Back in 2017 when the General Election was called, I set up camp in Hove to run an experimental get-out-the-vote campaign for 38 Degrees. What follows is an edited excerpt from the official report (you can read the entire report here):
I worked on our field campaign in Hove where we were able to increase turnout by up to 2%. I led a small team of campaigners, canvassers and volunteers to speak to as many people as possible before election day.
The message was simple and clear: no matter who you vote for, we wanted everybody to get out and use their vote.
On the day the snap election was called, the office team had just finished our morning team meeting, setting out the campaigns we would prioritise that week. That all went out of the window as we started sending emails to thousands of 38 Degrees members asking them what we should all do together. The decision: encourage everyone to vote.
A week later, I was packed up and on a train down to Hove to assemble our team. I arrived with one laptop, a hotel conference room as our base, and not much else. By the end of the campaign, we had set up an entire office complete with a dedicated team of canvassers and volunteers.
With such a big task ahead of us, we chose to prioritise three main tactics: door-knocking, leafleting and phone calls. We knew from research that these were the most effective voter mobilisation strategies. We set ourselves some high and ambitious targets; we wanted to knock on every door in Hove at least twice (40,000 doors!) in the space of three weeks, as well as call 20,000 people and deliver 63,000 leaflets.
Working with Professor Peter John, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at UCL, we decided that we needed scientific proof of what 38 Degrees members and staff can do. Professor John helped us to divide up the list of voters in the constituency into different groups. Each one would get a combination of communications from us, except the control group, helping us to determine which tactics worked best.
So the first few days were spent sitting on the floor, plotting out maps and ‘cutting turf’, which means working out the best canvassing routes. From there on in it was all go.
We knew we needed a lot of people power to hit our targets so we hosted two ‘Super Saturdays’, training loads of local 38 Degrees members on the best persuasion techniques to get people voting on election day. Volunteers learnt how to help local residents make a plan to vote on polling day. For example, they asked key questions such as “What time are you planning on going to the polling station?” and “Will you take anyone else with you to vote?”. These questions on the doorstep helped thousands of people to plan their vote.
When we embarked on this campaign, I was apprehensive that we could reach 40,000 doors and that people might not be receptive to messages encouraging them to vote. But every day volunteers turned up, whether in burning heat or pouring rain, to go out and talk to voters. Volunteers like Graham, who’d never taken part in campaigning in his local area, but who joined us day after day to talk to voters, and even trained up other volunteers to go with him!
With only three weeks to go, we still had a lot of door-knocking and phone calls to get through so thousands of 38 Degrees members chipped in small donations to hire a team of callers to make phone calls as well as training up volunteers. Again, 38 Degrees members delivered. In one evening we made over 7000 phone calls and later we would find out from Professor Peter John that phone calls made by 38 Degrees members were so much more persuasive than those of the paid canvassers.
After a rocky start, creating complicated plans and maps by hand, we finally reached a milestone: in one weekend our canvassers and volunteers knocked on half of the doors in the constituency. From there, the operation ran like clockwork and by election day we were onto our fourth attempt at knocking on doors in the constituency.
The campaign itself is mostly a blur of orange shirts and clipboards but there are some memories too great not to share. From one member of the public that pretended to be a dog to scare a canvasser away, to the woman who shouted down the road to a volunteer that she had made her postal vote because of them! That just leaves me now to say a massive thank you to all of the volunteers, canvassers and staff who threw their all into our ambitious campaign.