Election 2017 will be a test of both messages and digital campaigning for Britain’s political parties.
The big battle in the campaign will be to frame the election choice. There are two possible frames.
Frame 1: Leadership
In this frame public debate focuses on who would be best Prime Minister. This is probably the campaign Theresa May wants.
Theresa May will do well in this scenario. The public know her, and, largely, trust her. Jeremy Corbyn will do disastrously. Many members of the public don’t have a fixed opinion about Jeremy Corbyn. This will change after 7 weeks of Jeremy Corbyn being constantly linked to terrorism. Labour could do extremely badly.
I’m biased, but in this scenario Tim Farron has the opportunity to break through as a new voice. Tim is a clear communicator and funny. From an normal background in the north of England he’s as far as you can be from a typical member of the political class. However he’ll face the challenge of being seen as a credible Prime Minister, leading a party with just 9 MPs.
Frame 2: Brexit
In this frame the public focuses on Brexit for the length of the campaign.
Theresa May will face an opportunity to pick up a lot of pro-Brexit votes from Labour and UKIP. But she’ll also face two risks.
Firstly the Brexit focus might help UKIP. Secondly moderate Conservatives may defect to the Lib Dems in England, and the nationalists in Scotland and Wales.
Again Labour look set to do extremely badly in this scenario – losing a large proportion of their votes to either Lib Dems or Labour or nationalists.
Again I’m biased, but there’s a big Lib Dem opportunity here.
The digital election
A simple way to think about the impact of digital on the election is to consider reach and impact.
The Conservatives will have a significant advantage. They will be able to buy huge reach on Facebook and YouTube, as they did in the 2015 General Election.
Labour have a secret weapon though. Back in 2015 they had around 6 million email addresses on their database. And, whatever you think of Jeremy Corbyn, he gets a lot of free reach on social media. While they have been relatively uninventive with their email, they have a significant, free, reach to the public. And you can assume they will raise several million pounds this way.
There is very little credible research on the impact of digital campaigning on how people vote. A lot of commentary suggests things that are simply impossible.
However reading accounts of the 2015 Conservative and Labour campaigns, the Brexit campaigns and Trump’s election here are three areas to watch:
- Impact on marginal constituencies: How much advertising is seen by voters in marginal constituencies? This should be reasonably easy to test through polling, as Lord Ashcroft did, crudely, in the run up to May 2015.
- Testing: A nimble political party should be able to test thousands of messages, and creative executions, quickly during an election campaign. This should, theoretically, feedback into the rest of the campaign from direct mail to speeches to traditional media.
- Integration: Does the traditional campaign support the digital campaign? For instance do the parties promote data capture? Does the digital campaign change what the traditional campaign does?