By Alex Mather, Consultant, London
For those not accustomed to grassroots political campaigning, the expression ‘knocking up’ may seem a rather bizarre inclusion on Political Intelligence’s election A to Z series. However, readers can rest assured that this article does not mark the beginning of a new series of blogs on unplanned pregnancy, but in fact refers to a crucial polling day activity for activists across the UK.
Knocking up is in many ways the climax of many months of campaigning activity and a key part of each party’s get out the vote (GOTV) strategy. The expression refers to the physical polling day act of knocking on a door and encouraging the person who answers to vote. However, whilst this might initially sound like an incredibly simple and unsophisticated act, it is actually quite a complicated and scientific process.
The work which results in ‘knocking up’ begins many months before polling day. The process begins with canvassing the electorate to establish and record the number of pledges of support – a particularly time consuming task if the electorate is a parliamentary constituency, although this of course depends on the number of activists willing to give up their time.
The next crucial, but relatively unheard of step in the process is ‘telling’. You may have wondered who those people (often elderly and friendly) who sit outside polling stations on Election Day and ask for your polling number actually are. They are ‘tellers’ – party activists who are trying to gauge whether their supporters or pledges have fulfilled their promise of voting for that particular party’s candidate. Their activity, behaviour and appearance as they sit outside polling stations is of course strictly regulated in accordance with Electoral Commission rules (for example they can wear their party rosette, but not any party branded clothing), but their role is significant.
Traditionally, these polling numbers are then collected by hand by other party activists and taken to a local committee room, or in other words the hub which is masterminding all activists’ activities for the day. In the committee room, they are then inputted into polling database software which then maps which pledges have or haven’t voted, thereby showing activists who to call or knock up. The Conservative Party has long wrestled with notoriously difficult and fragile software called ‘Merlin’ and recent efforts to upgrade their system to VoteSource, which would allow activists to upload canvas data remotely via a smartphone app, is also encountering difficulties – see Isabel Hardman’s Spectator Coffee House piece from today.
The major parties’ GOTV strategy is often neglected by political commentators. However, in such an unpredictable political environment and with the election being so close to call, this nuts and bolts part of party politics may play a crucial role in the result. Additionally, it will be interesting to see how the big two parties strengths in this area, i.e. Labour’s strong activist numbers and the Conservatives superior funding, will influence their Election Day strategies.