Washing up: What we can learn from the local elections

Now that we’ve had time to reflect on the local elections, local parties should be looking to hold a meeting to discuss this year’s campaign. I cannot express enough how much this is not an opportunity to point fingers. Frankly, that will get you nowhere.

What we can do is constructively analyse what we did and highlight our campaign’s strengths and weaknesses. We shouldn’t assume that a loss means we ran a poor campaign, nor that a victory by a wide margin means we were flawless. When an electorate is involved, it’s never that simple. There are a few key areas that we can look at when analysing our campaign.

When did we start?

It would be pushing it to suggest that elections in May are won or lost in the summer beforehand but so often we hear about campaigns that became squeezed in the final months because the local party dragged its feet.

2019 presents its own particular headache, as we stepped out of the local elections and straight into the European campaign. This also means that Thank You leaflets are being delayed until May 24 this year.

When analysing the last local election, think about the stages the campaign went through and at what point it hit its stride. Whenever that was, we would always recommend looking at ways to start earlier, simply to spread the workload.

Did we build the team?

Unless you have the best-drilled team the party has ever known, it is likely that even your key activists took a little time to come out of hibernation (albeit a well-earned rest!) Given this and the fact that every campaign is a chance to recruit more volunteers, the team that you have by polling day should be noticeably bigger than the one you start the campaign with.

The focus should be on whether you continued to build that team beyond the core members – it can be easy sometimes to assume that the core team can do everything and create a closed circle around a campaign.

In particular, look for key person dependency. This is simply where one person either has knowledge and skills that others in the group don’t have, or where one person has taken on so much of the workload that them not being able to do it would have a detrimental effect on the campaign. Was there a contingency plan if person X fell ill or had to leave the campaign for whatever reason. This is always a concern for small teams, but as much as possible, key person dependency should be avoided.

Was our messaging correct?

This sounds simple but is a crucial part of the analysis, it’s also the one which requires the most reflection and self-critique, not something that we tend to enjoy. Within this, we should look at how we spoke about our candidate(s), our opponents and the issues we focussed on in the election.

We shouldn’t expect every issue to generate huge amounts of comment and coverage, some will be slow burning issues whilst others may engage a smaller audience, they are after all part of a larger messaging campaign.

Of particular note though are messages that caught the public’s attention – especially those that were repeated to us when we spoke to residents and any that received negative reactions. If a campaign or policy received a negative reaction, we shouldn’t assume that it is automatically a bad idea, sometimes it is how we present the issue that requires work.

Thinking about how you put across your candidates this year will help you in the future. Did you make the most of their talents and experience and did you manage to show both their political side but also their more ‘human’ element? The candidate is always a good person to ask here – how do they feel about how they were portrayed?

Did we do what we had planned to?

This is arguably the most important part of the wash up process – looking at your plan for the 2019 local elections and whether it was sensible, achievable and successful. Having a successful plan this year does not mean that you can do less next year and win – sadly it doesn’t work that way.

However, you can look at the pacing of the campaign, the type of literature that went out at particular times and how successful you think each individual piece was. Pay particular attention to literature that had to be either scrapped, delivered alongside something else or which caused other logistical issues. Understanding why these delays happened can be key to designing a fully deliverable plan for the next set of elections.

Also look at the impact the campaign had on your team. Working hard is excellent; burning people out is poor management of the situation. A common feature is to work extremely hard up to the ‘postal vote polling day’ and then find that the campaign lacks energy in the final two weeks. If this happened to you, think about the workload and the resources used and what was left for those final two weeks – managing people is as important as managing physical resources and budget.

Data analysis

As with any analysis we do, Connect is a powerful tool. Whilst elections are not won by computers, data plays an increasingly crucial role in understanding what we thought was going to happen, what did happen and, to an extent, why.

Here is a more detailed piece on the sort of analysis that you may want to do. Remember that statistical information is useful but should always be seen in the context of what we have set out above. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *