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So who really does the donkey work in ‘multi-speed membership parties’? Comparing the election campaign activity of party members and party supporters

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-12, 08:38 authored by Paul WebbPaul Webb, Monica Poletti, Tim Bale
One of the traditional functions of party members is to campaign on behalf of their party at general elections. However, they are not the only people who volunteer for the job. In the context of the growing literature on ‘multi-speed membership’ parties, it is important to ask what non-members do for parties they support. This paper examines how different actors contributed to the electoral campaigns of six parties at the 2015 UK General Election, using survey data covering not only members of the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, United Kingdom Independence, Scottish Nationalist, and Green parties, but also voters who identified themselves as being close to one of those parties but did not formally belong to them. As well as exploring how much work they do during campaigns, we ask whether the two groups choose different activities and are differently motivated. We find that, at the individual level, party members do more than non-member supporters, and that this is especially true of more intensive forms of activity. We also find that constituency context and political attitudes influence levels of activity in similar ways for members and supporters. However, we find no consistent impact from demographic factors or ideological incongruence. At the aggregate level, we estimate that the campaign work done by supporters may match or even exceed that done by party members.


Party Members in the United Kingdom; ESRC-ECONOMIC & SOCIAL RESEARCH COUNCIL; ES/M007537/1


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Electoral Studies







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