Published:

Cllr John Moss is a Councillor in Waltham Forest, a Campaign Manager at College Green Group, and former Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Chingford & Woodford Green Conservatives, looks at how to help activists gather data more accurately.

On Thursday the 18th of November, the Conservatives took a seat in a by-election in the Bere Ferrers ward in West Devon – by one vote. On Thursday the 25th of November, they missed out on taking a long-held Labour seat in Wandsworth – by one vote. Every vote really does count, so how do you make sure you get those last few votes into the ballot box on polling day?

By targeting the right voters of course, but how do you do that? Well, it starts with accurate canvass data.

I can confirm from my own experience that at some point on every polling day, an activist has returned from knocking up and exclaimed, “This data is rubbish. I’ve spoken to six people and none of them were Conservative voters!” There were probably also moments earlier in the campaign, probably several, when an activist returned from speaking to voters on the doorstep, and said, “They all vote Conservative.”

Unsurprisingly, these two things are linked.

It’s always important to remember that our activists are volunteers. They give a few hours a week and don’t necessarily have the time to keep up to date with the latest campaigning wheezes from CCHQ. However: “They all vote Conservative” is a response which is at best unhelpful, and at worst, a waste of activist time at later stages of the campaign.

CCHQ is very keen for voting intentions to be recorded for individual voters using a 0-10 scale, with a score recorded for as many parties as possible. I have been told this is “too complicated”. However, the alternative is for activists to have to remember at least fifteen letter codes and then, from their conversation with the voter, decide which of these is appropriate.

For example, if someone tells you that they always vote Conservative, but the Marked Register data tells you they only voted in one of the last five elections, are they really a “Strong Conservative”? Whilst an inexperienced activist would likely take the voter at their word, I would recommend that before going to a door, activists review the turnout record of the electors they are about to speak to.

If they have a poor voting record, i.e. less than 50 per cent turnout, then they can’t really be “Strong” anything. However, if they have a hundred per cent turnout record, then you can safely mark them down as “Strong” supporters of those parties, assuming they tell you they always vote that way. In all other circumstances, try to get your activists to ask the 0-10 question.

The advantage of this is that there is no need for your activists to try and work out whether someone is a strong or weak supporter of any party. They simply have to ask, “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to vote for the following parties?” It is best to start with a party other than the Conservatives, because the voter is more likely to score that higher than they really feel, with an activist in front of them, wearing a blue rosette.

If the voter is confused, activists can use an analogy. For example, try asking them to give each of the parties “marks out of ten”. But make sure to start with the explanation and get at least two party scores. Ideally, all the main four, Labour, Lib Dem, Green and Conservative, (or any other party or independent if they are your main opponent). However, activists should not make their own assumptions as to what score a person might give. The 0-10 system only works properly if the voter gives you the numbers.

To illustrate this, I was recently asked by a serving Councillor what the code was for “possible”. Of course, anyone indicating they might vote Conservative is a “possible”. The question is how possible. Were they very probable, so warranting a “C”, or a bit weaker, but definitely Conservative-minded, warranting a “P”, or maybe they were genuinely undecided as to which party they would vote for, but consider voting Conservative, so a “U”? Who knows?

Using the 0-10 system removes the guesswork. The system does it for you. Most importantly, it has been proven to more accurately identify Weak Conservatives, who we need to motivate to go out and vote, and wavering supporters of other parties, who we need to persuade to vote Conservative. Both are crucial audiences in marginal wards in Council elections, as well as in tight Parliamentary constituencies.

So, how can you help your hard-pressed activists to do this when they have little time to give? The best thing you can do is to scrap a canvassing session and invite them to be trained on the method. It doesn’t take long. Prepare a script and brief three people to be voters who are equivocal in their support. Let everyone try it the traditional way and record them as either C, P or U. Then using 0-10 scores. If ten activists turn up, you can complete the training in 20-30 minutes. Ask them which was easier. I suspect it will, in almost all cases, be the 0-10 system. Then let them loose on real voters!

As Polling Day draws ever nearer for the 2022 elections, the more accurate data you have, the easier it will be to identify target voters who you have not yet canvassed. Then, closer to the election you can target them with the right messages, put our volunteers’ precious time to the best use, and have the best possible chance of success.