • You can find a ready-made Shuttleworth in the Connect target pools section.


The first thing to understand is what lower turnout means practically. If fewer people vote, then the number of votes required to win becomes lower. Sadly, this does not mean that less work is required. In fact, even more effort needs to be put in to make sure that our supporters remain motivated to vote and your emphasis goes to organising as many well targeted door knocks and leaflets as possible.

If we feel that turnout is going to be lower than the last year, we should focus our resources on making sure that we maximise turnout amongst people we know support us, whilst still having broad enough appeal to attract regular switch voters, new voters and even those left frustrated by our opponents.

The graph above indicates why focusing on making sure that people supporting us go and vote is so crucial – it can give us the edge even in elections where our opponents actually have greater support.

Making sure our supporters vote for us

The concept is deceptively simple – the easiest way to secure votes is to make sure people who support you don’t forget to vote! Whilst this sounds obvious, nothing should be assumed.

We have spoken at length about the importance of getting our supporters onto postal votes. It’s well-established that postal voters are far more likely to vote than non-postal voters (typically between 2x and 4x in a local election). Getting the majority of your core vote on to postal votes is one of the easiest and most efficient ways of ensuring that this group votes.

In particular, I cannot stress how important it is to get your key activists and volunteers onto postal votes. Having a key part of your team voting ‘on the day’ is all risk, with no reward.

Remember that the deadline for applying for a postal vote for the 2019 local elections is 17:00 on Monday 15/04/2019. Therefore, you have 12 days to make that final pitch – Postal Vote Forms should always be part of the pack you take with you when canvassing, so that you can give them to a resident you persuade to have a postal vote. You can download the forms here.

Who we contact and why

Planning is absolutely crucial in a low turnout election. Whilst we know that any form of contact with a resident increases their likelihood to vote, and that a conversation on the doorstep increases it by the greatest amount, we have to think carefully about how we deploy our resources.

Contacting residents who are never going to vote is simply a waste of time. If you have entered marked registers into Connect over the last several elections, you can create a list of people based upon their voting patterns. Look for supporters who have a history of voting in general elections but not local elections – these are people that should be voting for us in local elections and are worth spending time to contact.

Similarly, residents who we have not managed to contact and who have no record of voting in previous years could be removed from our lists. Be careful to add back in new voters though as they may have voted previously but in an area that does not input marked registers.

When speaking to our supporters, we should be having short, simple conversations which allow the resident to confirm their support.

Conversations with residents who have indicated they may vote for us but who we are not yet certain about should follow a similar positive approach. We need to secure these votes and should be willing to give answers to specific concerns that these people raise in order to fix in their mind their support for us.

Where there are additional groups that we speak to, we should have a clear idea of why we are speaking to them – is it an issue very local to them that we feel may garner support? Or perhaps they have signed one of our petitions. In these types of elections, we must maximise efficiency and have a clear idea of why the person we’ve just called on may be inclined to vote for us.

Who isn’t voting and why?

When an election has a noticeably lower turnout, there is usually a reason behind it. By identifying the people and groups that look like they will not be voting, you may be able to spot something that is turning these people away from politics but which may play to your advantage.

For the 2019 local elections, there is a growing feeling that frustration with the Brexit process may see supporters of Labour and the Conservatives refuse to vote. It is conceivable though that people within this group who have previously been regular voters could be motivated by a Liberal Democrat candidate who they feel will represent the area well or has picked up on an issue they are particularly concerned about.

As we have said earlier though, consistently speaking to non-voters this close to an election is a waste of time and effort. Be discerning when looking to target voters with no history of supporting us.

Practical Issues

Alongside the ‘theory’ of how we make sure that low turnout doesn’t occur to us, there are practical aspects to consider, especially in polling week and on polling day. As we narrow down the list of people we want to speak to, the likelihood is that there will be greater distances between the doors you want to knock on. You may find that you have to find solutions to practical issues like this- turning to phoning can be useful in Postal Vote knock up because of the distance between doors.

It is these types of considerations that can be crucial to making sure that our core support votes for us. A well planned and well delivered ‘knocking up’ has the dual benefit of motivating volunteers who can see that there is a purpose in the targeting and are having better conversations on the doorstep as a result of it.


Ultimately, this is what it comes down to – people who are most likely to vote for us have to be motivated to go out and cast that vote. Regardless of what the other parties are doing, the easiest way to win a low turnout election is to make sure that our shuttleworth have received the contact and messages that have given them that motivation. Good targeting and efficient canvassing are your best tools.

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