'Election, what election?’ Low level campaigns and detrimental electoral outcomes in safe constituencies
Middleton, Alia Francesca
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Political parties in the United Kingdom are increasingly focusing their constituency-level campaigns on marginal seats; such a focus has been echoed by academic researchers studying the effectiveness of intense constituency campaigning in boosting local electoral outcomes. Yet there has been little investigation into the impact of the redirection of campaigning resources on safe constituencies; while existing research suggests that intense campaigns are effective in boosting local electoral outcomes, it is possible that a relative lack of campaigning may be harmful. This thesis addresses this gap by exploring in detail the detrimental impact of low level campaigning on both turnout and vote share in safe constituencies by the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats. The study is situated within the literature of campaign effectiveness, also drawing on theories of voter behaviour. It offers a critical evaluation of existing research into constituency campaigning, contending not only that a lack of campaigning can be harmful, but also that these effects are impacted by nuances of local incumbency and party differentials. To explore this, the thesis conducts a quantitative examination of the effects of constituency campaigning conducted at UK general elections from 1987 to 2010. It also expands existing literature in two ways; by formulating and applying a refined way in which to measure relative levels of campaigning, and also exploring the potential of leader visits as a measure of local campaigning for the first time in the UK. The focus on rebalancing attention towards safe constituencies places the concept of marginality at the core of this thesis. In exploring the concept in detail, potential explanations for the origins of marginality are considered, drawing on theories of population stability and party support bases. Using a refined measure of relative levels of campaigning, a link is established between marginality and campaigning, which also considers the important role of incumbency. When exploring the impact of low levels of campaigning, the results indicate that in many cases there is a harmful impact on both turnout and vote share, although the effects are greater for the latter. The findings suggest that local incumbency is a central factor in deciding the detrimental impact of low levels of campaigning, with such campaigns run by opposition parties resulting in far greater declines in their vote share when compared to equivalent campaigns run by incumbents. In an era of increasing focus on marginal constituencies during election campaigns, this thesis explicitly considers the impact of a lack of campaigning in safe constituencies, the role of incumbency and also applies new measures. In doing so, new empirical insights are produced into the importance of constituency campaigning in the UK, through an approach both rooted in and building upon existing studies.