Does leafleting work?

elections_2010_ukip_1yes leafletUKIP leaflet

I’ve been getting quite a few leaflets from various political parties through my letterbox recently, more than seems normal. I’ll concede that my sense of what constitutes a normal quota of leaflets is completely notional.

Leafleting is a habitual element of living in a town or city. I imagine it probably happens in villages too, though I can’t decide whether it happens more or less often in them, or whether the need to leaflet is less or greater. I have little experience of them, so my understanding of how village and rural communities operate is informed by idyllic representations in popular culture, The Wicker Man excepted.

Then it struck me, I don’t have a bloody clue about this, and by this I mean leafleting and whether it’s effective. Clearly I admit to having none about village life.

And what defines a leaflet as being effective? What’s the main aim behind leafleting? Making people aware they (the parties) exist? That a vote is forthcoming? Setting out policy? Trashing the campaign pledges and or positions of their opponent(s)? Or is it all of these things, and as such the aim is to get someone to change their vote completely?

Until recently I scoffed at the idea that political leaflets had even a nominal influence in affecting voting tendencies and therefore helping decide elections. My apathy was embroidered by my impression of most leaflets tending to come from supermarkets, local takeways and charities, and they do. As such any kind of leaflet, even if it was benign or worthwhile, became synonymous with junk mail, which is a nuisance. It doesn’t help that they all look and feel cheap too; single pages or a folded piece of A4 laminated plastic paper, usually collecting on the floor, trying their best like a stealth banana skin to deck you as you enter the front door. Not only were they a health hazard, they were garishly ugly, usually and easily crumpled and occasionally damp, a waste of natural resources, but also time consuming, as they require you to allot your precious time and effort, assuming they hadn’t broken your neck first, to putting them in the bin.

There is another, better reason why I’ve looked upon political leafleting disparagingly, as I always took it upon myself to find my own sources and therefore reasons on which way to cast my vote. The mere idea of having my vote informed, or even worse my mind changed, just, just by a leaflet seemed like a staggering abdication of intellectual responsibility.

I’m a man of very few talents, but one of them is my innate ability to find a way of being ignorant or hypocritical, or in this case both.

The cause this leafleting binge is the upcoming vote to elect our representatives in the European parliament on the 22nd May. I’m ashamed to say that this vote had barely registered with me. And yes, one of the leaflets re-reminded me of the impending vote, after the slip from the electoral roll that came through my door a few weeks ago intially informed me that I was eligible to vote. Before that I had no clue it was happening. I could offer an excuse or three, but you don’t care. So much for intellectual responsibility, eh?

I suspect the turnout will be meagre, and will reveal that most folk, like me, have little interest in the EU vote, probably because they don’t know anything about it, how it works, or how it affects them directly. Now I see that leafleting is the best possible antidote to ignorance or apathy on such matters. For us Scottish residents our disinterest has some logic, given Westminster dictates our involvement in Europe for us.

So reminding folk that the EU vote was taking place had to be one of this leaflet’s main aims, and that it did successfully. Now we come to the best part, it turns out it was a leaflet from an endangered species – The Scottish Conservatives. I found it to be amusing and ironic that the Conservative party are looking to gain votes in an EU parliament just to blunt its effectiveness. In the same leaflet they request that we vote ‘No to Scottish Independence’, yet they want you to ‘Vote “Yes” to a real change in Europe’, it goes on, sadly, ‘We want a different type of Europe; one that returns power to Britain and that works for the people and not the politicians’. It’s hard not to be insulted by this hypocrisy, the fucking cheeky bastards. The plan is clear – win the general election next May, actually gaining a majority to form a government this time. One of their campaign pledges, as outlined inside the leaflet, is to hold a public referendum on whether the UK should become a fully integrated member of the EU, or whether it should leave, by the end of 2017. It’s likely that the Tories would only hold this referendum if they believe the public would vote to leave the EU. Remember, they’re Tories, they lie, a lot. This Tory EU leaflet was nothing but an excuse to campaign against the popular topics of Scottish independence, demonization of EU bailouts and immigration. If you manage not to be riled up by any of this, for good measure they also spell out the ‘successes’ of their economic policy. Honestly.

Now I’m looking at this through the prism of being a Yes voter and someone who believes in fairness, so of course I’m going to view a leaflet from the Scottish Conservatives in the most cynical of lights, and deservedly so. It’s an organisation/party/business built on the deployment of inherently unfair policies and who wants a No vote to help maintain them.

Still, this got me to thinking of more important and pressing matters, no snide comments thank you, about how (read ways) the Yes campaign is choosing to get its message across.

One of these ways is through leafleting.

Number of leaflets I’ve received from the following over the last six months:

Yes Campaign – 4

Labour – 2

SNP – 1

Tories – 1

Green – 1

UKIP – 1

A few thoughts; the Yes campaign and the other parties are leafleting for entirely different purposes. Yes is campaigning for Independence while the rest are primarily concerned with the EU vote, for now at least. Regardless, as you can see the Yes campaign has twice as many without any competition from its supposed rival, Better Together. There are two obvious ways to interpret this, both likely to be coloured by your existing position on the referendum, should you yet have one.

One, the Yes campaign must feel that it’s a damn bloody effective way of confronting folk with the message and facts, as unlike the EU vote, The Yes campaign and Better Together (for the sake of fairness) have the advantage of everyone in Scotland who isn’t in a vegetative state already being aware of the referendum. If you’re so inclined, it’s easier to elide the existence of the EU vote, but not the September referendum. Two, if you’re a typical cynical self loathing No voter, that the Yes campaign are getting desperate in resorting to measures such as abundant leafleting.

The above information is a problem for me given I’m a Yes voter who’s deeply sceptical of the effectiveness of leafleting altering the outcome of this particular referendum. If you removed the reason behind this referendum being held, and the cause of any existing bias towards one side of the campaign, I’d probably find my opinion aligning itself with the cynical perspective.

At least this characterisation of the Yes campaign’s desperation leafleting would suit the complete and utter ambivalence behind Better Together’s lack of methodical canvassing. I haven’t had a leaflet from Better Together come through the letterbox yet, nor, living in the West End of Glasgow, have I seen a billboard advertising the virtues of voting No, which is fitting, as there aren’t any. There have been several Yes billboards positioned as you enter the city centre, two biggies along Maryhill Road running throughout April, and others dotted about the West End, but none from Better Together. I was made aware through Twitter of one Better Together billboard existing in the East End. Though I’ll believe it when I see it, and like Victor Meldrew I probably still won’t if I do.

Clearly Better Together feels they don’t have to advertise or leaflet extensively, as with their own form of belligerent incompetence and their arrogant assumptive reliance on voter apathy they feel they have it in the bag.

As I’ve found to my cost, cynicism and apathy can be reductive forces, as they invariably lead to ignorance and failure. Not reading political leaflets out of spite or dislike for its author, and for leaflets generally, is a mistake. As is a party or a cause failing to distribute any. I’ve already given one example, had I ignored the Conservative leaflet, just because of my logical hatred of Tory bastards, then I wouldn’t have been reminded of the EU vote. Had it not existed or stated its intention, that would’ve provided the same result.

Even better was to come, a few days later a UKIP leaflet came through the letterbox. Joy unconfined.

I’ll keep it brief, without hesitation, I threw it straight in the bin. After all, it’s a leaflet, from UKIP, that’s what it deserved, right?

A threat still remains a threat even if you choose to ignore it. The basis and totality of the rise of UKIP’s popularity is based on the notion of what we assume them to be, not finding out what they actually are. This applies to those who are opposed or disposed to their crude, divisive stance on immigration. It’s designed not to encourage further investigation.

So was this leaflet. I thought I knew all about them and what they are, a slick repackaged version of the National Front. That’s why I threw the leaflet away without looking at it, but, after a conversation with someone who had the misfortune to acquiesce to curiosity, I had to have a look for myself. Their policies, as outlined in the leaflet, went beyond my initial assumption and Farage’s conniving and capable verbosity, which allows him to elide facts when faced with them. They are downright crazy. I hesitate to call them policies. We all know of their stances on immigration which are central to their appeal with the disaffected, but the other stuff shows their fascistic base; full privatisation of the NHS, full deregulation of the banking sector, one set tax rate for all – 31% – and draconian cuts to public services across the board. It all reads like Oswald Mosley’s Thatcheristic wet dream, where only the blue bloods and the aspirational thrive while everyone else barely survives, if they do at all.

On the surface their leaflet’s garish colour scheme was benign enough. Farage’s face was absent too. The exterior focus was, of course, on immigration and Europe. It’s layout was reminiscent of a cheap curry house and or kebab menu, and as such it seemed less threatening than that infamous BNP leaflet that was kicking around in the lead up to the last general election. You remember it, right? Of course, how could you forget Nick Griffin’s spherically porcine mug, with his even fatter fringe and that unsettlingly static glass eye, the kind of ailment that’s usually a consequence of a nonce that’s copped a bashing or four when he was accidentally placed in gen pop.

It’s easier for me to pan and be glib about not reading leaflets from political organisations, such as UKIP, who I’ll certainly never vote for. But the thought of holding the same stance towards the Yes leaflets just isn’t feasible.

First, there’s the number, four. Four in six months! How could you not take heart from that?

Plus, because I was a Yes voter before a leaflet ever arrived through the letterbox, and having reached a Yes vote of my own volition, I could have guiltless gander at the latest Yes leaflet, to pique my intrigue. Would my blanket disdain of leaflets continue? This time I hoped not.

About the latest Yes leaflet, I have a few observations, good and bad.

We might as well start with the cover, of a hand wielding an electric current between the finger tips, with the message ‘An independent Scotland would be the most powerful nation in Europe’. In the abstract I like the image on the front cover, it’s striking, and most leaflets tend to have only text, and the immensely unappealing dour saggy faces of the party leadership. The image is also nuanced in a way which probably won’t resonate as it should with those it’s trying to convince. The message being to those who will vote No primarily because they dislike Alex Salmond and his, according to them, tendency for being arrogant, defiant and unashamedly proud, that he isn’t the sole focus or strategist of Yes campaign. He is only a supporter of it, and that this vote is much more important than him. He is the First minister, and the leader of the party that currently holds a majority in Holyrood, who wants Independence, of course he’s going to be at the forefront of any campaign for Independence. In fact there is no picture of him to be found on the leaflet and his name doesn’t even appear on any of the four pages.

That isn’t to say that Alex isn’t an asset, he is, put him in a debating arena armed with the factual strength that the Yes campaign is based puon and he’ll boss that shit. The point of the Yes leaflet is entirely about the message, to engender consideration of the possibilities devolved from the pettiness that frames the debates surrounding party politics and politics in general.

The claim on the front cover is bold. The nays will focus on its validity, but that clearly isn’t the point. The point of it is to entice you to read on, where a series of clear bullet points about Scotland’s potential, and stagnation by remaining in the UK, are mapped out on page two.

Even better there’s a form on page three where you can fill out your details and receive a guide, an abridged version of white paper I assume, of the benefits of a Yes vote. There’s also a questionnaire provided to gauge opinion on Scottish Independence. Question one is a scale from one to ten, on whether you’re for, undecided or against Independence. The second question is restricted to just the three tick boxes for each option.

This is heartening as it means that the Yes campaign is collating polling data. I wonder what it’s telling them. You suspect most of the responses are likely to be Yes or favourable, as we tend to be enthusiastic lot, but how many of the undecided have responded positively or have asked for further information? Because it’s easier to formulate opinions based upon direct experience, I’m extremely cynical of the all polls which suggest that a No vote is more likely at this stage, when I’ve yet to meet a No voter.

The only blight on this leaflet is that you’re offered the chance to win an iPad if you fill in the questionnaire. Enticing people to fill it just for a miniscule chance of an iPad is cheap. I understand the logic behind dangling carrots, but one person returning the leaflet whose main goal is to win the iPad devalues the authenticity of the information received.

Unlike the other leaflets I’ve received recently the Yes leaflet gives you more bang for your imaginary buck. It might seem like a triviality, but a leaflet that is weightier and fatter has a more satisfying feel to it when you pick it up. Like a book. It conveys effort, and a passion for its content and purpose. Even better the extra stuff inside interested me. It had a page from banthebomb.org of the benefits of scrapping trident, even though trident wasn’t mentioned you knew that was the reference. There was a letter from two disillusioned Labour candidates who have switched to Yes, and another page from Labour voters for Scottish independence – which rightly states that ‘voting “Yes” for independence in 2014 doesn’t mean you’re voting for Alex Salmond & the SNP’. There was also a supplementary smaller single page from the Yes campaign, more a card than a leaflet, with a number of links to pro-independence blogs: wingsoverscotland.com, bellacaledonia.org.uk, bbc.scotlandshire.co.uk amongst others. It leaves you no excuse to find all the information you need to vote Yes, and it tells you that people, when they find out the facts, tend to defect to a Yes vote.

Overall this latest Yes leaflet is the best leaflet I’ve received so far, it has the most content, it has an unfussy layout, and provides a variety of perspectives on various issues that will be decided upon, by us, if we vote Yes.

But still that question remains, does leafleting work? In the context of this referendum I’m not sure, but given the number of Yes leaflets I’ve received in last six months, and seeing the thought that’s gone into their design, I’m hoping that my scepticism is completely unfounded.

About Wichita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard

Wichita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard. 'Mediocre blogger and a piously boring and unfunny writer'. Enthusiastic purveyor of the KLF sheep.
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