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Not just friends and neighbours: the effects of canvassing on vote choice in Ireland

MMarsh's picture

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


5th ECPR General Conference, Potsdam (2009)


canvassing, Ireland


The effects of party canvassing and local campaigning on election outcomes have once again attracted the attention of electoral behaviour scholars. These research efforts have been directed at the impact of canvassing on both turnout and vote choice.

Traditionally, research in the North American context has emphasized the practical relevance and effectiveness of local campaigning to a much greater extent than has research in the British context. This was reinforced by Gerber and Green’s (2000) experimental study on the impact of canvassing on voter turnout. By contrast, earlier British research frequently dismissed any relevance of local campaigning, deeming it futile.

More recent studies have created what Pattie and Johnston (2003) named “the new orthodoxy” in British electoral campaigning research. This new approach to the issue of campaigning and its effects in the British context is characterised by a more balanced view of the relative impact of local vs. centralised (and highly “professionalized”) campaigning. In particular, the impact of local campaigning on party choice appears to be statistically significant (even if usually only moderately strong). Finally, Marsh (2004), in the first individual-level study on the impact of canvassing on party choice in Ireland, presented evidence suggesting that in the Irish context campaigns remain largely “traditional”, with extensive frequency and impact of door-to-door canvassing. These briefly outlined trends in electoral research suggest that any shift in the style of campaigning in the exclusively “post-modern” (Norris 2002) or “post-Fordist“ direction, whereby campaigns are expected to be run by teams of professionals, employing expert knowledge and using electronic means of communication, has been exaggerated. Granted, the ‘air war’ aspect of the campaign has grown in importance, Not just friends and neighbours but the ‘ground war’ remains necessary and effective. While campaigning obviously changes with the development of the mentioned “devices”, the “personal” element seems still relevant and worthwhile studying.

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