Political Campaign Strategies | Is Digital the new way?

Last Updated on January 3, 2023 by Raoul Patel

Contrary to Popular Opinion, Political Campaigning Isn’t Going Digital

Despite concerns over digital advertising and its bias and origin during recent major political campaigns in the US and UK, it seems that UK political parties are still spending more on leafleting.

In fact, leaflets have been UK political parties highest spend since 2001. Though the data from the 2019 general election has yet to be disclosed, so that may have now changed.

Up to 2015 digital spend was minimal

As per Wired, since 2000 when parties first started reporting campaign spending, leaflets and direct mail have been right up there for expenditure. And, certainly parties have exceeded any spend on digital advertising such as Facebook adverts.

The Labour party spent over £2 million on leaflets in 2001. During the 2015 general election the total spend of all parties on unsolicited marketing material was £15 million out of a total spend of £37 million. The spend on Facebook, Google, and Twitter for all parties in 2015 was just £1.7 million.

That said, as per reports, spending on leafleting fell for the first time in fifteen years, to £13.4 million and spending on Facebook, Google, Twitter and Snap rose to £4.3 million.

Leaflets work but things may be about to change

Though the figures may change again when spending is revealed for 2019’s general election, so far and surprisingly, political campaigning isn’t yet as digital as we might think. Philip Cowley, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University, says leaflets and direct mail still work, adding:

“People say that leaflets go straight into the bin. In fact, maybe people glance at them before they throw them in the bin. Parties wouldn’t spend so much if they didn’t think leaflets work.”

Philip Cowley, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University

Cowley believes the act of hand delivering leaflets, “demonstrates a presence.” Perhaps an indication that society is not completely ready to put all its eggs in the proverbial technology basket. And, there are still major demographics that leaflets may more easily reach than digital and social media adverts.

In addition, where microtargeting of certain demographics with very specific adverts is assumedly a digital tactic, actually political campaigning over the past decade or so has seen leaflet microtargeting. Potentially one reason why spend is so high, developing differing campaigns and content.

Craig Dillon, Westminster Digital’s founder and CEO, has high hopes that 2019 might have been a digital election. He says:

“The best thing about this election is that it has forced parties into embracing digital because people don’t open the doors when it’s dark and cold. If we were running this election in summer, it would be the same as 2017– with all these volunteers putting leaflets through doors, knocking on doors.”

Craig Dillon, Westminster Digital’s founder and CEO

Dillon speculates, based on his experience working with his clients, that 2019 might be the digital “turning point,” with digital spending overtaking leafleting “for the first time.”

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Raoul Patel
Raoul Patel
Hi, I'm Raoul Patel , a 40 something self confessed tech nerd and professional software developer. I studied for an MsC in Computer Science after completing a Sofware Engineering (BsC) degree at Sheffield University some years ago!. Since then I have worked in software development and related area, continued to upskill and get more relevant qualifications to progress my career. I currently work in is AWS distributed computing and AI. My work takes me to a lot of places and I am hope to pass my knowledge in all things tech and ai to you, the viewfx reader! Thankyou for joining me on my journey.

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