The team in Mole Valley have built a strong record of winning, even in quite rural areas. One technique they use effectively is knock and drop surveys.
Mike Ward, campaign organiser for the rural part of the district South of Dorking, explains how they used a survey to build up to a successful gain in one of their wards this May. You can see their survey here.
“Capel, Leigh & Newdigate is a 2 member rural ward of Mole Valley District Council with 3500 electors. In 2018 we had a great candidate in Lesley Bushnell, but she lost by 51. However, she stormed back in 2019 winning by 249. Last autumn as we began to prepare to try to take the second seat we were struggling for a local candidate. But we knew we needed to start campaigning as the defeated Tory was clearly going to try for a comeback,” explains Mike.
“We started off with a survey for 3 reasons. It gave us a reason to be on the doorstep without a candidate to promote, it would gather data and it would give us confirmation that we had the right issues (or not!).
Mike has learnt from experience that it’s pretty important to decide in advance what data you want and how you are going to use it. “We wanted canvass and contact data and a steer on what issues were important to people, continues Mike. “We decided to minimise the use of free format questions because it makes data input harder and analysis more difficult.
“We also decided not to include people who don’t vote in local elections and known Tories. This reduced the number of households from 1750 to about 1300.
“We used the “knock and drop” method calling at every house and speaking to anyone who was at home. As well as the collection from the letter box, we also offered an online version and the opportunity to post it back. Doing this for 1300 houses, many of them in spread out rural locations, was a considerable effort with a small team. It took us from November to February to complete it, but at least it gave us a reason to keep going out, often twice a week, throughout the winter.”
Data inputting was made straight-forward by using the form function in Connect and only entering Connect data fields and the two “one issue” questions for which a list of possibles was created from the answers received. The remaining issues data was collected in an Excel spreadsheet in the form of the scores. This enabled them to be totalled and averaged easily and analysed separately for each village.
Looking at the overall responses, Mike says “We got some data for 363 people, almost 10% of the electorate and from 331 houses, just over 25% of the houses surveyed.
“One of the most useful results was that around 100 people told us they would vote Lib Dem both locally and nationally and that they preferred a Lib Dem Council to a Tory one. We used this to eliminate them from the target pool for canvassing which made a modest but useful contribution to targeting effort where it was most needed.
“We also collected at least 50 new email addresses. We already held quite a lot. So this was not a main objective of the survey, but still useful. There were also a few postal vote requests that we were able to follow up and secure.”
The Lib Dem led-council had recently adopted a new local panel and there was a nervousness on the reaction to meeting housing targets in parts of the district. However, the survey reassured the team that they were on the right track, as Mike explains: “there was also quite a bit of concern about housing provision to enable people to stay in the area without being priced out. This encouraged us to be more positive about the new housing in our Local Plan and less defensive about the limited loss of Green Belt involved.”
Following up the survey is a vital part of the process and the team did this effectively. There were several elements to their approach:
- Quick follow up to people requesting Postal Votes
- Thank you letters to those who completed the survey with details of the results.
- Action on the casework by the Councillor. Fortunately, there wasn’t an overwhelming amount of this, but still enough to give significant work.
- Emails to each village with the results but only after letters had gone to the responders.
How effective was the survey in achieving the objectives set? Mike comments: “I think our team would all say undoubtedly YES, the survey was important in contributing to our result, which was a very satisfying gain from the Tories:
|Charles Engel (Lib Dem)||808|
Lib Dem majority 69
“The differences it made were the data we collected, the further evidence it gave to back up our “hard working all year round” claims and the confidence it gave us in the issues we campaigned on,” says Mike. “A highlight of the campaign for me was speaking to a former Conservative voter recently moved in from London and near neighbour of the Conservative candidate who told me that the things we were saying were all relevant to what they wanted to hear about in contrast to the Conservatives going on about crime which the survey had shown not to be a key issue here.”