This book explores how experienced party organisers in the UK work to recruit and to retain party activists for local ca
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Table of contents :
Front Matter ....Pages i-xiv
Recruiting and Retaining Party Activists (Robin T. Pettitt)....Pages 1-20
Recruiting Activists (Robin T. Pettitt)....Pages 21-43
Retaining Activists (Robin T. Pettitt)....Pages 45-76
Practical Lessons for Recruiting and Retaining Party Activists (Robin T. Pettitt)....Pages 77-86
Back Matter ....Pages 87-97
PALGRAVE STUDIES IN POLITICAL MARKETING AND MANAGEMENT SERIES EDITOR: JENNIFER LEES-MARSHMENT
Recruiting and Retaining Party Activists Political Management at the Grassroots Robin T. Pettitt
Palgrave Studies in Political Marketing and Management Series Editor Jennifer Lees-Marshment Faculty of Arts, Political Studies University of Auckland Auckland, New Zealand
Palgrave Studies in Political Marketing and Management (PalPMM) series publishes high quality and ground-breaking academic research on this growing area of government and political behaviour that attracts increasing attention from scholarship, teachers, the media and the public. It covers political marketing intelligence including polling, focus groups, role play, co-creation, segmentation, voter profiling, stakeholder insight; the political consumer; political management including crisis management, change management, issues management, reputation management, delivery management; political advising; political strategy such as positioning, targeting, market-orientation, political branding; political leadership in all its many different forms and arena; political organization including managing a political office, political HR, internal party marketing; political communication management such as public relations and e-marketing and ethics of political marketing and management. For more information email the series editor Jennifer Lees-Marshment on [email protected] and see https://leesmarshment. wordpress.com/pmm-book-series/. More information about this series at http://www.palgrave.com/gp/series/14601
Robin T. Pettitt
Recruiting and Retaining Party Activists Political Management at the Grassroots
Robin T. Pettitt Department of Politics and International Relations Kingston University Kingston, UK
Palgrave Studies in Political Marketing and Management ISBN 978-3-030-47841-4 ISBN 978-3-030-47842-1 (eBook) https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-47842-1 © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG, part of Springer Nature 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, express or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover credit: © Melisa Hasan This Palgrave Pivot imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland
Dedicated to party activists throughout the country and across the political spectrum who form the bedrock of our electoral democracy.
This book could not have happened without the party activists, organisers and office holders who generously donated their time to be interviewed. A huge thanks goes out to all of them. I am also grateful for feedback from fellow scholars at several conferences and during the reviewing process. The book is much improved due to their insights. I would also like to express my gratitude to the School of Law, Social and Behavioural Sciences, and its head, Evanthia Lyons, for providing funds towards the transcription of a number of the interviews. On the editorial side I am grateful to Jennifer Lees-Marshment for her encouragement and feedback and to Anne-Kathrin Birchley-Brun for her support in moving the project along, and for her patience with missed deadlines. I also need to acknowledge the help and support of the NHS, especially Healthy Minds Essex for supporting me through periods of ill health during the making of this book (unrelated to the book I hasten to add!). Last, but not least, to my family, especially to my wife and children, who are the source of much love and give life greater meaning, and to my parents for their love and support.
1 Recruiting and Retaining Party Activists 1 Introduction 1 The Importance of Local Volunteer Based Campaigning 4 Data and Analysis 8 Party Members and Volunteers 10 Incentives for Activism 13 How to Recruit and Retain Activists 16 References 17 2 Recruiting Activists 21 Introduction 21 Identifying Potential Activists 22 From Potential to Actual Activist 26 Recruitment—A Summary 39 References 42 3 Retaining Activists 45 Introduction 45 Retention: Important, but Sometimes Overlooked 47 Remember: They Are Volunteers 48 Ambition as a Driver of Activism 49 Socialising as an Incentive for Continuing Activism 51 The Pub, Drinking and Activism 55 ix
Say ‘Thank You’ 57 Having Influence 59 Letting Them Know It Is Worth It (and Making It Worth It) 62 Tailoring to the Individual (and Its Limitations) 65 Long-Term Volunteers 70 Retention—A Summary 71 References 74 4 Practical Lessons for Recruiting and Retaining Party Activists 77 Recruitment 77 Identifying Potential Activists: Members, Supporters and Community Campaigners 78 From Potential to Actual Activist 79 Retention 81 Conclusion 85 Bibliography 87 Index 95
List of Figures
Fig. 4.1 Recruitment—a summary Fig. 4.2 Creating a retention enhancing campaigning environment
List of Boxes
Box 1.1: Box 1.2: Box 1.3: Box 1.4: Box 2.1: Box 2.2: Box 2.3: Box 2.4: Box 2.5: Box 2.6: Box 2.7: Box 2.8: Box 2.9: Box 3.1: Box 3.2: Box 3.3: Box 3.4: Box 3.5: Box 3.6: Box 3.7: Box 3.8:
In their own words—the importance of local campaigning In their own words—the limits of local campaigning In their own words—volunteers beyond the members In their own words—the continuing importance of members In their own words—the nature of ‘self-recruiters’ In their own words—identifying potential activists In their own words—using social action to identify potential activists In their own words—personal touch recruiting In their own words—from potential to actual activist In their own words—ensuring a good first social encounter In their own words—bad first encounters In their own words—using big names in recruiting In their own words—supporting first time campaigners In their own words—using ambition as a retention tool In their own words—the importance of friendships In their own words—a negative spiral In their own words—‘it’s gotta be fun’ In their own words—going to the pub In their own words—the importance of saying thank you In their own words—influence on policy as an incentive for activism In their own words—the importance of building a sense of ‘team’
6 7 10 12 22 24 26 27 28 30 32 35 37 50 52 54 55 55 58 59 61
LIST OF BOXES
Box 3.9: Box 3.10: Box 3.11: Box 3.12:
In their own words—providing information In their own words—making it (appear) worthwhile In their own words—matching the task to the volunteer In their own words—the limits of shaping tasks to activists
63 64 66 68
Recruiting and Retaining Party Activists
Abstract This chapter will first explore the importance of local volunteer driven campaigning for the electoral success of political parties. The chapter will then look at the data used in this book, how it was gathered and how it was analysed. Having done that the chapter will look at the nature of ‘volunteers’ and show how, whilst paid-up card-carrying members are important, they are not the only fruit when it comes to campaigning. The chapter will move on with an outline of the incentives for activism that will be explored in the book, before concluding with an outline of the book as a whole. Keywords Party activists · Volunteers · Party members Interviews · Local campaigning · Incentives
Introduction In a world where social media reigns supreme, and where the mining of freely (if naively) given personal information allows for the deployment of ‘micro-targeted’ political ads on a mass scale (see e.g. Ribeiro et al. 2019; Dommett and Power 2019; Ongweso 2019), the idea of party activists walking door-to-door having one-to-one conversations with voters may seem highly anachronistic. However, if deployed alongside
© The Author(s) 2020 R. T. Pettitt, Recruiting and Retaining Party Activists, Palgrave Studies in Political Marketing and Management, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-47842-1_1
2 R. T. PETTITT
other campaign tools, grassroots campaigning can have a critical role to play in the electoral fortunes of a party. One example of this was the 6 June 2019 Peterborough by-election. In a context where the Brexit Party had notched up a huge victory in the European Parliament elections just two weeks earlier, Farage’s party was expected to win its first House of Commons seat (Krishnamurty 2019). As it was the Labour Party narrowly held on to the seat with a majority of just over 600 votes.1 Afterwards, some, including Farage himself, saw Labour’s superior ‘ground game’, i.e. their use of party activists for door-to-door campaigning, as a significant factor in the result (Sabbagh 2019). Other factors obviously also played in, but in a contest where the outcome is determined by a few hundred voters going one way or the other, or voting at all, the ground game is a key element that can make the difference between victory and defeat. In addition, party activists are also the primary recruitment ground for a wide array of positions within political parties. Local internal office holders, paid party staff, candidates for elected office from parish councils to House of Commons are all recruited mainly from active supporters of the party. An exception may be people with specialist knowledge and training in areas such as accountancy, legal matters, opinion polling or administration. However, apart from this relatively small number of specialists it is overwhelmingly through its active supporters that a party will recruit people to fill roles at all levels of the party. It is within political parties that key ‘individuals are exposed to the political process and develop political aspirations’ (Culhane and Olchawski 2018: 24) and thus where parties develop ‘new political talent’ (Scarrow 1996: 45). It is therefore through its active supporters that parties are able to ‘reproduce’ themselves (Seyd and Whiteley 2004: 361; see also Pettitt 2014: 95–6). Parties are limited in what they can offer activists in monetary incentives by finite resources and limits on campaign spending. So, for example in the UK, paying someone to canvass ‘for the purpose of promoting or procuring a candidate’s election’ is expressly forbidden (Representation of the People Act 1983). The question then is, in the absence of monetary rewards as an incentive, how can political parties get people to carry out the socially awkward task of knocking on the
seat was later lost to the Conservative Party in the 12 November General Election.
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doors of strangers to talk about politics—not always a wise or pleasurable activity at the best of times—or the less than thrilling job of delivering leaflets? Some people are sufficiently enthusiastic about a cause or a candidate to turn up for campaigning without needing additional encouragement—i.e. ‘self-recruiting’. However, there are also people who are potential activists, but need some level of encouragement in order to become actual activists. This book will explore how these potential activists can be identified, recruited into active support for a party and how both ‘self-recruiters’ and the actively recruited can be retained as party activists. The following chapters will show that broadly speaking, potential activists are identified by their pre-existing support for the party, which logically makes sense. However, bringing those identified from potential to actual activists, and keeping them active is very much about recognising and working with the dual fact that we are talking about managing people and that these people are giving their time freely. This may sounds obvious, but it brings with it a series of consequences. In terms of recruitment it means that a personal one-to-one approach is by far the best way of encouraging a potential activist to get involved. People tend to value individual attention. It also means that throwing a potential activist straight into front-line activism is not a good first step. Instead, after the initial one-to-one approach, the first introduction to the wider party should be social in nature, allowing the potential activist to make personal human connections before the ordeal of campaigning. When it comes to retention the ‘people’ factor means that one of the key ways of keeping people active is the social side of campaigning. Personal connections and friendships are often one of the key factors that keep people engaged. Friendships cannot be ‘manufactured’ but they and basic personal connections can be encouraged by ensuring that campaigning always has a significant socialising element at the end of it. Adding in a good welcome and a proper ‘thank you’ will go a long way to keeping people involved. In addition, because we are talking about managing people, it is important to ensure that campaigning structures are built around the needs, wants and abilities of activists as much as possible, including making it as easy as possible to contribute what and as much as people are willing and able to do. Finally, because people are basically donating their free time, campaign structures have to be geared towards making the best use of that time as efficiently as possible. People will not continue to donate their free time if they feel it is wasted.
4 R. T. PETTITT
From a number of seminal projects (Seyd and Whiteley 1992, 2002; Whiteley and Seyd 2002; Bale et al. 2019a) we know a great deal about what party activists (say they) are motivated by.2 However, little is known about what parties are able and willing to offer as practical incentives at the local level to encourage people to become active and staying active. This book seeks to answer the question of how parties recruit and retain party activists in practice at the local level where the door-to-door campaigning actually takes place. Whilst previous studies of party members have done sterling work in looking at the big picture, this book will zoom down to the local constituency and ward level. Here it will explore the factors that work to bring people into active politics, sustain that activism, how such activists are managed and supported—and equally, what can hinder potential activists becoming actual activists and undermine the retention of those activists. In the following, this chapter will first explore the importance of local volunteer driven campaigning for the electoral success of political parties. The chapter will then look at the data used in this book, how it was gathered and how it was analysed. Having done that the chapter will look at the nature of ‘volunteers’ and show how, whilst paid-up card-carrying members are important, they are not the only fruit when it comes to campaigning. The chapter will move on with an outline of the incentives for activism that will be explored in the book, before concluding with an outline of the book as a whole.
The Importance of Local Volunteer Based Campaigning A lot has been written about the importance of local party activist driven campaigning. Campaigning styles are often seen as having gone through three ‘eras’ (see e.g. Farrell 1996; Norris 2002; Farrell and Webb 2002; Pettitt 2014: 144–9). The first era was dominated by highly de-centralised campaigning carried out principally on the doorstep by volunteers. To the extent that the national impinged on local affairs it was when party leaders and other big national names visited constituencies on whistle-stop tours to give stump speeches. The second era is usually seen as being marked by a notable centralisation of campaigning. The rise of television made a nationally controlled campaign necessary,
also https://esrcpartymembersproject.org/ (accessed 5 August 2019).
1 RECRUITING AND RETAINING PARTY ACTIVISTS
and was also seen as making the door-to-door knocking by volunteers somewhat redundant. The centre was in control of every aspect of a campaign focussed on the national leadership. It is now widely agreed that the neglect of the local campaign has been reversed (or was exaggerated). Election campaigns are still very much controlled by the centre, but with a heavy local element. D oor-to-door campaigning is seen as central to electoral success, albeit co-ordinated from the centre. So, Fisher et al. (2005: 18) concluded that: there is no doubt that constituency campaigning is now seen as more significant than ever by the parties and possibly even more significant than the national campaign focussed on the mass media. The planning of constituency campaigns has become increasingly integrated into the parties’ overall campaign strategy […] Arguably, then, the campaigns in the constituencies now dominate the parties’ overall campaign strategy. The battles that matter are those in the target seats, not the one played out in the national media.
This is also reflected in Simpson and O’Shaughnessy (2016: 20) who write that ‘if a volunteer army can be raised and equipped, election battles can be fought and won. If not, your political war is over before it has begun’. Nielsen (2012: 9–10) argues that: Whereas the mass-media- and direct-mail-dominated politics of the last decades of the twentieth century sometimes resembled what Robert M. Entman has called “democracy without citizens”, run by a small number of consultants and funded by big-dollar donors, the resurgent interest in personalized political communication means that parties and campaigns today need people – lots of people – to wage ground wars.
Something similar is found in the writings of one of Barack Obama’s key campaign advisors, David Plouffe. He writes that ‘Our secret weapon, day in and day out, was our army of volunteers, real people who brought Obama’s message ideas to their neighbors, co-workers, and fellow citizens, guided by our extraordinary staff’ (Plouffe 2009: 151). Plouffe is clearly partisan, hence the slightly tendentious language. However, the key idea of local volunteers, centrally controlled is clearly there. The importance of local campaigning can also be seen from the interviews conducted for this book (see Box 1.1).
6 R. T. PETTITT Box 1.1: In their own words—the importance of local campaigning
‘door-to-door stuff, if you’re not doing it, you haven’t got a chance. We get some people say to us on the doorstep, “So why did you vote for us last time?” they say you’re the only person who came round. You can pick up votes that easily just by being the one party to make contact’. (Interview 19/06) ‘Direct mail is extremely expensive and if you can build a strong team of people who go out on a regular basis and collect a large amount of information for you, then that’s irreplaceable’. (Interview 30/07) ‘Then that’s canvassing, which is a really difficult one to get people into. If you convert someone into a canvasser, that’s the gold in recruitment’. (Interview 25/06) ‘I would not have won if not for people who have got time to go out and campaign for me. I could not do 60’000 doors on my own. You know we would struggle without the team. On my own I would not have been able to have a conversation – I would not have won without the people who gave up their time. I think it is incredible that people are willing to do that for a political candidate, to get me elected, I still think that is amazing’. (Interview 23/07) ‘It’s a 100 percent. It’s the core. People who have had face to face contact greatly increases their chances, any contact notches up the chances that they will vote, particularly the face to face’. (Interview 12/07)
Local campaigning likewise features heavily in party documents. One document stated that in ‘2013, we did some careful analysis of voter turnout in the local elections. We were able to show that voters we spoke to during the campaign were nearly twice as likely to vote as those we had not contacted’ (Liberal Democrats 2015: 11). Another document seen by the author said that ‘we know from experience that by far the most effective way to turn out [our] supporters is by speaking to them […] A conversation in person is much more likely to have the desired effect’. In a foreword to a Fabian pamphlet on campaigning, Sadiq Khan wrote ‘we must maximise the party’s biggest strength - our volunteer
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army - members and supporters who vastly outnumber our opponents’ (Roberts 2014: 2). Further, Pack and Maxfield (2016: 75) write that ‘you need people on the ground persuading their neighbours, colleagues and families to support your message’. However, that is not to say that local campaigning is some kind of magic bullet. As illustrated in Box 1.2 if the national campaign does not resonate, the local campaign cannot win by itself. Box 1.2: In their own words—the limits of local campaigning
‘the problem that we faced in [my constituency] was essentially the national message not being right, and therefore it meant that while we were making a difference, things were stacked so badly against us that it was negated by a lot of the national picture’. (Interview 24/07) ‘we had thousands and thousands of people out knocking on doors in a very finite number of constituencies, but because we’d already lost the air war, people weren’t receptive, so the two do marry up to one another’. (Interview 19/06) ‘I think this election probably showed more than others that although door-to-door campaigning does actually have an impact on close elections, compared to a national mood or a national swing or a national campaign, it can only enhance or detract by a few points’. (Interview 26/07)
This is also implicitly in evidence in Allin-Khan’s (2020: 2) pledge to ‘ensure candidates and local parties have the resources they need to carry our national messages on a local level’. The local is needed to ‘carry our national messages’, however, if those messages do not resonate the local campaign will have limited impact. This illustrates that the local campaign is part of a wider campaign machine, and if other parts of that machine is not working the overall campaign fails. However, likewise, if a good local campaign can be undermined by a poor national campaign, so can a good national campaign be undone by a poor local campaign. The question then remains: how are these local volunteer activists identified, recruited and retained for the long-term electoral benefits of a party. That is what this book seeks to answer.
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Data and Analysis The book is based on qualitative semi-structured elite interviews with experienced campaigners from The Labour Party, The Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats. The decision to focus on these three parties was based on that fact that they have a comprehensive presence across Britain and as a result the interviewees commonly had experience of campaigning in several parts of the country. In addition, they are all relatively speaking ‘catch all’ parties who do not base their electoral support on a relatively specialist platform. Hence, both interviewees and the people they were involved in managing were a very heterogeneous lot. Finally, all three parties are very long-established and the interviewees were therefore embedded in organisations with a considerable level of institutional ‘memory’ that they benefitted from. The interviewees all belonged to at least one and commonly several of the following categories: former or current holders of positions in local party executives; former or current holders of seats in publically elected legislative assemblies from local councils to the House of Commons; former or current paid party managers ranging from constituency organisers to national party HQ positions. The interviewees all had extensive experience of managing volunteers and had commonly moved between different positions within the party over the cause of their political engagement as well as having experience of working in several parts of Britain. However, all interviewees were promised complete anonymity as a condition for their participation in the study, a condition required for reasons of research ethics. This blanket anonymity included not specifying the positions held by the interviewees at the time they carried out specific activities and also not specifying which party they were active in. As a consequence no details about individual interviewees can be provided and identifying details have been stripped out from illustrative direct quotes. A total of 19 formal interviews were carried out spread evenly over the three parties, supported and informed by dozens of informal conversations with political operators and activists. This is obviously a qualitative study, and not one designed to generate statistical conclusions. According to Kvale and Brinkmann (2009: 113) ‘in common interview studies, the number of interviews tends to be around 15 ± 10’. Part of the determining factor for how many interviews to conduct is the ‘point of saturation, where further interviews yield little new knowledge’ (p. 113). In the interview process for this book this point of
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saturation was reached after about a dozen interviews, an impression that was strengthened after a further half a dozen or so further interviews. Initial interviewees were identified through personal contacts generated during two decades of the author’s own activism and research. Further potential interviewees were identified by searching local party websites for people who were in positions of responsibility—and would by the very nature of their position in their party have an interest in and experience of volunteer activists. In addition, at the end of each interview the interviewee was asked if they could recommend others to talk to—i.e. a form of snowballing. Interviews were recorded with the interviewee’s consent and later transcribed. Interviews took place in person in various locations in London variously in cafés, pubs, offices and train stations, via Skype and via electronic messaging—all depending on the availability of the participants. The questions asked of the interviewees were based on what some of the key texts on volunteer incentives judged to be key factors in people becoming and staying active in politics (see below). These incentives were then used as ‘themes’ in the analysis (Bryman 2016: 584–9). Interviews were read several times and notes were made of what the interviewees were saying about their experience of using the different types of incentives in managing volunteers. These notes were categorised under headings related to the different incentives to provide an overall picture of what the interviewees were collective saying about their experience of recruiting and retaining volunteer activists. This collective picture is what will be presented in the following pages. In addition, the author of this book has participated in numerous campaign events for the three parties from which interviewees were drawn. No information will be used directly from those events as formal consent was not granted to use such information, but the experience was used to further underpin the conclusions drawn from the interviews. In addition, the author has seen and acquired a number of party campaign documents. These will sometimes be quoted from, but cannot always be fully referenced in order to protect the anonymity of the source. This book does not lay claim to any kind of ‘statistical generalisation’ (Kvale and Brinkmann 2009: 262). In addition, as a ‘small n’ qualitative study the book does not lay claim to the weighted statistical representativeness of ‘large n’ studies (see e.g. Bale et al. 2019a for that kind of approach). Rather, it reports the experience of a group of highly experienced campaigners drawn from three national parties, who
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have extensive practical knowledge of campaigning in a range of different context in various parts of the country, backed up by numerous informal conversations, fieldwork within the three parties, party documents and the wider academic literature. These experiences will be given a voice throughout the book by illustrative direct quotes from the interviewees to allow the reader to hear directly from the people involved in recruiting and retaining activists. Not all 19 interviews will be quoted directly as priority has been given to interviewees who captured aspects of the common themes found in the interviews particularly well.
Party Members and Volunteers It is important to clarify exactly what ‘category’ of people is being looked at in this book. Obviously, UK parties, and European parties generally, are heavily defined by having paid up ‘card-carrying’ party members. This contrasts with parties in the USA where formal party membership is less important. The focus in this book is not necessarily on such paid-up party members. Instead, the focus is on anyone, paid up member or not, who is actively supporting a party in their local campaigning. As is illustrated by the interview quotes in Box 1.3 party organisers are focussed more on people who are active and are much less concerned with whether they are paid up members. Box 1.3: In their own words—volunteers beyond the members
‘a lot of people who are our most useful and beneficial volunteers are people that we’ve signed up as ordinary supporters without paying any membership whatsoever. So from an organiser’s point of view, it doesn’t make any difference if you’re a member or a supporter; the difference is whether you are actually contributing’. (Interview 24/07) ‘[the parliamentary candidate] had virtually no members, a few people with membership cards. The rest would have been motivated over a period of two years to come on a big action day, the first big push to get a leaflet out. And they were supporters in the strictest sense, not members. […]I think now there is much more of a premium in reaching out to supporters. […] It is much more valuable to me to get someone who is willing to knock on doors than someone who is willing to pay [the membership fee]’. (Interview 06/04)
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‘It is nice to have members, but I would rather spend time generating more deliverers […] you get an immediate gain when you get an extra canvasser or an extra deliverer. An extra member is a little bit, yeah, that is a nice number but it does not have the same tangible benefit’. (Interview 11/07)
This is also reflected in the wider party politics literature. So, Scarrow (2014: 3) argues that ‘traditional formal membership is only one part of a portfolio of organizational options in which parties can invest when attempting to convert individual political interest into a partisan resource’ (see also e.g. Fisher et al. 2013). In other words, political participation is becoming ‘non-institutionalised’ (Hooghe and Kolln 2018: 3). In addition, a party campaign guide from 2015 seen by this author stated that ‘increasingly people who are not party members turn up to help at election times. Make sure your campaign office is open and welcoming and you have ways they can help immediately’. In advertising the Liberal Democrats’ Team 2015 a booklet said ‘if you’re new to the Party or not a member, then [joining Team 2015] is a great way to get involved’ (Liberal Democrats 2015). Part of the reason for this ‘non-institutionalisation’ of activism is related to the long-term decline in partisanship (see e.g. Diego et al. 2018; Pattie et al. 2018), which is accompanied by a matching decline in party membership numbers: ‘although some parties have recently managed (temporarily at least) to buck what is a long term, European wide, downward trend, others have struggled both to attract and to hold on to members’ (Bale et al. 2019a: 1). In short, notwithstanding fluctuations created by events or individuals, e.g. the Labour Party after both Tony Blair and Jeremy Corbyn became leader (see e.g. Whiteley et al. 2018) the long-term sustainability of which remains uncertain (Schofield 2019) formal party members is a shrinking recruitment pool. Parties have responded to the ‘increasingly individualised nature of citizen participation through the creation of more diverse membership and affiliation options, as well as the implementation of more individualised and ad hoc participatory opportunities that blur the distinction between party members and supporters’ (Gauja 2015: 240). If a non-member wants to support a party by volunteering to a greater or lesser degree it does not make sense to insist that they obtain formal
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party membership as a condition for being active: ‘it might be conceivable that an individual undertakes an activity without any intention of actually joining the political party – that is, he or she does so without any requisite associational motivation’ (Gauja 2015: 239). Further, it has been pointed out that a surge of members does not necessarily automatically mean more activists. As Gauja (2015: 239) writes ‘someone might join a political party based purely on motivational factors (such as an expression of support, or identification with a group, belief or class) that requires no further activity beyond the act of joining itself’. This is illustrated by one Labour councillor who reported that: ‘To be honest with you, when it comes to canvassing I haven’t seen much of a change. There’s a huge pool of young people out there and the party has doubled in size, but people are just not turning up’ (Reidy 2016). A parliamentary candidate said that he would get ‘abusive emails when he contacts new members. They’re generally along the lines of: “I just joined to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, stop f**king emailing me”’ (Reidy 2016). This is an issue that is not just related to new members, but a wider problem. Within the shrinking membership organisations, many are not active. Indeed, Bale et al. (2019b: 37) write that it ‘is a mistake to see the words “member” and “activist” as synonyms. Some 29% of SNP members admit they do absolutely nothing for their parties in the average month, a figure which rises to 39% for the Lib Dems, 41% for Labour, and 45% for the Tories’. This is not to say that a focus on recruiting volunteers rather than members is without downsides. In the long term, the party as an organisation still needs to function, and that requires local ‘officers’ (i.e. people to fill local branch offices), as well as candidates for public office (see Box 1.4). As mentioned above, not many parties would allow non-members to fulfil either of those roles. Box 1.4: In their own words—the continuing importance of members
‘There is a very big long term issue about say how does internal party democracy function if you do not have enough members to sort of fill all the posts […] If you want to be a council candidate, yes, you will have to join the party’. (Interview 11/07) ‘membership for us brings in revenue, it makes us a bigger [local party organisation], they get voting rights, they are more likely to stay involved so it is good to recruit members’. (Interview 08/07)
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In addition, even if only some party members are active, if you have more members you will also have more activists. 59% (i.e. taking out the 41% who admit they do nothing active for the party) of 500,000 members (Labour’s approximate membership in 2019) will give you more activists than 59% of 200,000 members (approximate Labour Party membership in 2014, numbers from Audickas et al. 2019: 8). This is also reflected in Bale et al. (2019a: 39) who, in the context of the 2017 election, commented that: If what members do for their parties does make a difference to how they do in elections, then Labour’s surprisingly impressive performance, at least in terms of share of the vote if not share of seats in the Commons, may well have been partly down to its huge advantage over the Tories in this [membership numbers] respect.
Incentives for Activism In order to understand how parties recruit and retain party activists it is important to first look at what drives people who are active in political parties. People do not become and stay active without some reason: ‘actors need incentives if they are to participate in politics’ (Seyd and Whiteley 2002: 90). Therefore, to both recruit and retain activists parties need to ‘reflect on what their activists want’ (Lees-Marshment et al. 2019: 120). There has been a fair amount of work on what those active in political parties say they want out of it—that is, what the incentives for activism are. Based on the work of Clark and Wilson (1961), Seyd and Whiteley (2002), Whiteley and Seyd (2002) and Bale et al. (2019a) this book will work with five types of incentives that will be explored below: • Purposive. • Solidary. • Outcome. • Group. • Social norms. Purposive incentives are perhaps the most obvious reason for becoming involved in politics—that is, a belief in the goals of the organisation, in this case the broad ideology and/or more specific policies of a political party. The principle factor that sets one party apart from another is
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the ideology it is based on and the policies it advocates at election time. Clark and Wilson (1961: 135) talk about this type of incentive being derived ‘from the stated aims of the association […] These inducements are to be found in the suprapersonal goals of the organisation’. Further, Seyd and Whiteley (2002) write that ‘individuals participate in politics in order to promote particular policies that they favour’. Gazley (2013: 1250) argues that belief in the organisation’s goals is important for reducing ‘volunteer churn’. Hidalgo and Moreno (2009: 596), Haski-Leventhal and Bargal (2008: 70) and Marta and Pozzi (2008: 37) argue that people often start volunteering for normative or ‘other focussed reasons’. Bale et al. (2019a: 79) also identify the desire ‘to oppose the policies of a rival party, or the power of a social or economic group’ as a motivating factor, what might be described as a ‘negative’ purposive incentive. However, regardless of whether it is to promote an ideology and/or a set of policies, or oppose them, this type of incentive relates to the key defining feature of a party as most notably found in election manifestos and often in the very name of the party (Labour, conservative, liberal). Solidary incentives are related to the enjoyment that comes from spending time with like-minded individuals who may even over time become friends. A belief in a set of goals may carry people through for a time. However, there is only so far that ideological fervour will carry a person. Once that fervour has burnt itself out, and it may never have been particularly strong to start with, what can still drive people is the social side of activism. Clark and Wilson (1961: 134–5) mention the ‘rewards of socialising, congeniality, the sense of group membership […] fun and conviviality’. Galindo-Kuhn and Guzley (2001: 48, 54) argue that volunteers find what they call ‘incidental outcomes’, such as friendships, of high importance, and that this solidary element then affects their decision to stay (or not as the case may be). The social aspect of volunteering, or social networks as they put it, is also identified as important for volunteer retention by Hidalgo and Moreno (2009: 596, 599). Likewise, Sakaduski (2013: 130) talks about the importance of team spirit. Finally, Webb et al. (2020: 264) find that ‘social network effects stand out as the most consistently significant drivers of campaigning’. Outcome incentives are related to specific personal gains to be had from being active in a political party. By definition volunteers are not paid, so we are not talking about direct monetary benefits, although that can ultimately form part of outcome incentives. However, the essence
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of outcome incentives is the desire for personal political advancement. So, Whiteley and Seyd (2002: 52) write that: One of the distinctive features of political parties is that they are vehicles for achieving elected office, something that is generally not true of protest groups or lobbying organizations. Thus elected representatives have to serve an apprenticeship within their party organization before they can be chosen for elected office. From this perspective activism can be regarded as an investment that must be made if the individual has ambitions to develop a future career in politics.
Webb et al. (2020: 264) also note that the more personal political advancement matters to an individual ‘the greater his or her willingness to undertake high-intensity activity’. Group incentives refer to the extent to which activism appears to be making a difference—that individually or collectively activism has practical meaning. As Seyd and Whiteley (2002: 92) ‘members participate because they feel part of a successful organization’. Participation efficacy is also identified by Galindo-Kuhn and Guzley (2001: 53) as being important for deciding whether or not to stay, i.e. volunteers want to feel that what they do makes a difference. Sakaduski (2013: 137–8) argues that a sense of achievement is important to keep people going. Similarly, McCurley and Lynch (2005: 15–6) argue that not wasting volunteers’ time is important for their retention. They need to feel that they are achieving something with the time investment. This then involves organizational efficiency and a sense of success. Stressing the ‘feel part of’ part of the quote above group incentives also involve making the best use of people and their individual skills and giving them a sense of control over what they are doing, so that they are not just a cog in a machine, but, if they desire, has influence on and a stake in what the party is doing. If people are simply told what to do, without some responsiveness to what their activism involves they are less likely to keep going. So, Seyd and Whiteley (2002: 158) concluded that there was a correlation between high-levels of activism and a wish for more active membership participation in policymaking. Further, Pettitt (2012: 148) argues that ‘a democratic process of product design is the incentive system most likely to […] generate sustainable local party activism’. In addition, Labour MP Angela Rayner (2020: 6) wrote: ‘our new approach must be at its very core activist-led and activist-centred’.
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Finally, we have social norms. Seyd and Whiteley (2002: 93) defined this as ‘the influence of other people on the individual’s willingness to participate’. They chiefly see this as being about being asked by a significant other, e.g. a spouse or a parent. However, in the context of this book, social norms will be extended to being asked personally by someone else. Pack and Maxfield (2016) write of the importance of ‘giving people proper attention when asking for help. Even if your approach is not face-to-face, people can still tell the difference between an off-hand, quick email, phone call or letter asking for help and one that has some care and attention given to it’. So, social norms relate to the importance of individual one-to-one attention when recruiting and retaining activists.
How to Recruit and Retain Activists The purpose of this book is to provide a guide to successful recruitment and retention of party activists, based on the practical experience of those directly involved with activists on the ground as well as insight from the wider literature. The general lessons and principles contained in this book are derived from people involved with recruiting and retaining activists in The Labour Party, The Conservative Party, and the Liberal Democrats. In analysing the interviews, and during on-the- doorstep carried out by the author in these three parties, there was never any indication that the basic ways in which people are recruited into activism and kept going varied in fundamental ways between the parties. As will be seen in the following chapters a key lesson to be taken away from this book is to recognise and utilise the fact that we are dealing with people. There are common, basic human needs and wants that at times facilitate and at times limit the ability of parties to recruit and retain activists. These basic human wants and needs do not vary systematically between the three parties. This also means that the lessons found in this book can be applied to activism in other parties. Having said that, there is clearly a great deal of variation in the organisational culture, not only between different parties, but also within them depending on where in the country we are looking. In addition, as research on party members, e.g. Bale et al. (2019a), has shown, there are considerable sociodemographic and attitudinal variations between different parties. So, although the lessons from this book are widely applicable, it is also important to recognise that volunteer management
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needs to be carried out based on a comprehensive knowledge of conditions on the ground in each area where campaigning takes place. Just as the contents of electoral campaigns need to be adapted based on good market research and segmentation (see e.g. Lees-Marshment et al. 2019: 53–85) so volunteer management need to be adapted to take account of the variations in the human element that is the foundation of political activism. Although there are general principles and lessons to be learnt about how to manage volunteers, dealing with people remains a messy and complicated business. Chapter 2 will explore the process of recruitment and Chapter 3 will explore retention. Chapters 2 and 3 can be read independently of each other depending on whether the reader’s interest is primarily recruitment or retention. So, Chapters 2 and 3 will each conclude with a practical stand-alone guide for their specific focus based on the materials presented in each chapter. Chapter 4 will provide an overall guide to the whole process of both recruitment and retention.
References Allin-Khan, Rosena. 2020. Grassroots Revival: Campaign Action Plan. London: Rosena for Deputy Leader. Audickas, Lukas, Noel Dempsey, and Philip Loft. 2019. Membership of UK Political Parties. House of Commons Library, Briefing Paper Number SN05125, August 9. Bale, Tim, Paul Webb, and Monica Poletti. 2019a. Footsoldiers: Political Party Membership in the 21st Century. Abingdon: Routledge. Bale, Tim, Paul Webb, and Monica Poletti. 2019b. Grassroots: Britain’s Party Members—Who They Are, What They Think, and What They Do. Mile End Institute, Queen Mary—University of London. Bryman, Alan. 2016. Social Research Methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Clark, Peter, and James Wilson. 1961. Incentive Systems: A Theory of Organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly 6 (2): 129–166. Culhane, Leah, and Jemima Olchawski. 2018. Strategies for Success: Women’s Experiences of Selection and Election in the UK Parliament. London: Fawcett Society. Diego, Garzia, Frederico Ferreira Da Silva, and Andrea De Angelis. 2018. Partisan Dealignment and the Personalization of Politics in West European Parliamentary Democracies, 1961–2016. CSD Working Papers, University of California, Irvine.
18 R. T. PETTITT Dommett, Katharine, and Sam Power. 2019. The Political Economy of Facebook Advertising: Election Spending and Targeting Online. The Political Quarterly 90 (2): 257–265. Farrell, David M. 1996. Campaign Strategies and Tactivs. In Comparing Democracies: Elections and Voting in Global Perspective, ed. Lawrence Leduc, Richard Niemi, and Pippa Norris, 156–181. Thousand Oaks: Sage. Farrell, David M., and Paul Webb. 2002. Political Parties as Campaign Organizations. In Parties Without Partisans: Political Change in Advanced Industrial Democracies, ed. Russel Falton and Martin Wattenberg, 102–128. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Fisher, Justin, David Denver, Edward Fieldhouse, David Cutts, and Andrew Russell. 2005. Constituency Campaigning in the 2005 British General Election. Paper prepared for the Annual Conference of the PSA Specialist Group on Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, Essex, September. Fisher, Justin, Edward Fieldhouse, and David Cutts. 2013. Members Are Not the Only Fruit: Volunteer Activity in British Political Parties at the 2010 General Election. British Journal of Politics and International Relations 16 (1): 75–95. Galindo-Kuhn, Roseanna, and Ruth H. Guzley. 2001. The Volunteer Satisfaction Index: Construct Definition, Measurement, Development and Validation. Journal of Social Services Research 28 (1): 45–68. Gauja, Anika. 2015. The Construction of Party Membership. European Journal of Political Research 54: 232–248. Gazley, Beth. 2013. Predicting a Volunteer’s Future Intentions in Professional Associations: A Test of the Penner Model. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 42 (6): 1245–1267. Haski-Leventhal, Debbie, and David Bargal. 2008. The Volunteer Stages and Transitions Model: Organizational Socialization of Volunteers. Human Relations 61 (1): 67–102. Hidalgo, M. Carmen, and Pilar Moreno. 2009. Organizational Socialization of Volunteers: The Effect on Their Intention to Remain. Journal of Community Psychology 37 (5): 594–601. Hooghe, Marc, and Ann-Kristin Kolln. 2018. Types of Party Affiliation and the Multi-Speed Party: What Kind of Party Support Is Functionally Equivalent to Party Membership? Party Politics, Online first. Krishnamurty, Paul. 2019. Peterborough By-Election Betting: Brexit Party to Hammer Divided Opponents Again. https://betting.betfair.com/politics/ uk-politics/peterborough-by-election-betting-and-analysis-050619-171.html. Accessed 6 March 2019. Kvale, Steinar, and Svend Brinkmann. 2009. InterViews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing. London: Sage.
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Lees-Marshment, Brian Conley, Edward Elder, Robin Pettitt, Vincent Raynauld, and Andre Turcotte. 2019. Political Marketing: Principles and Applications. London: Routledge. Liberal Democrats. 2015. You’re About to Be the Difference. London: Liberal Democrats. Marta, Elena, and Maura Pozzi. 2008. Young People and Volunteerism: A Model of Sustained Volunteerism During the Transition to Adulthood. Journal of Adult Development 15: 35–46. McCurley, Steve, and Rick Lynch. 2005. Keeping Volunteers: AS Guide to Retention. New York: Organizational Development Institute. Nielsen, Rasmum. 2012. Ground Wars: Personalized Communication in Political Campaigns. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Norris, P. 2002. Campaign Communications. In Comparing Democracies 2, ed. L. Le Duc, R. Niemi, and P. Norris, 127–147. London: Sage. Ongweso, Edward. 2019. This Tool Lets You See Facebook’s Targeted Political Adds All Over the World. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/pa7edb/this-toollets-you-see-facebooks-targeted-political-ads-all-over-the-world. Accessed 06 March 2020. Pack, Mark, and Edward Maxfield. 2016. 101 Ways to Win and Election. London: Biteback Publishing. Pattie, Charles, Todd Hartman, and Ron Johnston. 2018. A Close-Run Thing? Accounting for Changing Overall Turnout in UK General Elections. Representation: Journal of Representative Democracy 55 (1): 101–116. Pettitt, Robin T. 2012. Internal Party Political Relationship Marketing: Encouraging Activism Amongst Local Party Members. In Routledge Handbook of Political Marketing, ed. Jennifer Lees-Marshment. Abingdon: Routledge. Pettitt, Robin T. 2014. Contemporary Party Politics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Plouffe, David. 2009. The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory. London: Viking Penguin. Rayner, Angela. 2020. Manifesto for a Movement. Manchester: Angela Rayner Campaign. Reidy, Tess. 2016. ‘People are Just not Turning up’—Why Labour’s New Members aren’t Engaging with the Party. https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/xd37ya/ whats-happened-to-all-the-new-labour-party-members-corbyn, 6 March 2020. Ribeiro, Filipe, Koustuv Saha, Mahmoudreza Babaei, Lucas Henrique, Jonathan Messias, Fabricio Benevenuto, Oana Goga, Krishna P. Gummadi, and Elissa M. Redmiles. 2019. On Microtargeting Socially Divisive Ads: A Case Study of Russia-Linked Ad Campaigns on Facebook. In Proceedings of the Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency, 140–149. Roberts, Markus. 2014. Labour’s Next Majority: A Constituency Guide. London: Fabian Society.
20 R. T. PETTITT Sabbagh, Dan. 2019. Labour’s Ground Game Helps Secure Coup in Peterborough. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jun/07/labour-groundgame-peterborough-byelection-analysis. Accessed 6 March 2019. Sakaduski, Nancy. 2013. Managing Volunteers: How to Maximise Your Most Valuable Resource. Santa Barbara: Praeger. Scarrow, Susan E. 1996. Parties and Their Members: Organizing for Victory in Britain and Germany. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Scarrow, Susan E. 2014. Beyond Party Members: Changing Approaches to Partisan Mobilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Schofield, Kevin. 2019. Labour Membership Dips Below Half a Mission as Tens of Thousands Leave the Party. https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/ political-parties/labour-party/news/105507/excl-labour-membership-dipsbelow-half-million. Accessed 6 March 2020. Seyd, Patrick, and Paul Whiteley. 1992. Labour’s Grass Roots: The Politics of Party Membership. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Seyd, Patrick, and Paul Whiteley. 2002. New Labour’s Grassroots. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Seyd, Patrick, and Paul Whiteley. 2004. British Party Member: An Overview. Party Politics 10 (4): 355–366. Simpson, Dick, and Leah O’Shaughnessy. 2016. Winning Elections in the 21st Century. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press. Webb, Paul, Tim Bale, and Minica Poletti. 2020. Social Networkers and Careerists: Explaining High-Intensity Activism among British Party Members. International Political Science Review 41 (2): 255–270. Whiteley, Paul, and Patrick Seyd. 2002. High-Intensity Participation: The Dynamics of Party Activism in Britain. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Whiteley, Paul, Monica Poletti, Paul Webb, and Tim Bale. 2018. Oh Jeremy Corbyn! Why Did Labour Party Membership Soar After the 2015 General Election? The British Journal of Politics and International Relations 21 (1): 80–98.
Abstract This chapter will first explore how potential activists are identified. It will then look at the process of moving someone from would be to actual activist, stressing the importance of making it a gradual and well-supported journey. The chapter will end by summarising the key elements of recruitment. Keywords Recruitment · Potential activists · Social action Party members · Personal touch · First impressions
Introduction It was established in the previous chapter that volunteer activists can play a crucial part in improving a party’s support amongst the electorate. However, the question then is how to build up a ‘volunteer army’ sufficiently large to make a difference. That will be the focus of this chapter. For the purpose of this chapter, an activist will be seen as ‘recruited’ if they have participated in more than one campaign session, i.e. they need to have experienced campaigning for the party and not been scared off by that initial experience. In other words, this chapter will focus on how potential activists are identified; once identified how they are then persuaded to attend their first campaign session; and finally, how they should be received at their first session to maximise the chances of © The Author(s) 2020 R. T. Pettitt, Recruiting and Retaining Party Activists, Palgrave Studies in Political Marketing and Management, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-47842-1_2
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them returning for a second one. What happens beyond that will be the subject of Chapter 3. This chapter will first explore how potential activists are identified. It will then look at the process of moving someone from would be to actual activist, stressing the importance of making it a gradual and well-supported journey. The chapter will end by summarising the key elements of recruitment.
Identifying Potential Activists It is true that every party will have a number of activists who do not need to be identified and then recruited. For various reasons some people ‘self recruit’ as activists and will turn up without needing to be encouraged to do so.1 However, there are two problems with relying exclusively on such people. The first is that it is very unlikely that this category of self-recruited activists will be sufficient to provide enough of an ‘army’. Indeed, one Labour Party document seen by the author of this book from the lead up to the 2017 election, i.e. in the midst of the ‘Corbyn surge’, stated the urgent need to recruit volunteer activists—this in the context of rapidly increasing membership numbers. The second problem is with the kinds of people who are sufficiently enthusiastic to self-recruit. Some doubts about the nature of this kind of activist were expressed in the interviews conducted for this book (see Box 2.1). Box 2.1: In their own words—the nature of ‘self-recruiters’
‘Nearly every [local branch] I have been a member of is full of weirdoes and strange people and I am probably one of them, and everybody probably feels that everybody else if weird. But yeah, very strange collection of individuals and ehm that can obviously put people off’. (Interview 22/06) ‘You know if I was to move to the other end of the country I would join the local [branch of my party], I would do whatever was needed – I am not normal’. (Interview 09/08)
author of this book used to be in that category.
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‘There is also this issue, I don’t quite understand why, but a surprisingly large number of political activists, you know councillors etc. are… not… that … outgoing, charismatic, sociable’. (Interview 11/07) ‘Politics is probably an odd career choice’. (Interview 23/07) ‘There is this slightly odd thing about the number of almost anti-social people who end up being councillors’. (Interview 11/07)
The idea that party members, especially those that are active, are not quite like the population at large has a very long history. Sidney Webb is quoted as saying that the Labour Party was made up of ‘groups of nonentities dominated by fanatics, cranks and extremists’ (Pettitt 2014: 130). Commenting on his own party the Conservative politician Hugh Cecil (1912: 238) described local branches as ‘knots of vehement, uncompromising and unbalanced men [sic]’. According to Seyd (1999: 388) Neil Kinnock and John Smith viewed the party’s activists, the ‘assiduous attenders of branch and constituency meetings’, as being ‘unrepresentative’. This idea is most elegantly captured by May’s (1973) ‘law of curvilinear disparity’ which argues that the middle levels of party organisations, the activists, are more radical than both the party’s top and its electoral base. Whilst May’s ‘Law’ has not always found strong support in empirical data (see e.g. Pettitt 2014: 132) the idea of the most committed members being potentially off-putting to less committed supporters clearly has a long and ongoing history. Quite apart from the issue of sheer numbers, it therefore seems wise to expand the activists ‘gene pool’ beyond the ‘self-recruiters’. As McCurley and Lynch (2005: 8) argue ‘organisations that rely on the same volunteers over extended periods of time tend to produce a “cloning” effect, ending with volunteers who are extremely homogenous’ which in turn can put off new volunteers. The first step in expanding beyond the ‘self-recruiters’ is to identify potential activists— people who might become active if only found and proactively recruited. The question is then how parties identify these potential activists. One source is obviously existing inactive members. These people have already shown some level of interest in the party by joining and the local party organisation will have their contact details. As Bale et al. (2019: 100) showed, 32% of members of the six largest parties in the UK delivered
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leaflets in the 2017 election, and 21% canvassed in the same election. That means that there is still a sizable pool of potential activists amongst the membership (although as we saw in Chapter 1 for some merely joining a party may be the limit of their commitment). These inactive members then need to be brought from inactive membership to active membership. How that can be done will be discussed later in the chapter. However, before looking at how to move people, whether inactive members or non-members, from potential to actual activist this section will look at how potential activists beyond the membership list might be identified. The interviews show, probably unsurprisingly, that what recruiters rely on is Purposive incentives (i.e. ideological commitment to a party, as outlined in Chapter 1) to identify those who might be persuaded into active participation (see Box 2.2). Box 2.2: In their own words—identifying potential activists
‘for the four-year run up to a general election you do need to identify people, and you normally identify them by knocking on their door and finding out if they’re an engaged [interviewee’s party] voter’. (Interview 25/06) ‘I think in identifying them you’re looking for people who share your values or feel particularly strongly over issues that you yourself or your local campaign are on […] we do lots of single issue petitions, which is finding people who share our values about those issues and are passionate about those issues’. (Interview 26/07) ‘Some of that comes from starting with delivering leaflets, but a lot of if often comes from you are already in some way active in the community, so you get picked up by a local […] party looking for a councillor in a ward that it maybe hopes to win “actually that resident association chair voted for us in the General Election four years ago”’. (Interview 11/07) ‘So, sometimes you will knock on someone’s door and say “hi, do you vote [interviewee’s party]?”, and they say “yeah, I vote [interviewee’s party], I am a strong supporter”. At that point I would always encourage people to, well “have you ever thought about being a bit more involved in the party”’. (Interview 31/07)
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‘we also identify people who are active in the community, check how they vote, sometimes we find them to be potential candidates, thinking these people really do a lot for the local community, and they vote for us, so even though they are not being politically active’. (Interview 12/07) ‘[the organisers] the party have recruited aren’t given canvassing targets to hit. They are given ‘conversation’ targets where they need to talk to a certain number of members, supporters and community figures/stakeholders to try and recruit activists for the Party’s campaigns’. (Interview 04/03)
The sensible idea of seeing regular, but inactive, supporters as a key recruiting ground for activists shines through very clearly here. Indeed, unsurprisingly, Gauja and Gromping (2019: 7) found that voters who express strong support for a party, but are not necessarily members, show a vastly greater propensity to be willing to volunteer for ‘their’ party than the ‘non-committed’. It is also worth noting the idea of trying to recruit people who are already active in the local community, who supports a specific party, by attempting to direct their existing activism in the direction of your party. Finally, for local paid organisers to have activist recruitment targets rather than canvassing targets also makes sense. On the role of local campaigning Johnston et al. (2016: 53) write that the: ‘main purpose of a local party’s campaign is to identify individuals likely to vote for its candidate, and then try to ensure that they turn out and do so’. However, the above quotes show that whilst canvassing’s key goal is to identify ‘your’ voters for Get Out The Vote attention on polling day, it also serves as a way to identify those who may be willing to go beyond merely voting for the party. In other words, not only is door-to-door grassroots campaigning important in garnering votes—it can also be used to perpetuate itself. Another way to identify (and partially at the same time recruit) is social action activities. This is essentially about targeting people who might be interested in being, or are, active in the local community and draw them into party political activism. This is already partly reflected in Box 2.2 where community activists who are already party supporters are targeted. Identifying potential activists through social action events is linked, but takes a slightly different path by using social activism events to ‘flush out’ potential activists (see Box 2.3 for an explanation).
26 R. T. PETTITT Box 2.3: In their own words—using social action to identify potential activists
‘One of the things we did at constituency level was organise social action events – litter pickings is easy and obvious. Community oriented events that had no party branding other than being led by a […] Party campaigner, [an] […] MP seeking re-election. By approaching someone who is likely to be supportive and say “I am community minded, I am the local campaigner and I want to organise a litter picking on Saturday in three weeks’ time for an hour, will you join me?” You will get a free t-shirt, that sort of thing. It is cheap as chips. “Will you join?” Yes, of course you would, you are a community minded sort of person, picking litter up is not going to do any harm. “Great, can I have your email address, I will let you know the meeting plan.” I can then build up a huge database of people who are community minded and likely to be supportive’. (Interview 06/04)
This is also reflected in a party document seen by this author, which encourages the use of local community organising to both identify potential activists, and recruit them. The document details an event supported by local party organisers, but run by local politically interested young people. The event had the party’s brand on it, and party political materials were distributed at the event, but was ostensibly a locally run social event. The document further describes how several of the people who organised the event, and some of those who attended subsequently set up a youth branch of the party and came out to campaign for the party. In this case, local community organising served as both a way to identify and then recruit activists.
From Potential to Actual Activist Having considered how potential activists are identified, whether through their joining the party, being regular voters or tempted out by social action, we need to consider the next step of the process—i.e. how potential activists, once identified, are then turned into actual activists. That will be the focus of this section.
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Three things stand out from the data. One is that the initial move to encourage the potential activist is best done in person; the second is that moving from potential to actual activist is a journey, not an event; finally, that how the potential activist is received on their first encounter with the party is important to ensure that the person in question will come back a second time and beyond. Box 2.4 illustrates the importance that the interviewees placed on one-to-one recruitment, i.e. what was referred to as ‘social norms’ incentives in Chapter 1. Box 2.4: In their own words—personal touch recruiting
‘when I began the job […] I spent the first two months phoning through the membership every single week, so that was 250 members ever week, just to try and build up relationships with people, and people that you have those relationships with, three years down the line, ended up going and bending over backwards, even when in previous elections they had essentially gone on strike, to use their phrase’. (Interview 24/07) ‘When I came over to [new constituency] I asked someone who lived there if they knew who to speak to to get involved and instantly the local councillor phoned up to say “great to hear you are moving here (I had not even moved yet). As soon as you have moved here we will meet up.” He drove around to my house, knocked on the door, said well, we were going to go canvassing, but it is raining a bit, so let’s just go to the pub. He bought me a couple of drinks and I was his then’. (Interview 22/06) ‘I would say that the majority of the people, who come and help us, help us because we personally made contact with them’. (Interview 31/07) ‘The main problem for people engaging in politics, is that for most people it is something we feel we have to be asked to do or be invited to do or be accepted’. (Interview 09/08) ‘The main thing with recruiting activists is always face-to-face, we always do that face-to-face’. (Interview 12/07)
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As can be seen the interviewees stressed the power of a personal touch in asking potential activists to increase their engagement with the party. This is also reflected in the wider literature—so, The Young Foundation reported that ‘people who volunteer often do so because they have been asked’ (Young Foundation 2010: 7; see also Brodie et al. 2009: 29). The second thing to emerge from the interviews is that, as has been mentioned above, getting people to be active is very much a journey, which as we shall see, continues into ongoing activism. Recruiting someone as an activist is worthless if they drop out very soon after having become active. However, that journey will not even start if the initial steps are not done right by the recruiter. As can be seen from Box 2.5 moving someone from being a potential activist to an actual activist can be a delicate process. Box 2.5: In their own words—from potential to actual activist
‘When you do find a [supporter], you don’t just leave it there, you take it beyond there to, “Are you always [supporting us]?” “Yes.” “Are you willing to do something else? Have you ever thought about coming to a social event?”’ (Interview 25/06) ‘it would also by extension be almost on a walk way though to support. So by that I mean, somebody is very unlikely to receive a knock at 10 am on a Saturday morning and then by 10am the following Saturday be out knocking on doors. It is bit of a journey. So, I would typically […] write a letter to someone we think might be supportive and ask them to do something small. So, ask them, “will you give us your email address?”. […] Once I have written you an email we can have a correspondence. Once we have had a correspondence I can get you along to fund raising event for free […]I am going to say, this person is like you, this person is actually amenable, has some personality, which is not a given, and I am going to get them to talk to you about being involved in the party. And then I would probably going to get you out on a canvas session. So, that would be the journey. So, there are lots of steps’. (Interview 06/04) ‘At that point I would always encourage people to, “well have you ever thought about being a bit more involved in the party.” I mean the majority of the time people will go, “oh, well, I am just a voter”, but there are occasions where people will say, “yeah, I am
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very interested in, yeah, I could do, how would I get involved?” So, at that point I would probably say, “well there is an event happening in a couple of weeks’ time. How about you come along to that?”, So, the majority of the people who help us the most are also the people who come to most of our events – mostly social events’. (Interview 31/07)
It is also very clear from Box 2.5 that after the initial one-to-one conversation, the first organised event seen as most likely to result in moving a potential activist to actual activism, is social, rather than actual campaigning. Hence, generally speaking, the move is not from ‘interested’ to ‘campaigning’. It is from ‘interested’, via ‘come have a look, socialise, meet some people’, and then, hopefully, if the middle step of socialising has gone well, to ‘campaigning’. This shows the importance of solidary incentives when the potential activist is introduced to the wider local party and the people they would actually be campaigning with. However, for that to work, that middle step, the socialising and meeting people must go well. This is obviously rather tricky and unpredictable. People’s personal interactions are not easy to control. As was said in Box 2.5 ‘this person is like you, this person is actually amenable, has some personality, which is not a given [emphasis added]’. This is also compounded by the comments above in Box 2.1 and after about local parties being dominated by ‘weirdoes and strange people’, ‘fanatics, cranks and extremists’, and ‘knots of vehement, uncompromising and unbalanced men’. This is obviously far from entirely fair. Yet, there is an element of truth in those statements and that can be a risk factor in the context of recruiting new activists. If a potential new activist is cornered by one of the ‘weirdo’, ‘strange’, ‘fanatic’ ‘vehement, uncompromising and unbalanced’ people that do occasionally appear in local party branches at their first encounter with the wider party they are probably much less likely to come back to any other events—let alone for any campaigning. One local organiser commented that if someone expressed an interest in getting more involved the organiser would make sure to speak to the potential activist in person because ‘I know that if I do it, it will be done properly, that they will get the right first—the first impression is so important’ (Interview 08/07). This may sound a little dismissive of other people in the local area, but shows the importance one campaigning professional attached to getting the first encounter
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right, in this case the one-to-one conversation, but by logical extension, also the first organised event where the potential activist gets to meet the wider party. The interviewees had a number of things to say about that first social event the potential activist attends, and how to make sure it goes right and how it might go wrong. Box 2.6 shows some of the things that can be done to help the first encounter go well. Box 2.6: In their own words—ensuring a good first social encounter
‘it’s just a gathering of people of a certain age in a particular pub on a regular day of the month. There are usually people who will be happy to bring a mate along to kind of, “Come do this fun drinks with me in [place].” And it stays, then, very loose and provides a base from which we can have conversations with people as, “By the way I’m a candidate,” or “By the way I’m an agent, are you interested in being more involved?”’. (Interview 25/06) ‘I would [say], come to the [name of pub], it is a nice pub, centrally located, come have a chat with me and a few other people, in a nice pub. The reason for doing it as drinks rather than dinner is that if I turn up and I don’t like it, I can get out of here. […] Drinks are always the easy way to keep in touch with people. People might turn up and say “I only have a 20m minutes” and then still be there three hours later. It is a coded way of saying “I am not fully committed yet”. You probably have the same with dating, speed dating. So, having drinks allows an opportunity to keep in touch […] you can engineer situations where people are introduced to people who are like them. It works for fundraisers too. Don’t put an ordinary person at the same table as a [specific type of niche supporter]. Put the [specific type of niche supporter] with other [specific type of niche supporter]. What I would do then is sit you next to some who is like you’. (Interview 06/04)
There are two key lessons from Box 2.6. One is that when dealing with someone who is not yet fully committed to investing their time in being active in the party, it is advisable to make their first encounter with the party one where they have control over how long they will hang around,
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i.e. going to a dinner is a multi-hour commitment that may be difficult to cut short if the person is not enjoying the situation. Many people would not doubt worry about being seen as rude if they walked out part way through a sit-down meal. That means that the potential activist may decide not to bother in the first place—or may be compelled to stay beyond the point where they feel they are getting something out of it, which then might make it less likely for them to come again. Hence, the recommendation to invite a potential activist to something more casual and with a relatively small built-in minimum time commitment, i.e. ‘a drink’ in a pub. The second is that like-mindedness is important. This might seem curious since we are talking about people who support the same party—there seems to be like-mindedness built into the very foundations of that situation. However, anyone who has even a passing knowledge of the internal life of political parties at the membership level will know that even smaller parties, let alone the big tents of the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, are riven with factions and are collections of people from often very different backgrounds and with an often wide range of ideological views (see e.g. Pettitt 2018). So, one party organiser commented that: [The] party put me off straight away when I first joined […] it was a garden party which new members were encouraged to and […] they were playing [game] and I was just thinking I don’t like this at all, this is not what I thought the […] party was. I feel excluded, […] I feel I have nothing in common with these people. I mean, I didn’t come back again, didn’t get involved. (Interview 22/06)
In addition, during some of the internal fights over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership one Labour Party member wrote of her experience at one local meeting: The people in that room were shouting and screaming at Thangam, the Chair, and anyone with an opposing view as if they were shouting at Cameron on a protest march […]The atmosphere was absolutely toxic, and for the first time in my dealings with the Bristol Labour Party I felt threatened […] The man next to me then pounced on me, telling me that “your lot” are trying to oust Corbyn. He called me a traitor and a conspirator […] he continued to patronise me and shout me down […] At the end of the meeting I stepped outside with a good friend who is one of the most dedicated campaigners I have ever met […]He was in tears and so was I. (Davies 2016)
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Clearly, if that is how existing members and activists feel after a meeting, it is extremely unlikely that any newcomer will want to come back for more. It is obviously difficult to guarantee that a new potential activist will meet like-minded people. However, it is clearly worthwhile considering the kind of impression any gathering will give to a new potential activist. This also brings us to the kind of things that ideally should be avoided at the initial encounter between the potential activist and the wider party. Examples from the interviews can be seen in Box 2.7. Box 2.7: In their own words—bad first encounters
‘What I am not going to do [at the first social event], this happened to my wife, is sit you next to some ghastly awful [highly unflattering stereotype of party member] who is going to talk over you, talk down to you’. (Interview 06/04) ‘no one wants to go to branch meetings basically, or meetings where they talk about the agenda for the first 35 minutes, and they don’t have any active involvement or engagement. People join things because they believe in political causes, they don’t want to basically have a dry experience of it […] 15 minutes into meetings, you’re still arguing about the fact that there was an “i” on the minutes of the meeting that wasn’t dotted, and there was a “t” that wasn’t crossed, then you’re dead in the water in terms of recruiting new people’. (Interview 18/07) ‘it is so simple, it is being ignored, that happens quite a lot. Some people are not too interested in new members and yeah, forget to include them in correspondence […] So, you are being ignored virtually, and then ignored when they turn up to events. They might be too shy to introduce themselves, but we are not proactive. Same at meetings. They are just left to wander in and out and sitting in the meeting without anybody saying anything to them’. (Interview 22/06) ‘like [name of activist] the other day I had a chat with [them], one of our officers had a chat with [them], the ward chairman had a chat with [them], [they] turned up to the annual general meeting and nobody, nobody talked to [them], which was the first one [they] ever came to and [they] said ‘no one made any effort to get to know me’ and I thought ‘oh god’ […] – that sort of thing should never be allowed to happen’. (Interview 08/07)
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The first point in Box 2.7 (‘some ghastly awful’) links back to Box 2.1 about the ‘cranks’ existing in any organisation and trying to insulate potential activist from them—at least until the activist has become sufficiently embedded in the party to join the ‘normals’ in rolling their eyes at the ‘weirdos’ in a ‘there they go again’ kind of way. Obviously, ‘ghastly awful’ will differ from person to person. One person’s ‘ghastly awful’ will be another person’s ‘sayin’ it as it is’, so to manage that element of recruitment will always be tricky. The second thing from Box 2.7 is the nature of the first encounter between the potential activist and the wider party. As was already shown in Box 2.6 a social occasion is a good place to start, and ideally one where the minimum time commitment is low. Conversely, a bad first encounter, unless we are talking about a very particular kind of person, is a formal agenda-driven meeting. A potential activist who turns up to a formal meeting where everything is focussed around the minutia of the (contested) agenda and minutes is unlikely to be particularly motivating for future attendance. This is backed up by MP Allin-Khan (2020: 4) who writes that ‘we can ensure party democracy and due process are followed while making [local meetings] a more enjoyable experience. For example, some CLPs still spend 45 mins arguing about the minutes of the last meeting - which turns off new members. We need to streamline the procedural stuff’. Fellow MP Rayner likewise writes that ‘too often, modern day Labour is standing orders and minutes. We’re a movement, not a meeting’ (Rayner 2020: 1). Finally, and perhaps the most obvious, but seemingly also easily forgotten, is how the potential activist is received at their first encounter. It has been pointed out that ‘having conversations with new people is rarely easy’ (Boothby et al. 2018: 1742) and that people have a tendency to be overly negative about how others feel about them after a first encounter. In addition: social situations are sometimes uncomfortable and hinder feelings of ease and connection. For example, when people fear judgment, they show signs of unease and isolation during social interactions, they express less warmth and interest, self-disclose less, say fewer words, and interpret interaction partners as more negative. (Canevello and Crocker 2017: 158).
Further, there is an ongoing debate in psychology about how easily ‘first impressions’ can be overturned (see e.g. Mann and Ferguson 2015;
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Brannon and Gawronski 2017; Ferguson et al. 2019). There seems to be evidence that a negative first impression can be changed, although only under certain circumstances. In addition, it is reasonable to assume that a negative first impression makes a second impression, and with that an opportunity to re-evaluate that negative first impression, much less likely. Hence the comment in Box 2.7 ‘oh god, that sort of thing [newcomer being ignored] should never be allowed to happen’. In short, basic human friendliness towards newcomers is an important resource, and will be critical in developing long-term activism. However, that resource can also be scarce in many organisations, political party and otherwise. In previous decades this lack of enthusiasm for newcomers was exemplified by the reports that would-be new members of the Labour Party were refused membership because their local branch was ‘full up’ (Collins 2014). Although this no longer seems to happen, it still suggests a long-standing culture of weariness about newcomers. Indeed, one politically motivated individual trying to join the Conservative Party in 2018 reported being invited to attend an interview with the local branch chair to ‘confirm your membership’ and being told that it was to filter would-be new members (personal correspondence). Conditions and suspicion is perhaps not the best way to integrate a newcomer into an organisation. A Labour councillor in London is reported as saying: There are a lot of hostile comments in meetings about new members all being useless. I don’t think there would have been an absolute flood of new active members anyway, but I have seen local party officers being less than welcoming. Branch members have cosy arrangements. They know all the people who turn up for meeting and they are guaranteed to keep their position year after year. They don’t want that upset by newcomers. Some local branch officers have been completely stonewalling, others have been making it difficult for new members to get involved. (Reidy 2016)
Although some of the problems reported in Box 2.7 are down to disinterest or inattention rather than outright suspicion towards newcomers, either would have a negative impact on the likelihood of a potential activist returning for a second party organisational event, let alone becoming active. Another factor that was mentioned in interviews that can be used to draw people in is the opportunity to meet ‘Big Names’ in the party,
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or ‘sprinkle a little stardust with campaign VIPs’ as Pack and Maxfield (2016: 90) write. Box 2.8 provides more detail. Box 2.8: In their own words—using big names in recruiting
‘When we had a shadow minister […] visit a target seat I would use that visit to motivate turn out for a campaign session. So, let’s say I had [Cabinet level MP] in [seat] for a target seat for the […] general election I would use that as a carrot “come meet [Cabinet level minister], come knocking doors with [Cabinet level minister]” We had 70 people turn up. If I had sent out an email saying we are going to have a campaigning session on Wednesday evening I would have had 15 people at the best. With [Cabinet level minister] we are knocking on doors for 30 minutes, you do a big bang come and join us. I like using their name for turning people out for events, I saw that as part of my job and it worked. So, if I have a Shadow Cabinet member, cabinet member, coming along to do a constituency event, hard core members, established members would have to pay £50 to attend and gawp at this politician you would be on my [potential recruit] hit list and I would say, come along for free’. (Interview 06/04)
This also tallies with this book’s author’s own experience of campaigning. During campaigning as a party supporter and as part of the research for this book the author met then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott; then Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg; then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers; former Labour leader Ed Miliband; and, slightly randomly, actor and comedian Steve Coogan. This is also reflected in emails received by the author after having signed up for campaign news from various parties. One email from the Conservative Party (7 April 2015) read in part ‘They will be meeting at 11:30am sharp at the departures board at St Pancras Station, before heading down to Thanet for an actionpacked campaigning stint alongside Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps’. Another Conservative Party email (29 May 2015) promised ‘FREE DRINKS [sic] in a local pub on us’ followed by ‘Dinner locally at £10 a head, with guest speaker Chief Secretary to the Treasury the Rt Hon Greg Hands MP’ in return for an afternoon of campaigning in
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the Tower Hamlet mayoral election. An email invite from the Labour Party (17 April 2015) to a General Election day briefing, masquerading as a social evening, stated that ‘Our regular campaign volunteers will have met Richard Wilson, Alan Davies, Melissa Benn, Justine Miliband, Tessa Jowell, Neil Kinnock, Eddie Izzard and many more - You will have to come along and find out who we have this time…’. In the 2019 General Election actor Hugh Grant campaigned in places like Finchley and Golders Green (for the Liberal Democrats) and Chingford and Woodford (for the Labour Party). In both constituencies, the local parties made heavy use of Grant’s appearance to encourage people to come out to campaign. Having persuaded someone to come along to a social event; ensured they enjoyed themselves and are then motivated to attend a campaign session, the task shifts to ensuring that their first experience of campaigning is not their last. Recruitment is only really ‘complete’ if a new activist returns after their first taste of campaigning. If that happens the focus can arguably shift to retention, the topic of Chapter 3. So, what steps can a local party organisation take to improve the likelihood of this first experience being a good one? There are broadly speaking two ways in which a would-be activist can approach a party’s campaigning. One is at a local campaign HQ/ office. The other is at a scheduled campaign session in a targeted area. For recruitment to be successful the reception at either of those places needs to be done well. When it comes to the reception at a campaign office, one senior campaigner stated that the: ‘first rule of having a campaign office is that we must always give volunteers something to do—however big or small’ (personal communication). In addition, talking about how a campaign office should be organised, one interviewee commented ‘[would be activists] need to feel that their time has been well used or they will go off in a huff. […] You need to rush them out on a task, busy busy busy’ (Interview 06/04). This is echoed by Pack and Maxfield (2016: 89) who write that ‘you need to meet enthusiasm with enthusiasm and to give volunteers a sense of a dynamic organisation that is determined to achieve its goals’. This author’s own experience of arriving at a campaign office or HQ offering to help has been mixed. On several occasions, the welcome was warm and enthusiastic and useful work readily available. However, on other occasions the author has wandered the corridors of a national campaign HQ ignored by everybody there and eventually
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left with nothing to show for the effort; or been told to come back in two hours for a scheduled canvassing session.2 If a would-be activist is sufficiently motivated, either by inherent enthusiasm or careful political grooming, to turn up at a campaign office or HQ only to find their presence unappreciated, their potential contribution on that occasion is lost and future offers of help less likely to be forthcoming. This also relates to the discussion of ‘self-recruiters’ above. Self-recruiters are only actually ‘recruited’ if they are given something to do when they turn up. Regardless of what has caused a would-be activist to turn up at a campaign office, self-recruiting enthusiasm or successful early recruitment efforts by the party, if that experience is unsatisfactory a would-be activist is likely lost to the party. When it comes to arriving at a scheduled campaign session the issue of work being available is already taken care of. However, support still needs to be available especially for inexperienced campaigners. This is the focus of Box 2.9. Box 2.9: In their own words—supporting first time campaigners
‘New people are often escorted, so to speak, for the first time they go out, so they knock on doors under supervision, so they’re trained on what to do’. (Interview 26/06) ‘every new person who hasn’t done it before should be buddied up, and basically it means that you come with me, I do all the doorsteps with you standing there, I always introduce you, I say, “Hi, I’m [name], this is Robin, we’re here from the local [party],” blah, blah, blah. You don’t need to say or do anything, and you watch me until you’re comfortable, and then when you want to have a go, which actually is far sooner in my own experience than most people would expect, then I come with you and I hear you, and actually at any point you need any help you say, “Oh, I think [name] will probably know the answer to that.” […]making sure that they are met and they are buddied up, and that they have all the information they need, and they’re never left alone, and actually they have a really good first experience’. (Interview 26/07) 2 The author did not feel like hanging around for two hours and the potential activism was lost.
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‘when we have a new person, I do try to send them to the people I know are more likely, you know people we know are consistently [supporting us]. Try to give them a good first time. If you come out and your first time volunteering for a party and all you get is a load of abuse you are not going to come back again are you? And it is about you know, having a good time. It is a human instinct - I want to do things that make me happy, and I am not happy when people scream in my face’. (Interview 23/07) ‘I usually try and prepare them for the worst – some expectation management. Most people aren’t going to be bothered, some people are going to be very rude, and it is very rare to get somebody nice’. (Interview 22/06)
The single clear point from Box 2.9 is to support novice campaigners as they get used to the ‘act of social awkwardness’ (Edelstein 2016) that is turning up at a stranger’s door unannounced with the purpose of talking about politics. Indeed, based on Box 2.8 such support seems to be a critical component of recruitment considering the ‘load of abuse’, ‘scream in my face’ and ‘rude’ mentioned—something which tallies with this author’s own experience of canvassing.3 In addition, West-Knights (2019) writes that: Undeniably, canvassing can be good fun, with pints afterwards and a sense of camaraderie among your little team of doorknockers. But many Labour canvassers told me they’ve felt unsafe this year. It’s not just having the door slammed in your face, or the odd close-call with a dog while putting a leaflet through a letter box. ‘A man tried to run me over by reversing his car into me,’ one person said. Another told me how they lost one member of their group, only to find her being chased by ‘a hugely disgruntled man shouting profanities.’ […]Many activists see it as a duty – albeit a tedious one. ‘Canvassing is a pain in the arse,’ said one long-time Conservative campaigner. ‘On a good day you may find one or two people in ten at home and willing to speak to you.’ It’s not been all that much fun for Liberal Democrats either, who have seen their party plummet in the polls. One anonymous Lib Dem campaigner said that ‘it’s definitely not my idea of fun. It’s hard to see how I’m making any difference.’
drive-by verbal abuse and a flying half-full beer can.
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In short, door-to-door canvassing is not always a pleasant, nor a socially comfortable thing to do, so giving support to people new to this activity is clearly sensible and essential to ensure that a newly recruited activist returns for more after their first experience of campaigning. There are several examples of this from the 2019 UK General Election. On the ‘Get Involved’ page of Kensington Labour Party’s website people were encouraged to get involved and were told: ‘Don’t worry if you’ve never done any of these before we will always pair you up with an experienced buddy who will show you the ropes’ (Kensington Labour 2019). This was also found in a campaign email from Faiza Shaheen, the candidate for Chingford and Woodford Green, which also encouraged people to come out to campaign and in a close echo of the Kensington Labour Party website stated: ‘Don’t worry if you haven’t canvassed before, we will pair you up with a friendly regular who can show you the ropes!’ (emphasis in the original, personal communication).
Recruitment—A Summary So, to summarise the lessons of the above identifying potential activists is very much through purposive incentives—that is support for the party’s ideology generally and/or more specific policies. Existing inactive members is a good place to start, but it is also worth going beyond those. As was discussed on Chapter 1, members are not the only fruit when it comes to activists. The way to identify potential non-member activists is primarily through door-to-door canvassing. When a firm electoral supporter is identified it may well be worth trying to take that support beyond the ballot box. This very much shows that local activism is not only useful in identifying who your voters are for election day ‘get out the vote’ work, but also an important way of perpetuating that local activism by recruiting new activists. Local activism can therefore be its own virtuous circle. In addition, social action activities, i.e. litter picking or a youth social, may also be a way to flush out socially minded people who may be persuaded to take that social mindedness into politics. As with door-to-door canvassing, something like local community litter picking can serve an electoral purpose—it is good ‘optics’, i.e. it makes the local party look good—but can also be a way to strengthen such activities by identifying potential party activists, again its own virtuous circle. This then shows the importance of purposive incentives in identifying potential activists.
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However, arguably, identifying potential activists is the easy part— much more challenging is the potentially delicate process of moving someone from potential to actual activist. The first key point to mention in the context of getting people active is that the personal touch is key. The central message across the interviews was that asking someone personally was not only ‘a’ way of getting people active, but ‘the’ way. Obviously asking in person is not a guarantee of success, but it is vastly more effective than mass emails. This very much highlights the important role played by social norms in getting the potential activist moving towards actual activism. Another key point in the recruitment process is to see it as a journey, not an event. This means that when doing the ‘asking in person’ it is important to consider what to ask. The message from the interviews is that the first step to activism is not that likely to be actual activism. Rather, it was suggested that it might be better if the first meeting with the wider party, after the initial one-to-one approach, was something softer than door-to-door canvassing, e.g. a social event. It was also suggested that something where the minimum required time was limited would be better—that is, a social drink, rather than a sit-down meal. Three further lessons about how to help make the first, ideally social, encounter with the party a success. Firstly, basic human friendliness—i.e. simply ensure that the would-be activist is given a friendly welcome. This sounds basic, but is something easily lost—perhaps especially in an environment which has a reputation for attracting ‘weirdoes and strange people’, ‘fanatics, cranks and extremists’ and ‘knots of vehement, uncompromising and unbalanced men’. Speaking of which, and secondly, trying to ensure that the would-be activist meets people who will not turn them off the party straight away is self-evidently important. This may be difficult to achieve, as what turns off one person will be appealing to another. However, it is still possible to take some steps to improve the chances of the would-be activist has a positive first interaction. So, events focussed on similar types of people in terms of age, occupation, gender, ethnicity or educational stage is probably a good start. In addition, based on personal experience and the above, there are usually a few people in a local branch who by common consensus are in the ‘weirdoes and strange people’ category—steering the would-be activist away from such people is advisable. All of this again shows the key role played by solidary incentives in the journey towards activism
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Finally, using ‘big names’ in the party to impress the would-be activist is also a good idea. Showing the would-be activist that being active gives access to people of note from local MPs, ministers, Cabinet members, and even ‘genuine’ celebrities is likely to be a good incentive for moving from a social event to a campaign event. Here we see social norms coming back in. When it comes to the novice activist’s first experience of campaigning, two things are important to keep in mind. The first is that there needs to be something to do. In a pre-planned canvassing or leafletting session that is by definition taken care of. However, campaign HQs at any organisational level need to have the ability to receive offers of help by having something for an activist to do if they turn up outside of scheduled campaign sessions. We see here group incentives (i.e. feeling you are making a difference) starting to play a role. The second key thing to keep in mind about the first campaign session is providing support to a novice campaigner. Leafletting is probably not that problematic, but some help with roadmaps and whether the leafletting is targeted or general is a good basis. When it comes to canvassing, support for the novice is especially important. For most people, talking to strangers, uninvited, about politics is something of an unnatural activity. Therefore making sure that new activists are shown the ropes and supported until them become a bit more comfortable is important for increasing the chances of them coming back for more. Certainly, throwing them into the deep end of canvassing without support is a very bad idea. This again shows the role played by group incentives. In short: • identify your potential activists through pre-existing commitment to the party, principally through (passive) party membership, regular electoral support for the party, or willingness to participate in a party organised social activism event; • wheel them in gently, most likely through a casual social event, make an effort to ensure they have a good time (are made to feel welcome and avoiding the cranks), and make the most of ‘big names’; • ensure that the budding activist’s first taste of activism is a fruitful one by having something for them to do and make sure novices are supported when they take their first steps into campaigning.
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If all of this works out well you have maximised the chances of the would-be activist actually doing something for the party, and is not put off by their first experience, but actually turn up again. The question now is, having identified and recruited (i.e. got them to turn up to more than one campaign session) how can that activism be maintained. That will be the subject of the next chapter.
References Allin-Khan, Rosena. 2020. Grassroots Revival: Campaign Action Plan. London: Rosena for Deputy Leader. Bale, Tim, Paul Webb, and Monica Poletti. 2019. Footsoldiers: Political Party Membership in the 21st Century. Abingdon: Routledge. Boothby, Erica, Gus Cooney, Gillian Sandstrom, and Margaret Clark. 2018. The Liking Gap in Conversations: Do People Like Us More Than We Think? Psychological Science 29 (11): 1742–1756. Brannon, Skylar, and Bertram Gawronski. 2017. A Second Chance at First Impressions? Exploring the Context-(In)Dependent Updating of Implicit Evaluations. Social Psychological and Personality Science 8 (3): 275–283. Brodie, Ellie, Eddie Cowling, and Nina Nissen. 2009. Understanding Participation: A literature Review. London: Pathways Through Participation. Canevello, Amy, and Jennifer Crocker. 2017. Compassionate Goals and Affect in Social Situations. Motivation and Emotion 41 (2): 158–179. Cecil, Hugh. 1912. Conservatism. London: Williams and Norgate. Collins, Ray. 2014. Building a One Nation Labour Party. London: Labour Party. Davies, Ruth. 2016. The Labour Party is My Home and I No Longer Feel Welcome. The Mirror. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/labourparty-home-no-longer-8378139. Accessed 18 March 2020. Edelstein, Jean Hannah. 2016. ‘Please Skip Our Door’: What I Learned Canvassing for Clinton in Philadelphia. https://www.theguardian. com/us-news/2016/nov/07/hillar y-clinton-philadelphia-canvassing-swing-state-election. Accessed 6 March 2020. Ferguson, Melissa, Thomas Mann, Jeremy Cone, and Xi Shen. 2019. When and How Implicit First Impressions can be Updated. Current Directions in Psychological Science 28 (4): 331–336. Gauja, Anika, and Max Gromping. 2019. The Expanding Party Universe: Patterns of Partisan Engagement in Australia and the United Kingdom. Party Politics. https://doi.org/10.1177/13540688. Johnston, R., C. Pattie, R. Scully, and D. Cutts. 2016. Constituency Campaigning and Canvassing for Support at the 2011 National Assembly of Wales Election. Politics 36 (1): 49–62.
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Kensington Labour. 2019. Get Involved. https://web.archive.org/ web/20191225102313/https://kensingtonlabour.com/get-involved/. Accessed 6 March 2020. Mann, Thomas, and Melissa Ferguson. 2015. Can We Undo First Impressions? The Role of Reinterpretation in Reversing Implicit Evaluations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 108 (6): 823–849. May, John D. 1973. Opinion Structure of Political Parties: The Special Law of Curvilinear Disparity. Political Studies 21 (2): 135–151. McCurley, Steve, and Rick Lynch. 2005. Keeping Volunteers: AS Guide to Retention. New York: Organizational Development Institute. Pack, Mark, and Edward Maxfield. 2016. 101 Ways to Win and Election. London: Biteback Publishing. Pettitt, Robin T. 2014. Contemporary Party Politics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Pettitt, Robin T. 2018. The ‘How’ of Election Manifestos in the British Labour Party: A Source of Ongoing Controversy. Party Politics 24 (3): 289–295. Rayner, Angela. 2020. Manifesto for a Movement. Manchester: Angela Rayner Campaign. Reidy, Tess. 2016. ‘People are Just not Turning up’—Why Labour’s New Members aren’t Engaging with the Party. https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/xd37ya/ whats-happened-to-all-the-new-labour-party-members-corbyn, 6 March 2020. Seyd, Patrick. 1999. New Parties/New Politics? A Case Study of the British Labour Party. Party Politics 5 (3): 383–405. West-Knights, Imorgan. 2019. ‘How I Discovered the Unexpected Joys of Canvassing’ New Statesman, 11 December 2019. https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2019/12/how-i-discovered-unexpected-joys-canvassing. Accessed 06 March 2020. Young Foundation. 2010. Why Do Some People Get Involved? How to Encourage Local Activism and Help Communities Self-Organise. London: Young Foundation.
Abstract This chapter explores the importance of retention for the efficiency of a party’s campaigning efforts. The chapter then looks at the human side of retention which includes the special features of dealing with volunteers as opposed to employees and the possibilities provided by dealing with personally ambitious volunteers. The most important factor of the human side of retention, friendships and socialising, will be considered next followed by the importance of saying ‘thank you.’ The chapter will then explore the organisational side of retention by looking at: giving volunteers influence on their work; communicating to the volunteers the importance of their work and finally the key issue of making the organisation as volunteer friendly as possible by tailoring the work to the wishes of the volunteers as much as possible. Keywords Retention Influence · Tailoring
· Socialising · Volunteers · Ambition · Introduction
Having taken a potential activist on a journey from first being identified; via a gentle introduction to the local party; to participating in not just one, but two and more campaigning sessions, the focus of party managers ought now to turn to retention. © The Author(s) 2020 R. T. Pettitt, Recruiting and Retaining Party Activists, Palgrave Studies in Political Marketing and Management, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-47842-1_3
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As we shall see below, retention is somewhat more complicated than recruitment. Recruitment is a fairly well-defined linear journey from potential to actual activist—and recruitment has an end point. Retention on the other hand is an ongoing process with no clear linear structure (unlike the ‘identified-encouraged-supported’ of recruitment). Retention is a process which includes a number of factors and activities which often take place simultaneously alongside each other. That makes structuring the discussion of retention more complicated than the linear journey of recruitment. However, several processes and activities can still be divided into two main categories: the human side and the organisational side. In either case, the goal is to create a ‘retention enhancing’ campaigning environment. The human side of retention includes recognising the key fact that we are talking about volunteers, not paid employees. Working with and retaining volunteers is fundamentally different from dealing with paid employees. Volunteers can walk away from activism with little practical costs compared to a paid employee walking out of a job. This means that volunteers have to be treated differently from paid employees. One slight exception to this ‘rule’ is those volunteers who have ambitions for elected office. The perks associated with elected office means that those who aspire to become e.g. MPs or some types of elected subnational legislators means that demands can be made of those with personal ambitions for elected office compared with those who have no such ambitions. This shows how outcome incentives are generally not a key part of retention, except for the politically ambitious. However, the most important part of the human side of retention is personal social connections between activists. As we shall see, the social side of activism is a critical, and also complex and fragile, element of retention. People are much more likely to continue being active if that activism involves people who are viewed as friends. It also involves the recognition that political activism is best perceived as a social activity. This also includes ensuring that the social side is given enough room within the wider process of getting political tasks done. As we shall see, the vehicle for the social side is often linked to the consumption of alcohol—which brings its own challenges. The human side of retention also includes the very basic, and yet sometimes overlook act of simply saying a genuine ‘thank you’ Again we see the key role played by solidary incentives.
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The organisational side of retention is the structures within which activists operate. The key elements here are to ensure that what people do actually makes a difference; making sure people can see that their work is making a difference; and ensuring that the campaign organisation is set up to make it as easy as possible for activists to make a difference. Here we see how group incentives continue to be important. This chapter will first explore the importance of retention for the efficiency of a party’s campaigning efforts. The chapter will then look at the human side of retention which includes the special features of dealing with volunteers as opposed to paid employees and the additional possibilities provided by dealing with personally ambitious volunteers. The most important factor of the human side of retention, friendships and socialising (including drinking together), will be considered next followed by the importance of saying ‘thank you’. The chapter will then explore the organisational side of retention by first looking at the importance of giving volunteers influence on their work; then the importance of communicating to the volunteers the importance of their work; and finally the key issue of making the organisation as volunteer friendly as possible by tailoring the work to the wishes of the volunteers as much as possible. The final substantive point the chapter will make is to recognise that neither new nor long-term volunteers should never be seen as successfully retained. Retention is something which needs to be considered for both new and long-established activists. The chapter will conclude by summarising the findings into a practical guide for how to create a retention enhancing campaigning environment.
Retention: Important, but Sometimes Overlooked Once someone has been recruited the big issue becomes retention. Hidalgo and Moreno (2009: 594) write that ‘one of the most important problems that associations of volunteers and researchers working on this phenomenon have to face is the high turnover of volunteers’. However, despite its importance, retention is something that can sometimes be overlooked: ‘Most organizations seeking to involve volunteers focus on the act of recruitment. Program manages worry about having enough volunteers and generally spend much time and effort attempting to replace volunteers they have lost’ (McCurley and Lynch 2005: 3).
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However, rather than putting the main focus on recruitment it is arguably more efficient to shift more attention towards retention. Indeed, a lot of the literature on third sector organisations argue that retention is the more important part: ‘It is far better to focus on maintaining those volunteers already connected to the program, avoiding […] the productivity lost when inexperienced volunteers have to learn how best to approach their work’ (McCurley and Lynch 2005: 4). This also shows that the importance of retention is bound up with avoiding the loss of the experience of long-standing volunteers and wasting the efforts put into the recruitment process. As we saw in Chapter 2 recruiting a volunteer is a journey which can require a fair amount of investment by the organisations in question. If the volunteer drops out fairly quickly, that investment is wasted (see also Grossman and Furano 2002: 5). Gazley (2013: 1246) writes that: ‘Voluntary organizations that cannot minimize attrition face a highly inefficient level of “volunteer churn” […] where positions much be refilled again and again’. That is clearly best avoided. Obviously, retention is irrelevant without recruitment, but recruitment is wasted without retention. This also links back to the discussion of recruitment being a journey, not an event. There is no ‘act of recruitment’—it is a process. A party that has managed to successfully take a supporter from potential to actual activist need to keep in mind that this journey does not end once recruitment has been achieved. It merely morphs into the journey through activism. It is possible that less individual effort is necessary to retain an actual activist compared to the process of recruiting a potential activist, but effort is still necessary. How to improve the chances of the journey into activism becomes a lengthy journey in activism by creating a retention enhancing campaigning environment will be the focus of the rest of the chapter, starting with the human side of things.
Remember: They Are Volunteers The first point in dealing with the human side of retention is that we are talking about volunteers, which ought to be obvious, but is something that needs to be stressed. That makes the management of these individuals very different from paid employees. As Cnaan and Cascio (1999: 27–8) note: ‘the structure and meaning of work of volunteers and that of paid employees differ markedly and no valid generalisations can be drawn from the organisational behaviour literature based on paid employees’.
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This is further supported by Lees-Marshment and Pettitt (2014) who quote Michael Pringle, National Administrator for the New Zealand Green Party as saying, ‘you have to be nice to them because they are volunteers, so you can’t yell at them because they are not paid’. Whether yelling at someone is ever a good approach to people management is perhaps debatable but does point to the fact that volunteers have to be managed differently to paid employees. As one interviewee said: obviously during the campaign it becomes stressful and becomes more difficult to remember to do all of that stuff [individual attention]. It is irritating if you give somebody 300 leaflets and they deliver them to the wrong place, so you have to always remember that they are volunteers. (Interview 31/07)
As Aitken (1999: 17) notes, the idea of ‘we are only volunteers’ carries with it a number of implicit messages: ‘if we don’t like what you are doing we’ll stop being involved; you are not my “boss” and I therefore have the right to question you if I don’t like what you say or do; I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do; keep us happy or you will lose us’. Hence, volunteers have to be treated less like employees and arguably more like customers. Obviously, there are limits to that analogy, but clearly volunteers have the option of walking away from activism without the negative consequences potentially associated with walking out of paid employment. Good people management is therefore even more important when dealing with volunteers as generally speaking the distance to the exit is much less for them than paid employees.
Ambition as a Driver of Activism There is one category of volunteers that may be a partial exception the above they-are-volunteers-not-paid-employees ‘rule’. That category consists of those whose activism is driven by ‘Outcome’ incentives (as described in Chapter 1 and relating to: ‘an individual’s desire for personal advancement in politics. In other words, activism is a means to achieving a career in politics’). If an activist is driven by a desire for a career in politics, then that can be used as a management tool. As Cowley (2005: 25) writes: By the time someone becomes an MP they will have been a member of their party for years, usually decades. And not just a sitting-on-your-arsein-front-of-the-telly-having-paid-their-membership-fee-by-direct-debit type of
50 R. T. PETTITT member either. Those who become MPs will have been amongst the most active member in their party. By the time they reach Westminster, they’ll have put in hours, days, weeks of unpaid work [i.e. volunteer activism] on behalf of the party. They will have canvassed, donated money, delivered leaflets, and attended meeting after godforsaken meeting […] by the time anyone becomes an MP, they’ve been with the party through thick and thin.
This is not only because of a very high commitment to the party on behalf of an ambitious volunteer (although such commitment might still be a factor), but also because the kind of effort described by Cowley is expected from those who wish to become candidates for high office. That this is a useful retention tool is illustrated in Box 3.1. Box 3.1: In their own words—using ambition as a retention tool
There are obviously those who are doing it for self-achievement, who want to be candidates, and put in the time to show the party that they would make good candidates. If you wanted to be considered for selection we drew up a candidate’s agreement, we couldn’t call it a contract, and told them, we are going to maintain a list and we are going to rank you, and if you are interested in this part time job you have to attend at least 60 percent of canvas sessions, you will recruit at least one deliverer, attend fundraising events. That had a big effect on attendance. That is very much stick, but this is the 21st century. We are not amateurish [unflattering party member stereotype] trying to be campaigners. Actually, if you want to be accepted as a candidate and us give you good chance of election we will measure how many times you turn up on the doorstep. (Interview 06/04) I have to say to them, we have enough chiefs, what we need is Indians. But if you want a long term career in politics you have to start at the bottom. (Interview 08/07) And also there’s people who are incredibly ambitious as well, so it’s spotting the incredibly ambitious people. There’s a very easy way of keeping the incredibly ambitious people: tell them about all these things where they’re quite clearly getting… where they can see career advancement. (Interview 18/07) [Candidates] were set canvassing targets at both [general election 1] and [general election 2]. In [general election 2] there were fully
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set out and recorded [target seats] plans […] They were drafted and then signed up to by the Regional Office, the [candidate] in the [target seat] and their Agent and the [local party]. They ran for over a year as I recall and didn’t just have canvassing targets but targets for volunteer recruitment as well as other things (fundraising, how many leaflets/DMs would be delivered, asked Qs about social media etc.). They were incentivised by hard cash that would be spent on their campaigns if they hit their targets each quarter. The threat if they consistently failed to hit their targets would be the Party would pull Organiser support etc. (Interview 04/03)
This is also reflected in party organisational documents. So, the ‘Guide to becoming a Conservative Party Candidate’ states that Membership of the Approved List [of potential candidates] is a privilege, and throughout your time on the List you are expected to play an active role in the Party. This includes campaigning in your local area, getting involved in local activities, helping at by-elections, participating in networking events, and assisting the Party nationally where you are able. This will of course be mutually beneficial because the harder you work, the more likely you are to impress a selection committee when you apply for a seat, as you will have so much more knowledge and experience. (Conservative Party, no date: 7)
However, whilst the vast majority of activists might be legally eligible to stand for elected office, only a relatively small proportion actually aspires to stand (see e.g. Pettitt 2014: 105). As Webb et al. (2020: 256) point out, these personally ambitious people ‘only [account] for a small minority of these activists’. So, even though ‘an individual’s desire for personal advancement in politics’ can be leveraged for activism it is highly unlikely that this pool of activists will be big enough to suffice for the party’s campaigning needs. Other means therefore have to be used to keep people active.
Socialising as an Incentive for Continuing Activism Having recognised both that volunteers need to be treated differently from employees and that the personally ambitious are not numerous enough to provide the volunteer army needed for successful local
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campaigning it is necessary to consider what other incentives play a role in retention. Arguably the most important such incentive is the social side of volunteering, what Chapter 1 referred to ‘solidary’ incentives. When the interviewees were asked about what they regarded as most important in terms of retention, fun and friends was pretty much universal themes. The idea of making friends and those friendships subsequently being what made you keep coming back, came through very clearly in the interviews, as illustrated in Box 3.2. Box 3.2: In their own words—the importance of friendships
Fundamentally, I think it’s relationships with like-minded people that keep people in political parties. It’s friendships with people. If you can get that long term… that personal relationship that people have with different people in that organisation, then people stay a lot longer. They stay regardless of what the national political situation is or what the national party has done that might have annoyed the people in that area or whatever, or how popular the national political party is. (Interview 18/07) People are more likely to keep going along to things if they have friends going along. (Interview 23/07) we have a large group of people whom like talking to each other, who like to talk about politics, we know it works best if we socialise. (Interview 12/07) For some people it is the social element, feeling like you always have human contact […]certainly I think that contact with human beings, I think contact is the key to keep them coming back. […] I think that largely the reason why we have lots of members, and the reason why members tend to be of an older generation, is that they like the social element. We have a chap who is reasonably elderly, but his wife is not very well and I think the reason why he keeps in touch with us is purely for that human contact and feeling like he belongs somewhere. (Interview 31/07) They are older people who are retired. Their kids have flown the nest. They are probably bored sick of their wife I think it provides an outlet for them to do something on a weekend. So, I think the social side is hugely important for them. (Interview 08/07)
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The idea of keeping at it because it involves hanging out with friends shines through very clearly. Indeed, the idea of doing something for your friends rather than the organisation (‘They stay regardless of what the national political situation is or what the national party has done’) is something that is evident elsewhere. Albeit talking about a very different context Terkel (1984: 5) writes: For the typical American soldier, despite the perverted film sermons, it is not “get another Jap” or “get another Nazi” that impelled him to the front. “The reason you storm the beaches is not patriotism or bravery,” reflects the tall rifle man. “It’s that sense of not wanting to fail your buddies. There’s sort of a special sense of kinship.”
Obviously, leafletting and door-knocking is nothing like storming fortified beaches under fire (despite some of the unpleasantness encountered during campaigning as described in a few places above). However, what is similar is the absence of motivation from official dogma or personal commitment to a cause. So, Webb et al. (2020: 264) find that purposive incentives are not significant in explaining high-intensity activism. Rather, what drives high-intensity activism is the sense of doing what you are doing for the sake of friends you have made, showing instead the importance of solidary incentives. In addition, Garner and Garner (2011: 815) mention ‘group integration’, that is ‘how happy volunteers [are] with the relationships they have formed as a result of their volunteer work’ as one of the key determinants for deciding whether to continue being active (see also e.g. Dwiggins-Beeler et al. 2011: 23; Haski-Leventhal and Bargal 2008: 70; Sakaduski 2013: 130–3). Bale et al. (2019: 113–4) also find that ‘the more that members are integrated into a solidary network of personal ties with other local party members, the more likely they are to engage in higher intensity campaign activity’. Speaking from a practitioner’s perspective, Allin-Khan (2020), under the headline ‘We can be sociable too!’ calls for ‘regional social events that break even, instead of looking to make a profit. Quiz nights, continuing the great work of Stand Up for Labour, pub nights, coffee mornings—let’s bring our movement together’. However, there are downsides to the importance of socialising and friendships. Socialising and friendships are clearly difficult things to build from central locations in the party. There is only so much party HQ can do to encourage the social aspect of campaigning. Almost by
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definition such things have to be grown organically at the local level. Policies and procedures handed down from the centre are unlikely to achieve that. This clearly presents difficulties for political parties since this makes it difficult to implement organisation-wide strategies for membership and activist retention that target solidary incentives. In essence, solidary incentives rely very heavily on highly person-specific local resources (sociable people who get along with each other), which may be lacking, and which are virtually impossible to create without happening to have the right people. In addition, it suggests that any loss of members and activists will have a double effect. Not only will the party lose people to campaign on the doorstep, but by the very nature of solidary incentives, the loss of activists will reduce those incentives. By definition, the fewer people there are, the fewer incentives there are for others to continue turning up. Loss of activists therefore risks becoming a vicious circle. This was also reflected in the interviews, as illustrated in Box 3.3. Box 3.3: In their own words—a negative spiral
The problem with is that they are quite dependent on having a degree of local party organisation for their success. And the spiral that the weaker local parties get caught into is that they are not quite big enough to be able to do things like that. So, therefore what do you do to get more people involved? Then you get stuck in rut of being perpetually small, but where you are not in that cycle, yeah very important. (Interview 11/07) You either have to work really hard to organise a way of establishing new members or retaining new members or you have to be really lucky to live in a place where there is a natural community spirit natural flow that allows you to keep new members. Where I am that happens naturally. We do meet at the pub and we have [name] who has been a councillor for 25 years so everybody knows him. So, it is much easier to bring new members into that. Because it is very laid back it is nice to get involved. But I think, where you haven’t got that you have to put a lot of effort into construct something that give people merit which takes a lot of time and effort and is rarely successful. (Interview 22/06)
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If the solidary incentives are lacking it is difficult to create them. If solidary incentives start to decline, reversing that decline is difficult. This means that solidary incentives are at the same time important, unpredictable and fragile.
The Pub, Drinking and Activism However, the impossibility of purposely ‘generating’ friendships does not mean that solidary incentives cannot be actively used. So, interviewees stressed the importance of ‘fun’ as an incentive (see Box 3.4). Box 3.4: In their own words—‘it’s gotta be fun’
It’s got to be fun. If it’s not fun, people don’t turn up again. (Interview 25/06) It’s gotta be fun, an enjoyable thing to do. (Interview 12/07) ‘these are volunteers, if you treat them like soldiers they are not going to come back. It’s a fine line really between getting the work done, but knowing that once it’s done there is some fun at the end of it.’ (Interview 08/07)
The question is then how to make it fun. It is possible that in many voluntary organisations, the activities performed are in themselves to some extent enjoyable. However, as we saw in Chapter 2 leafletting and door-knocking are often seen as not in and off themselves ‘fun’. There are some people who enjoy door-knocking, and even leafletting, but they are relatively rare. The question then is where the ‘fun’ is going to come from. One answer that stood out, as illustrated by Box 3.5, was the role of the pub and having a drink. Box 3.5: In their own words—going to the pub
Buy them alcohol! (laughs) No, it is about trying to make it fun and always making sure that you go for a few drinks afterwards and have some food as well. (Interview 30/07) Normally, campaign activity centres around the pub, which makes it more convivial afterwards. (Interview 25/06)
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The key to our branch’s success is probably alcohol - it’s the pub. There is a lot of people there, they like going to pubs. It gets them out of the house, it is great fun social life everyday life to go to the pub. Every campaigning session we will do an hour on the doors, and then probably two hours in the pub afterward. And then all of our spouses, partners, children everybody else think you are out campaigning, working really hard and really we are having a drink together. It gets people out, and it gets people feeling like they have done something, even though they have probably only knocked on a few doors and then drunk three pints. Again, that camaraderie is good. (Interview 22/06) making sure that there is always a social element to it, for example organising a meeting point in the pub afterwards to have a drink and a catch up, so that people feel it is not so much of a chore. (Interview 31/07)
The importance of drinking as a team building activity is reflected in academic literature as well. So, Buvik (2020) reports how participants in her research told her that ‘drinking together could promote networking and relationships between employees’ (p. 3), that ‘drinking alcohol together can be seen as rituals for strengthening group cohesion’ and ‘could play an important role in building camaraderie’ (p. 4), echoing very closely some of the quotes in Box 3.5. Buvik also concludes that drinking with others could be ‘an important source of togetherness and as a basis for the formation of a collective “us”’ (2020: 4). Buvik further reports that in ‘addition to drinking together as a teambuilding activity […] shared experiences contributed to shared stories. These (drinking) stories confirmed the existence of a collective “us”’ (2020: 5).1 However, apart from the health and lack of inhibition issues that may flow from alcohol consumption, downsides have also been identified
1 The author of this book can confirm the existence of such stories and their role in creating a sense of camaraderie—including the much-retold tale from a city in the North West of England of a small group of activists sharing a demijohn of homemade fruit wine on a roundabout late into the night sometime in the early 2000s.
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with a reliance on drinking as a bonding and teambuilding activity. As one interviewee said ‘the trouble is you always end up going to a pub, and not everybody want to go to a pub’ (Interview 09/08). A reliance on drinking culture for team building purposes can have negative consequences for the non-drinker. Banister et al. (2019: 745) explored the ‘negative connotations of being a non-drinker in a dominant normalized alcohol culture’. This is echoed by Bartram et al. (2017: 450) who write that ‘people are […] expected to conform to group norms of alcohol consumption; diverging from these norms can be seen as “letting the team down”’ (see also Robertson and Tustin 2018). Indeed, Buvik acknowledges that all the positives regarding the teambuilding qualities of alcohol consumption also result in the potential exclusion of the non-drinker from the ‘team’: ‘If you were not part of the drinking situation, you were not part of the drinking story […] Those who declined to drink risk rejecting not just the drink, but also all the symbolic meanings attached to it’ (Buvik 2020: 5). Hence, if drinking is ‘key to our branch’s success’ then that can have the consequence of excluding from the team those who do not wish to partake in consuming alcohol. This is especially important in the context of a diverse society where some cultural groups reject the consumption of alcohol and demographic changes where a high proportion of 16–24 year olds shun alcohol (Press Association 2018). Hence, socialising after campaigning is important, but the nature of that socialising need to be calibrated to minimise the risk of systematically excluding some activists. This is also reflected in Allin-Khan’s list of social activities as quoted above (‘quiz nights, continuing the great work of Stand Up for Labour, pub nights, coffee mornings’). Hence, a range of social activities that speak to diverse activist groups is an important element in creating a retention enhancing campaigning environment.
Say ‘Thank You’ The final point raised by the interviewees on the human side of retention was the importance of saying ‘thank you’ (see also Pack and Maxfield 2016: 98–100). This perhaps sounds obvious, but in the heat of the short campaign immediately leading up to an election, or the grind of the long campaign in-between elections, it is something which can be easily forgotten. However, as is shown in Box 3.6 it is an important part of retention.
58 R. T. PETTITT Box 3.6: In their own words—the importance of saying thank you
a face-to-face conversation when the activity is actually happening, and a personal thank you at the end. (Interview 26/07) I think the fastest way to stop people becoming members or being involved is by not showing appreciation. The appreciation is a really big factor […] that a lot of keeping people aware that they are appreciated comes down to the agent and the candidate or candidates in local elections and just constantly reiterate oh wonderful, thank you so much, it is really really appreciated […] We organise a thank you party, so we invited everybody who helped throughout the campaign. The MP sent them an individual letter to say thank you and sent them an invitation to the thank you party. (Interview 31/07) Always thanking people, thanking people at the end of a session is probably the most important thing. To make people feel they are wanted and they we are every so grateful they are there. (Interview 23/07)
This is strengthened by the volunteering literature. Sakaduski (2013: 133) writes: ‘Praise doesn’t cost anything, it’s easy and it’s one of the best things you can do to motivate and retain volunteers. Never pass up an opportunity to say “thanks”, or “well done”. If possible, say it multiple times, in different ways’ (see also Rafe 2013: 19). However, Sakaduski also writes that there are good and bad ways of saying thank you: ‘the dismissive “thanks” that is reminiscent of the boss thanking the secretary for a cup of coffee […] and the “thanks but…” […] as in “thanks, but next time could you do it faster?”’ (2013: 133). One of this author’s lasting memories from being politically active was one parliamentary candidate expressing their ‘grovelling gratitude’ (their exact words) for the work done by volunteers. That phrasing, coming not just from a person of authority, but arguably the person of authority in a campaign, the candidate, has stayed with this author as an example of a ‘good’ thank you.
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Having Influence Turning now to the organisational side of retention one important factor is that of volunteers having influence on that organisation, i.e. an example of group incentives. So, when launching his (short-lived) campaign to become Labour Party leader the MP Clive Lewis (2019) wrote: The party was never democratised on the scale and extent that members were led to expect – they were never empowered to campaign, select candidates or determine policy on the scale that was required. […] We don’t need foot soldiers, we need an army of activists who think critically, treat each other with respect and have a serious democratic stake in the movement.
As we saw in Chapter 1, one of the motivating factors in being active, is attachment to the party organisation itself, including a sense of ownership or influence. Indeed, Chapter 1 showed how it has been argued that the most active party members (in the study cited, formal members were the focus rather than volunteers more broadly) are also the ones who are most likely to want influence on the ‘product’ they are ‘selling’ on the doorstep. However, this idea of policy influence as a tool for retention did not meet with much recognition in the interviews. Some of the thoughts of the interviewees on this issue are recorded in Box 3.7. Box 3.7: In their own words—influence on policy as an incentive for activism
Oh! It never really came up, sorry Robin. I can’t remember ever having that conversation with anyone. I mean, there was an acceptance that the manifesto was the manifesto. (Interview 23/07) certainly the forums I have been involved with have never been that successful. We have never managed to retain the people who come to those forum policy debates. (Interview 31/07) Yeah, I don’t think that acts much as a motivating factor at all. There is a bit of a motivating factor in joining the party so I will be able to vote in the next leadership election or whatever, but basically yeah, I don’t think that is a motivating factor. I am trying to think of anyone having said to me anything like “I don’t like what
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is in the leaflet […] The other thing which is much harder, which if it can be done is important, is there are some people who are very motivated by particular policy areas. And it is a lot harder to turn that into local party activism. (Interview 11/07) At a local level, no, not really. (Interview 30/07) we had a very wide and very long consultation process towards the manifesto, but I don’t think anyone would have said that was the reason they came out campaigning. (Interview 26/07) Let’s look back, learn, invest, but once that has been decided - two years before an election there will be an idea, one year before it will be set, six months before just shut up and do as you are told. (Interview 09/08)
The quotes in Box 3.7 are reflective of the overall view of the interviewees— i.e. that policy influence was either not easy to translate into activism, or that it was simply not a factor. That does not mean that the idea that policy influence generates activism is wrong. However, it does show that it is not an incentive that those in charge of getting things done locally see as relevant or practicable. In addition, no party will be completely united on every issue, even less so if they are broad church organisations policy-wise. Hence, focussing on policy issues could be problematic. As one interviewee said: ‘You have to pump people up. It is not so much around the issues, it is around winning. Because we can unite around winning. You will always disagree on issues’ (Interview 06/04). So, whilst ‘issues’ may have been what got people active in the first place, as discussed in Chapter 2, once active it becomes about other motives, in the case of the above quote, the feeling that activism is worthwhile (‘winning’), i.e. the Group incentives discussed in Chapter 1. However, this is not to say that some level of control is not a motivating factor. It has already been explored how local community activism is seen as a way to both identify potential activists and subsequently recruit them into party activism. By focussing on what people find important to themselves locally the party is able to use that to draw people in. However, what is regarded as being important locally
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is something that starts with the activist and is in their hands. In other words, the local party organisation starts with what matters most to (potential) activists and lets that drive recruitment. This suggests that one way retention can be achieved is by letting the concerns of local activists be the guide to the campaigning focus and priorities of the local party. Indeed, generally speaking, allowing activists to be in charge of their own campaigning, not so much the content, but the process can have retention benefits. So, one interview stressed the importance of ‘letting people in on the process, so it allows them to interact with it’ (Interview 09/08). What this means is creating ‘volunteer friendly organisations’. As Lees-Marshment et al. (2019: 122–4) outline this involves giving volunteers the tools to manage their own campaigning in ways that suit them. So, the link between policy influence and activism may be too tenuous to be of much use as an incentive in the context of day-to-day local campaigning. However, giving activists a high degree of control over their own activism is clearly seen as being an important element of retention. This is also reflected in the wider volunteer retention literature. Dwiggins-Beeler et al. (2011: 26) mention having autonomy in the volunteering role as one factor that influences retention. Kim et al. (2007: 156) write that ‘Self-determination: the sense of having choice in initiating and regulating actions (i.e., autonomy in work behaviors and processes)’ as important for retention (see also e.g. Garner and Garner 2011: 814; Sakaduski 2013: 128). This is echoed by one interviewee who said: it’s that sense of ownership. If you own a stretch of land between two, three, four roads, and that is your bit of the territory to work, that is something that a lot of activists do identify strongly as something they want to do, and that kind of ownership of the space gives them a sense of, “This is my area to look after.” You get more from people who think, therefore, they are in charge of something. (Interview 25/06)
In addition, the interviewees stressed the importance of building a sense of team. This theme is illustrated in Box 3.8. Box 3.8: In their own words—the importance of building a sense of ‘team’
Curries. Fish and chips suppers. You are part of the team, “Team [name of candidate].” You know next Wednesday we will have a fish and chips supper. Build a sense of team. You will do more for a team. One thing we do a lot is to make sure to go to a nice pub
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with the candidate after a campaign event, and talk to the activists. So, you build that sense of team. That is hugely important. We are not going to support every policy in the manifesto. You make it about the candidate. You can believe in a candidate, project your own hopes and fears and aspirations on a candidate. And you make it about “Team [names of various candidates]”. “Team” is fun. People like being part of a team. (Interview 06/04) you can feel you are part of a bigger team that has a chance of making a difference. (Interview 11/07) If people have fallen out and aren’t talking to each other, then it stops being fun for those caught in the middle and it is quite quickly then that the team disappears, the teamwork disappears. (Interview 25/06)
The line ‘we are not going to support every policy in the manifesto’ is instructive, and further supports the idea that whilst ‘issues’ can be divisive, a common sense of purpose and ownership and achieving success together is something people can unite around. Obviously, the idea of ‘team’ also means some sense of co-ownership of the process, reinforcing the theme of having influence. The use of ‘team’ was also widespread during the 2019 UK General Election campaign as shown by a casual search of Twitter e.g. #Team and the handle of any of the major parties. So, the idea of policy influence as a motivator for activism does not seem to be something that is seen as either relevant or doable at a local level. Indeed, a focus on policy may spark disagreements that could undermine local campaigning. However, influence is still seen as important in the sense of having some level of ownership of the volunteering process.
Letting Them Know It Is Worth It (and Making It Worth It) An additional way of bringing activists into the campaigning process and expanding their control over their work is to communicate with those activists—especially with regard to the purpose and results of the tasks
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the activists are asked to carry out. The purpose of a given task may be obvious to trained organisers locally and regionally and to experienced activists, but in the grind of door-to-door campaigning the bigger picture can be unclear to new activists and lost to even the experienced activists. Hence, letting activists know what they are achieving is important, as illustrated by Box 3.9. Box 3.9: In their own words—providing information
we did two urgent political strategy meetings which we advertised to members which they found so intriguing that quite a lot of people turned up. And all that was really was going through the numbers from the last election. And seats, seats that have the higher voter contact rates have swings towards [us] despite that nationally there was a swing against [us]. And presenting stats persuade some people. (Interview 23/07) You speak to five people. Three of them are not voting, one’s voting for you, and one woman has kept you at the door and arguing with you about why [our party] is the worst thing ever in the world. It’s about firstly… I think the best part is to always tell [activists] what they’ve achieved, because as a team, you’ll achieve a lot more than your individual experience. So sharing what you’ve achieved, how it works, why they’re doing this. (Interview 18/07) It’s really about trying to make them feel like they understand the strategy, as opposed to just being legs and arms that are borrowed for a day. (Interview 30/07) we brought people physically into the office showed them the resources we had, showed them what could be done, demonstrated why it was important that we were relying on them the activists and campaigners and candidates standing for council. (Interview 09/08)
As the second quote in Box 3.9 illustrates, canvassing can be ungrateful work. To counteract that it is important to tell people why what they are doing is important, how their activities fit into the wider campaign and benefits that campaign.
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In addition, one interviewee also talked about creating the (hopefully accurate) impression of success to enhance motivation, as reported in Box 3.10. Box 3.10: In their own words—making it (appear) worthwhile
In the [name of place] by election, the moment [MP] went down we organised a mass session. They see other volunteers turn up so they see that this is a busy active campaign, we take photographs with everybody, we put them on Twitter and ask people to share them. […]Piles of leaflets, the printer on, create the impression, you know water not tea. We had posters put up along the route the volunteers would take. People would be taken in car convoy, see posters and feel “we are winning”. This is an active great campaign, so I am going to go back and tell my mates we have to go and help them. […] An efficient service at the campaign centre. If people turn up and it is little old ladies drinking tea, they will think it is a waste of time. […] Making sure that when you do have canvassing sessions that they are well organised. (Interview 09/08)
The example of taking photographs of groups of activists so give the impression of mass enthusiasm is something the author of this book saw several times whilst doing field work and whilst being a party activist. Indeed, searching for #Team2015 on e.g. Twitter brings up numerous examples of this particular art form (less so for #Team2017 possibly because of the short notice the parties had). For the 2019 General Election campaign #labourdoorstep and #torycanvass would generate a sea of pictures on Twitter of seemingly joyful local campaigners, accompanied by message extolling the amazing success the campaign was experiencing. The perhaps obvious point that campaign sessions need to be done well is also mentioned in Box 3.10. The author of this book has experienced the drain in enthusiasm of a badly organised campaign session or event; and conversely the rise in enthusiasm and confidence in the work of a well-organised campaign. This is backed up by Sakaduski (2013: 128) who mentions the importance of efficiency. McCurley and Lynch (2005: 15‒6) also note the importance of making sure that volunteers do not feel their time is wasted, noting that: ‘A basic truism is that no
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one volunteers simply to fill a hole in their schedule—people volunteer to do something meaningful during that […] time, something that makes a difference’. The importance of showcasing successes is also mentioned by Sakaduski (2013: 137) who writes: I like to hold a year-end meeting that features a slide show of pictures from all the volunteer activities and projects during the year. People enjoy seeing themselves and their teammates in action, and it reminds everyone of how much they’ve accomplished […] One of the best and most satisfying rewards volunteers can get is to see that their efforts resulted in a substantive result. In some cases, the result of the volunteer’s effort is self-evident or perhaps there is no tangible benefit, but if there is a result that can be shown to the volunteer, be sure to take advantage of it.
In the case of election campaigning, successes should be fairly easy to see in terms of seats taken or held, or at least opponents’ majorities cut. Equally, failures will be easy to see in terms of seats not take, or lost, or opponents’ majorities increased. However, in the case of successes, these should be flaunted—in the case of failures, other incentives for continued activism brought forward. Sharing less publicly available information can also be a good idea— such as the ‘urgent political strategy meetings’ mentioned in Box 3.9 above. Another example comes from this author’s experience on the 12 December 2019 Polling Day. The author was part of a WhatsApp group dedicated to organising campaigners in one polling district. In addition to messages related to the process of campaigning itself, the local organiser would also pepper the message feed with updates on how the day was progressing, especially doors knocked on and voters spoken to. When campaigning in pouring rain, such messages are welcome.
Tailoring to the Individual (and Its Limitations) The final element of giving activists control over the organisational side of campaigning is to make the campaign processes as tailored to the individual as possible. One of the elements of ‘remember: they are volunteers’ theme discussed above is that volunteers do not have to do anything they do not want to do. There is plenty of evidence that matching tasks within the party organisation to an individual’s wishes is
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an important part of keeping people active. So, Sakaduski (2013: 128) writes that one factor in retaining activists is ‘designing specific, set roles, and being open to volunteers determining the scope of what they can offer’ (see also Galindo-Kuhn and Guzley 2001: 53). In addition, Pack and Maxfield write that ‘building a team of volunteers require balancing what you need them to do and what people want to do’. This is also reflected in the interviews (see Box 3.11). Box 3.11: In their own words—matching the task to the volunteer
older people have nice hand writing. People are more likely to open a hand written envelope. We would get older people, million miles away from our targets, in Wales somewhere, we would say get some of your older friends together around a table and write 5000 envelopes. We did this in an election on an industrial scale. (Interview 06/04) We had a volunteer who came in and basically ran the kitchen. That was her political contribution. You know, she had never, she was an older woman, she had never canvassed before, she did not plan on starting now. (Interview 23/07) if you get someone who just wants to do loads of things you have the capacity to enable him to do loads of things. Of if you have someone who comes in and just want to come to a few meetings then you need the apparatus to tell him that it is fine to do that. (Interview 22/06) I would always call the person and ask them what they would to do anyway, because there is no point in someone who is immobile contacted me and then me contacting them and saying ‘right I’ve got 600 leaflets that I want you to deliver in that area, can you go out?’ Because it would make me look like I was a complete imbecile. (Interview 31/07) I think catering to people who want to do things both on their own and as a group. Quite a lot of activity can be done either way. So, for example for people doing telephoning you can do it alone from your own home or you can have a group of people come together with mobile phones and laptops and do it as a group. It is not that
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one is better than the other, but some people might prefer the group thing others might prefer on their own. If you have not done it before and still need bit of experience some people will think, I would rather do this on my own without anybody else listening. Others would much rather be with a group of people who can help you and support you. (Interview 11/07)
An example of trying to accommodate an individual’s wants when it comes to their contribution is found on the Labour Party’s website: there are lots of other ways to help out too. Whether you’re super-organised, a great communicator, or know your local area like the back of your hand, there’ll be a task with your name on it! Our campaign teams will need help making sure the phones are answered and emails replied to, delivering leaflets or prepping leaflet rounds, driving on polling day and much more. (Labour Party 2019)
It obviously makes sense that people are more likely to do things they are comfortable with. Asking people to do things they are not comfortable with is likely to lead to them dropping out of activism sooner than they otherwise would. One interviewee noted that ‘organising decisions often being made by men, and who don’t quite think through - on a darker evening it is more welcoming to be with people, women feeling safer in a group’ (Interview 11/07). In addition, as the fourth quote in Box 3.11 illustrates asking someone to do something they physically cannot do is not only a non-starter, it also makes the asker look bad. This requires information about what activists are willing and able to do—hence the point about calling activists to establish what they would be willing to do. It also requires a campaigning organisation that is flexible and creative enough to make use of a diverse range of commitment levels and abilities. Hence, Lees-Marshment et al. (2019: 120) note that alongside doing market research on the external political market (principally voters, but also influencers of various kinds) it is useful to ‘conduct research into volunteers’ needs and wants’. As a starting point, many local party and candidates’ websites allowed would be volunteers filling in a form indicating what they would be willing to do for the campaign. Doing this for established volunteers is probably also a good idea as it gives a picture of how activists’ wishes and abilities to help are changing. It is also worth noting
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that finding out more about your activists can serve to act as a screening process. So, Grossman and Furano (2002: 4) note that ‘not every well-intended person makes a good volunteer for every task’. It may also be possible to make use of activists’ professional skills and experience, e.g. a Liberal Democrat document noted that: ‘you might find your trusty deliverer is also an accountant who could be your treasurer/auditor or a professional fundraiser who could help you with some pointers’ (Lloyd-Johnson 2019: 11). Further, Allin-Khan (2020: 4) writes that ‘its not all about delivering leaflets and knocking on doors, we have social media experts, journalists, policy gurus, videographers and many other talents in our ranks’. Mirroring Allin-Khan, Rayner (2020: 7) writes that ‘we have a mass membership packed full of talent, we need to utilise all of the skills our members bring to the table because there is a way for anyone to contribute. From videographers to designers, from those who understand how to make events accessible to public speaking skills’. However, it is also worth noting that activists may not want to make use of their work place skills as part of their activism and expecting them to do so may put them off. Activism is effectively a ‘leisure’ activity, and doing employment related activities in your ‘non-paid work time’ may not be everybody’s idea of ‘leisure’. So, Sakaduski (2013: 128) warns against ‘assuming that everyone wants to use the skills related to their profession, trade, or education’. Yes it is also worth noting that there are also quite significant limits to the extent to which local party organisations can make the tasks fit the volunteer. This is illustrated by Box 3.12. Box 3.12: In their own words—the limits of shaping tasks to activists
with some people, they were quite happy to stop their demand to advise on policy about the schools, and just muck in with anything that is needed, because they saw the bigger picture. Others essentially only did work if they felt like they were doing the bit they wanted and then did other bits on the side, so they would often advise [our MP] about policy on schools, but they would also come in and do some data inputting. And then you had a third category of person who, they wanted to advice on policy about schools, anything else was below them, and at that point you just have to say it’s more hassle than it’s worth. (Interview 24/07)
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[tailoring to the individual is] something that obviously we try to do, but it does become exceptionally difficult when you find that everybody wants to do social media. (Interview 18/07) What are the things I need doing to run an election campaign. I need leaflets delivered, I need doors knocking, and those are the things people don’t want to do. They want to be the political strategist; they want to be the guy who writes the speeches. (Interview 08/07)
In short, there are certain tasks that need doing in local campaigning (e.g. leafletting and canvassing) which are not amongst the most glamorous of activities—however, they are the bread and butter of local activism. It goes back to the quote in Box 3.1 about having enough chiefs and needing Indians. There are relatively few tasks ‘above’ the door-to-door work so the majority of what is available is the basic shoe-leather oriented work. This is a problem for retention for two reasons. One is that as Hidalgo and Moreno argue (2009: 601) volunteers doing ‘gratifying tasks that are non-repetitive’ are more likely to remain active. If leafletting and canvassing are the tasks that dominate, avoiding repetitiveness becomes a problem. Despite its potentially socially awkward nature canvassing is at least likely to be more variable than leafletting because of the diversity of voters encountered. Nevertheless, the relatively menial nature of a lot of local activism tasks (e.g. leafletting, envelope stuffing/writing, data entry) is clearly a problem. Secondly, there are not that many ways of tailoring the basics of leafletting or canvassing to an individual’s wishes. These tasks are what they are. What can be done, and should be done, relates to the amount of time a volunteer is willing to provide and the timings of that contribution. So, Galindo-Kuhn and Guzley (2001: 53) report that ‘scheduling convenience had a direct effect on turn-over’. In other words, as far as possible volunteers should be able to determine when they are active. Obviously, certain tasks are time-critical (e.g. getting a leaflet out before an event or election) and some volunteers may therefore not be available for given tasks, but nevertheless, timings should be volunteer driven as much as possible.
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The issue of ‘scheduling convenience’ also raises the point of convenience generally. So, Pettitt and Lees-Marshment (2019: 122–3) report on how during 2007/8 US presidential primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both campaigns put in place ways of making campaigning as convenient as possible. Both had online tools that allowed activists to carry out phone canvassing from home on their own mobile phones. This is an approach that has spread beyond its American origins. In the UK context in the 2017 general election Momentum introduced several ways of making volunteering easier. One was ‘My Nearest Marginal’ app which allowed volunteers to search for the nearest seats where their work would have the most impact. For those who did not want to travel there was ‘Calling for Corbyn’ which also facilitated home phone canvassing. A less high-tech, but probably no less effective, approach to facilitating scheduling convenience could be found on Liberal Democrat Ed Davey’s campaign website. The ‘Volunteer – help Ed win’ page of the site said: ‘Want to get involved in my election campaign? […] Drop in at the Campaign HQ at [address] […] we are open Monday to Friday from 10am to 5pm’ (Voters4Ed 2019). This clearly gives a very high degree of flexibility in choosing when and for how long to actively campaign. Weekends would presumably be dominated by door-to-door canvassing sessions, although the website did not contain any information on this, only an online form to sign up to be contacted about campaigning.
Long-Term Volunteers A final point to note is the importance to also look after your long-term, or veteran, volunteers. Many of the people interviewed for this book were themselves long-term volunteers, and to some extent took their own activism for granted. They therefore did not particularly mention the issue of keeping long-term volunteers engaged as they themselves were (at that moment) successful examples of such ongoing engagement. However, it was raised by one interviewee who had experienced a loss of commitment, partly because of a feeling of being taken for granted. In addition, Sakaduski (2013: 127) notes the importance of checking the level of satisfaction of ‘even long-term volunteers’. It is unlikely that retention factors amongst long-term volunteers are any different from that of more recent recruits. What it does illustrate and strengthen is the point made in Chapter 1 that a successful recruitment is immediately
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replaced by the ongoing process of retention. No one is ever ‘successfully’ retained, only ever ‘currently’ retained. Retention is itself an indefinite ongoing process which ends only in one of two ways: failure with the activist dropping out; or the death of the activist, hopefully at a ripe old age.
Retention—A Summary The processes of creating a retention enhancing campaigning environment can be divided into two categories: the human side and the organisational side. The human side of retention is made up of four factors: recognising the special nature of managing volunteers; the slightly different nature of managing the politically ambitious; the role of friendships and socialising; and the role of gratitude. The first principle of retention when it comes to volunteer party activists is to remember the ‘volunteer’ part. There is no direct financial incentive for continued activism, and ceasing volunteering is relatively low cost. Indeed, no longer being active will free up time to indulge in other leisure activities. Hence, managing volunteers cannot be done the same way as paid employees. Volunteers cannot be ‘ordered’ to do anything as there is no real sanction for disobedience. In addition, volunteer mistakes have to some extent be priced into the campaign, again due to the lack of any real sanctions for poor performance. The one category of volunteer activists where most of the above does not apply in the same way is people with personal political ambitions. As we saw above, the desire for elected public office can be and is leveraged to encourage the politically ambitious to be highly active. The fact that eligibility to be a party-approved candidate is in the gift of the party and that campaign resources can be withheld means that when it comes to people with political ambitions there are effective sanctions that can be deployed in cases of under-performance. However, as the politically ambitious are relatively speaking few in number the politically unambitious need to be incentivised too. One key incentive for staying politically active is the friendships that can be formed as part of the process of working with similarly minded individuals. Once any potential political enthusiasm has spent itself in the drudgery of local campaigning, one of the most important things that keeps people coming back is that campaigning means (ideally) spending
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time with friends. This can be a powerful bond that keeps people going in times of electoral defeats when the joy of victory is unavailable as a motivating factor. However, it also means that one of the most important factors in retention is not something that can easily be manufactured. It is great when it works, but if it is not there or has faded, creating it from scratch is very difficult. However, at least one factor that can be of assistance in encouraging friendships is the recognition that ‘fun’ has to be part of the process of campaigning for it to be something people will keep coming back to. Considering that the process of campaigning can rarely be described as ‘fun’ in and of itself, making sure that campaigning includes, and that usually means concludes with, socialising is of paramount importance. Any organised campaign session really needs to end with a social element. Based on some of the interviews quoted from above, this social element tends to often be centred on the consumption of alcohol. The value of ‘drinking’ as a teambuilding exercise is recognised well outside the realm of political campaigning and certainly plays a key role in the political world as well. However, it is also worth keeping in mind those who do not wish to participate in the consumption of alcohol and ensure that such people are catered for in post-campaigning socialising. The final element of the human side of retention is the simple, essential, and easily forgotten factor of gratitude. Showing genuine (or at least sufficiently convincing) gratitude for the efforts of volunteers makes it more likely that activists will keep coming back. Turning to the organisational side of retention there are three elements: giving activists a say in the nature and contents of their own campaigning; sharing information on the purpose and impact of campaign activities; and tailoring the campaigning to the wants and capabilities of activists as much as possible. Firstly, giving activists a sense of ownership of their work is seen as being conducive to keeping people involved for longer. This means giving activists responsibilities within their own activism, allowing them to take control of the process. If people feel a level of autonomy in what they do, rather than merely being issued with instructions, they are more likely to keep at it because it is ‘their’ work, rather than something done mostly for someone else’s benefit. This can also involve letting local needs and wants determine the contents of the work in the form of community activism driven by local issues.
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Secondly, it is important to share with activists both the purpose and results of their work. People are more likely to have a sense of purpose if they know why they are doing what they are doing. If people can see the big picture, rather than being an information-starved cog in a machine, they are more likely to keep at it because they understand the reason for their individual tasks. In addition, sharing with activists the effects of their work, e.g. creating both a sense of success and sharing evidence of success, will strengthen this sense of purpose. This also involves creating a sense of team, which involves giving people a sense of being part of something that they have a stake in. Thirdly, it is important to tailor the work of activists to their wants and capabilities as far as possible. Allowing people to do as much of what they enjoy as possible as well as tailoring the tasks to the abilities of the individual activists means that they are more likely to keep going. In addition, it is important to make it easy for people to make a meaningful contribution. This involves being efficient, and thus make the most of people’s contribution. It also means creating campaign processes that lower barriers to being active as much as possible. Activists may also feel an additional sense of purpose if the campaign actively makes use of their individual skills and experience (provided that does not become too much like their weekday work). One final overarching lesson to keep in mind when it comes to retention, which is the foundation of all of the above, is that ‘retention’ as an element in a successful campaigning organisation is never over. It is worth repeating the point made above that retention is never ‘done’—it is something that requires constant attention. This is no less so for veteran activists where there is a danger of taking them for granted. Veteran activists, with sometimes decades of experience can be lost through inattention as much as newly recruited activists. In short, whilst recruitment will at some point have been achieved, retention is a ceaseless process.
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References Aitken, Alan. 1999. Identifying Key Issues Affecting the Retention of Emergency Service Volunteers. Paper Presented at the 4th Annual Emergency Services Forum, Volunteers in Emergency Service, July 1999, Sydney. Allin-Khan, Rosena. 2020. Grassroots Revival: Campaign Action Plan. London: Rosena for Deputy Leader. Bale, Tim, Paul Webb, and Monica Poletti. 2019. Footsoldiers: Political Party Membership in the 21st Century. Abingdon: Routledge. Banister, Emma, Maria Piacentini, and Anthony Grimes. 2019. Identity Refusal: Distancing from Non-drinking in a Drinking Culture. Sociology 53 (4): 744–761. Bartram, Ashlea, Jaklin Eliott, and Shona Crabb. 2017. “Why Can’t I Just Not Drink?”: A Qualitative Study of Adults’ Social Experiences of Stopping or Reducing Alcohol Consumption. Drug and Alcohol Review 36 (4): 449–455. Buvik, Kristin. 2020. It’s Time for a Drink! Alcohol as an Investment in the Work Environment. Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy 27 (1): 86–91. Cnaan, Ram, and Toni Cascio. 1999. Performance and Commitment: Issues in Management of Volunteers in Human Service Organizations. Departmental Papers, School of Social Policy and Practice, University of Pennsylvania. Conservative Party. n.d. Guide to Becoming a Conservative Party Candidate. London: CCHQ. Cowley, Philip. 2005. The Rebels: How Blair Mislaid His Majority. London: Politico’s. Dwiggins-Beeler, Rachel, Brian Spitzberg, and Scott Roesch. 2011. Vectors of Volunteerism: Correlates of Volunteer Retention, Recruitment and Job Satisfaction. Journal of Psychological Issues in Organizational Culture 2 (3): 22–43. Galindo-Kuhn, Roseanna, and Ruth H. Guzley. 2001. The Volunteer Satisfaction Index: Construct Definition, Measurement, Development and Validation. Journal of Social Services Research 28 (1): 45–68. Garner, Johny, and Lindsey Garner. 2011. Volunteering an Opinion: Organizational Voice and Volunteer Retention in Nonprofit Organizations. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 40 (5): 813–828. Gazley, Beth. 2013. Predicting a Volunteer’s Future Intentions in Professional Associations: A Test of the Penner Model. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 42 (6): 1245–1267. Grossman, Jean Baldwin, and Kathryn Furano. 2002. Making the Most of Volunteers. Law and Contemporary Problems 62 (4): 199–218. Haski-Leventhal, Debbie, and David Bargal. 2008. The Volunteer Stages and Transitions Model: Organizational Socialization of Volunteers. Human Relations 61 (1): 67–102.
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Hidalgo, M. Carmen, and Pilar Moreno. 2009. Organizational Socialization of Volunteers: The Effect on Their Intention to Remain. Journal of Community Psychology 37 (5): 594–601. Kim, May, Packianathan Chelladurai, and Galen Trail. 2007. A Model of Volunteer Retention in Youth Sport. Journal of Sport Management 21 (2): 151–171. Labour Party. 2019. Volunteering FAQs. https://labour.org.uk/members/activist-area/budding-activists/volunteering-faqs/. Accessed 6 March 2019. Lees-Marshment, Brian Conley, Edward Elder, Robin Pettitt, Vincent Raynauld, and Andre Turcotte. 2019. Political Marketing: Principles and Applications. London: Routledge. Lees-Marshment, Jennifer, and Robin T. Pettitt. 2014. Mobilising Volunteer Activists in Political Parties: The View from Central Office. Contemporary Politics 20 (2): 246–260. Lewis, Clive. 2019. I Am Standing to BE LABOUR LEADER to the Truth Can Be Heard. The Guardian, December 19. Lloyd-Johnson, Gareth. 2019. Building Your Campaign Team. Local Campaigner, June 10–11. McCurley, Steve, and Rick Lynch. 2005. Keeping Volunteers: AS Guide to Retention. New York: Organizational Development Institute. Pack, Mark, and Edward Maxfield. 2016. 101 Ways to Win and Election. London: Biteback Publishing. Pettitt, Robin T. 2014. Contemporary Party Politics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Pettitt, Robin T., and Jennifer Lees-Marshment. 2019. Internal Political Marketing. In Political Marketing: Principles and Applications, ed. Jennifer Lees-Marshment, Brian Conley, Edward Elder, Robin T. Pettitt, Vincent Raynauld, and Andre Turcote. London: Routledge. Press Association. 2018. Nearly 30% of Young People in England do not Drink, Study Finds. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/oct/10/youngpeople-drinking-alcohol-study-england. Accessed 6 March 2020. Rafe, Stephen. 2013. Motivating Volunteers to Perform. Nonprofitworld.org 31 (5): 18–19. Rayner, Angela. 2020. Manifesto for a Movement. Manchester: Angela Rayner Campaign. Robertson, Kirsten, and Karin Tustin. 2018. Students Who Limit Their Drinking, as Recommended by National Guidelines Are Stigmatized, Ostracized or the Subject of Peer Pressure: Limiting Consumption I All but Prohibited in a Culture of Intoxication. Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment 12 (1): 1–9. Sakaduski, Nancy. 2013. Managing Volunteers: How to Maximise Your Most Valuable Resource. Santa Barbara: Praeger.
76 R. T. PETTITT Terkel, Studs. 1984. “The Good War”: An American Oral History of World War II. London: Phonix Press. Voters4Ed. 2019. Help Ed Win. https://www.voters4ed.org/volunteer. Accessed 6 March 2019. Webb, Paul, Tim Bale, and Minica Poletti. 2020. Social Networkers and Careerists: Explaining High-Intensity Activism among British Party Members. International Political Science Review 41 (2): 255–270.
Practical Lessons for Recruiting and Retaining Party Activists
Abstract This chapter will collect the lessons learnt from Chapters 2 and 3 to provide a practical guide to recruiting and retaining party activists, from identifying potential activists, via their journey to actual activists, and then the indefinite process of retention. Keywords Recruitment
· Retention · Practical guide
This chapter will collect the lessons learnt from Chapters 2 and 3 to provide a practical guide to recruiting and retaining party activists, from identifying potential activists, via their journey to actual activists, and then the indefinite process of retention.
Recruitment Recruitment contains two overarching elements: identifying potential activists; and taking them on a journey from potential to actual activist (see Fig. 4.1).
© The Author(s) 2020 R. T. Pettitt, Recruiting and Retaining Party Activists, Palgrave Studies in Political Marketing and Management, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-47842-1_4
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Fig. 4.1 Recruitment—a summary
Identifying Potential Activists: Members, Supporters and Community Campaigners Broadly speaking there are three sources of potential activists—all three defined by different forms of expressions of interest in the party. The first source is most obviously existing, but inactive, members. As we saw above there is a big difference between ‘member’ and ‘activist’. Not only is it a minority of members who are active (and even then sometimes at very low levels), in addition, as some Labour Party campaigners experienced with the Corbyn membership surge, an enthusiasm for being able to support Corbyn in becoming leader did not always translate into enthusiasm for supporting the wider party through activism. In addition, parties are increasingly willing to look outside of the formal membership for activists. However, a formal fee-paying, card-carrying member has nevertheless shown a fairly high, compared to the average voter at least, interest in the party. In addition, having joined the party, members will have provided their contact details, making them easy to get in touch with. It would therefore make sense to look to the membership for your first recruitment efforts. However, the formal membership may not be a sufficiently big recruiting ground for the ‘army’ of volunteers needed for a truly impactful local campaign. Nevertheless, having created an initial nucleus of activists (the process of which will be explored further below) from the formal membership, this allows a certain level of local campaigning
4 PRACTICAL LESSONS FOR RECRUITING AND RETAINING PARTY ACTIVISTS
which can lead to identifying further potential activists. Broadly speaking this can be done in two ways. The first is through door-to-door campaigning itself. The main purpose of door-to-door campaigning is identifying supporters of the party which can then later be targeted for get-out-the-vote activities on polling days. However, whilst many voters may ‘lean’ towards one party or another rather than anything stronger, there will be those who support a specific party with greater enthusiasm than others. When a canvasser comes across such voters they should be seen as potential activists if handled correctly (more on that below). In short, not only is door-todoor canvassing an important tool in identifying voters for polling day attention, it can also be used to further strengthen the party’s ability to carry out such campaigning activities. In short, if done right, local campaigning can help the party electorally and serve to renew itself. The third source of potential activists, and the second way of using local campaigning to be its own recruiting platform, is social activism or community organising. The idea here is for the party to put on local events of a less overtly political nature, but which have benefits for the local community. Examples would be social events and litter picking. By putting on such events and inviting local people to participate the party will identify those in the community who are socially minded and willing to be active. Even if the event if not directly political it will still have been party-branded. In short, community activism can attract people who are community minded, willing to do something active, and are not put off by the party brand. All three are qualities which suggest such people would be good party activists.
From Potential to Actual Activist Once having identified potential activists the question then is how to move them from potential to actual activist. The four key lessons from Chapter 3 are: (1) the importance of the personal touch; (2) recruitment is best seen as a process, not an event; (3) making it social (and friendly) and (4) initial support. What is very clear from Chapter 2 is that when trying to recruit someone into activism the personal touch is very important. Being asked personally to become active in the party, especially by someone in a position of authority is far more likely to produce a positive outcome than generic mass-communications (e.g. emails). Having hundreds signed up to join
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a campaign session via an online form is very different from a personal commitment directly from one person to another. The latter is far more likely to produce actual attendance. However, it is also important to keep in mind that recruitment is not best seen as directly from asking them to be involved to activism. It is better to see it as a more or less gradual journey from relatively passive support for a party to active participation in the door-to-door campaigning. Trying to convince someone to go from general support for a party, probably including voting for that party, directly to spending time out campaigning is likely to be too big an ask for many and potential activists could be lost by trying to impose quite such a steep increase in support. Instead, it is much better to make the move from relatively passive to active support a more gradual process. One thing that came out very clearly from Chapter 2 was that this gradual process ought to start with a social event. Not only is the move from passive support to active on the doorstep campaigning potentially too big a leap, but in addition, a formal local branch meeting, too frequently focussed on procedural minutia, is unlikely to give a good first impression of the party. It would be much better if the potential activist’s first meeting with the wider party beyond the person who asked them to get involved is of a more informal social nature—e.g. drinks in a pub. Drinks in the pub also has the advantage that the minimum time commitment is relatively limited and they can leave fairly easily—in contrast to a sit-down meal where the minimum time commitment is somewhat greater, and there is less of an easy way out. What also came out of Chapter 2 is the importance of trying to ensure that the first (social) encounter with the wider party is a positive one. First impressions do not always last, but a bad first impression is much less likely to leave open the possibility of a second impression. Hence, an effort should be made to give the potential activist a friendly welcome, steer them towards like-minded people, and ideally impress them by letting them meet a party bigwig. Finally, having ensured that their first (social) impression of the party was a positive one and through that convinced them to actually come out to actively campaign for the party, there are a few factors that can make it more likely for them to come back for more. One is to ensure that there is actually something for them to do. If they arrive at a local campaign office they need to be put to work and the office needs to be flexible enough in its processes to be able to positively receive offers of
4 PRACTICAL LESSONS FOR RECRUITING AND RETAINING PARTY ACTIVISTS
help. Having an offer of help effectively turned down by not putting a would-be activist to work is likely to mean the loss of that help. If their first experience of campaigning for a party is a scheduled campaign event the ‘having something to do’ should be taken care of, provided the event is well organised (another important factor). However, a big factor in ensuring that their first taste of campaigning is not their last is to support them through that first experience. No one, whether in paid or unpaid work, should be set to work without some form of training and support. A lot of front-line campaign work is fairly simple, but the importance of careful instruction should not be underestimated. In addition, whilst canvassing, i.e. asking strangers about their political affiliation, is not terribly complicated in technical terms, it can be a somewhat awkward experience, and sometimes a downright unpleasant one depending on the reaction on the doorstep or the phone. Hence, supporting a political campaigning novice by paring them with an experienced campaigner until they get the hang of things is very important.
Retention Once a potential activist has had their first taste of campaigning and has come back for more the task turns to retaining them as active participants in the electoral and organisational wellbeing of the party. This is a task as important as recruitment. As has been argued above, retention is meaningless without recruitment—equally, recruitment is wasted without retention. By retaining activists there is less pressure on recruitment and valuable knowledge and experience is not lost. It is therefore key to create a retention enhancing campaigning environment (see Fig. 4.2). There are two broad aspects to retention: the human side and the organisational side. The human side of retention consists of a number of factors. The first is that it has to be borne in mind that we are talking about volunteers. In most respects, a volunteer can walk away from activism with relatively few costs compared to walking away from paid employment. That means that volunteers have to be managed very differently from paid employees. Although good people management is important for getting the best out of both volunteers and paid employees, bad people management is likely to lose you the labour of volunteers much faster than that of paid employees because of the lack of financial costs of a volunteer walking way from involvement with an organisation.
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Fig. 4.2 Creating a retention enhancing campaigning environment
Indeed, monetary incentives are explicitly illegal in the case of certain campaign activities such as canvassing. The question then is what other incentives can be deployed to ensure the continued involvement of a volunteer in the absence of direct monetary gains. One such incentive is the promise of future ‘employment’ in the form of becoming a candidate for a publicly elected legislative body. Obviously, membership of some legislative bodies can be more attractive than others, e.g. a seat in the
4 PRACTICAL LESSONS FOR RECRUITING AND RETAINING PARTY ACTIVISTS
House of Commons compared to a seat on a parish council. However, for those with ambitions to join such legislative bodies via a party sponsored candidateship it is possible to encourage their activism by making such activism a requirement for becoming and remaining a candidate. The sanction of loss of paid employment cannot be used to motivate volunteers—however, the loss of the prospect of becoming a candidate and the loss of resources needed to be a successful candidate can be used as an incentive to encourage the politically ambitious to make a significant contribution to the party’s campaigning efforts. However, there are unlikely to be enough politically ambitious people in a local party to provide a sufficiently large volunteer base and so other incentives need to be used to keep people active. One of the things that came through very strongly in both the interviews and the wider literature is the importance of the social side in encouraging people to remain active. People are much more likely to remain active if their activism involves hanging out with friends. It is obviously impossible to ‘ create’ friendships, so ‘friendship’ is difficult to actively ‘use’ as an incentive. However, encouraging the creation and maintenance of such friendships and generally ensuring that activism involves an element of fun and enjoyment can still be encouraged by making sure that activism contains a significant social element. It was pointed out in Chapter 3 that planned campaign sessions ought to always end with socialising— which often means retiring to a nearby pub for a few drinks at the end of the campaigning. Indeed, both interviews and the wider literature highlighted the utility of shared drinking in building a sense of team. However, it is also important to keep in mind the potential exclusionary element of drinking on those who do not enjoy partaking in alcohol consumption. So, even though there are direct teambuilding benefits to be had from the consumption of alcohol, it can be problematic if the social side of campaigning is too heavily focussed on this particular activity. So, socialising is an important element of campaigning, and should be both inclusive and varied to ensure that activists are not lost by being excluded from the ‘in group’/team feeling socialising is meant to engender. Finally, there is the very human element of expressing genuine thankfulness for the contributions of activists, however big or small. This may seem obvious, but in the grind of the long campaign and the heat of the short campaign, this is something which can be easily overlooked. In short, saying thank you should be done frequently and in as many
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different ways as is possible. This is a very low-cost way of encouraging retention and should therefore be embedded throughout the campaign process. Turning to the organisational side, a retention promotion party organisation is one in which: (1) people have a say in the campaign process; (2) information on the purpose and impact of local campaigning activities are shared; and (3) there is a focus on tailoring activism to the individual activist as far as possible, which includes not overlooking the wants and needs of long-term volunteers. As was discussed in Chapter 3 giving people influence in the party is a good way to encourage retention. This does not necessarily mean detailed influence on policy—something which is difficult in practical terms and may not be very evident at the local level even if a degree of policy influence is there. In addition, in any party, but especially broad church parties, there is always going to be policy differences, By contrast, what there will always be agreement on is the joy of winning electorally. So, instead of policy influence it means giving activists a level of control over their activism. One sense of this is in the context of local community activism—which by definition should be driven by what the local community believes is important to focus on. In addition, it means giving activists the tools to manage their own activism, rather than merely telling them what to do. By bringing activists into the campaigning process they can be given ‘a sense of having choice in initiating and regulating activities’ as it was stated in Chapter 3. Linked to the above, a retention promoting party organisation is also one which shares information with their activists. Obviously, local party activities need to be well managed to be effective, but in addition, the nature of that effectiveness also needs to be shared with activists. In other words, by sharing information on the campaign, activists will be able to see the effect of their activism—that is, why they are doing what they are doing, how it adds up to electoral success, and how it fits into the bigger picture. It can be difficult to see the value of the drudgery of leafletting, envelope stuffing and canvassing when one is in the middle of doing it. Hence, sharing with activists evidence of how such activities are increasing the prospects of winning can help them see the value of their efforts and thereby make them more worthwhile. Linked to the above theme of having control over campaigning it is also important to have volunteer friendly local campaigning structures. This means principally that as far as is possible, campaigning is tailored
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to what people are able and willing to do. It is obviously a non-starter if you ask someone to do something they are unable to do, whether it be physically, skills wise (although training could help here) or timing-wise. Getting a good picture of what activists’ capabilities, skills and availability are is an important step in making the most of activists. Finding out what skills people have, say from their professional background, is not only good for the party locally, but also a way of making people feel useful. It is however, important to keep in mind that people may not want to use their free time on activities they do professionally. This also extends to letting people do what they are comfortably with and valuing whatever they are willing to contribute—from tea making, via canvassing to specialist campaign functions. There are obviously limits to how far campaigning can be tailored to the wishes of individual activists—there are only a certain number of ‘advanced’ tasks that need doing, and a lot of ‘basic’ shoe-leather door-to-door style activities. Nevertheless, what tailoring can be done, should be done. Finally, it means making it as easy as possible to campaign—e.g. making it easy find campaign sessions and making it possible to phonebank from home or in smaller groups potentially away from a local campaign HQ. i.e. allow campaigning to come to activists, instead of activists always having to come to the campaigning. Finally, it is important that a campaign organisation does not take veteran campaigners for granted. No one is every successfully retained— only ever currently retained. Veteran campaigners may be less likely to drop out if they experience individual instances of poor volunteer management. However, eventually, poor volunteer management will drive away even veteran campaigners with the resultant loss of skills and experience. In short, retention is never done, and should be one of the key priorities of any party organisation which values its own long-term electoral success.
Conclusion The recruitment and retention of party activists is by definition a highly interpersonal process (always a process, not an event). From identifying potential activists; to encouraging them to get more involved; to introducing them to the wider party and to supporting them as they take their first steps into campaigning it is critically about recognising that we are dealing with people who value individual attention and support.
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In addition, all the elements of retention are ultimately about making the campaign ‘people friendly’—whether it is recognising that people are engaging in activism out of non-monetary incentives; to recognising and capitalising on personal political ambition; via the importance of the social side of campaigning and the key focus on making the campaigning organisation itself as accommodating as possible, all of it is about a focus on the needs and abilities of people. Obviously, the campaign itself has needs, but those needs are best met if the way the campaign is run recognises that human factor of any organisation. The key lesson of the above is that successful recruitment and retention is about getting the human element right: provide potential activists with personal attention; provide space for the social side of campaigning; and ensure that the campaign organisation make the best use of the ambitions, wants and abilities of activists. Get the human side right and the local campaign has the best chance of being a long-term success.
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© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG, part of Springer Nature 2020 R. T. Pettitt, Recruiting and Retaining Party Activists, Palgrave Studies in Political Marketing and Management, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-47842-1
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A activism, 3, 4, 9, 11, 13–17, 25, 28, 29, 34, 37, 39–42, 46, 48, 49, 51, 53, 60–62, 65, 67–72, 78–81, 83, 84, 86 activist, 1–4, 7–10, 12, 13, 16, 21–23, 25, 26, 28, 29, 32, 33, 36, 37, 39–42, 46, 47, 49, 51, 54, 56, 57, 61–68, 70–73, 77–79, 81, 83–86 Actual activist, 3, 4, 22, 24, 26–28, 40, 46, 48, 77, 79 Ambition, 46, 49, 71, 83, 86 B Big names, 34, 41 Branch, 12, 23, 26, 29, 34, 40, 57, 80 C Campaign, 2–7, 9, 11, 17, 21, 25, 26, 35–37, 39, 41, 42, 47, 53, 54, 57–59, 62–65, 67, 70–73, 78, 80–86
Campaigning, 2–8, 10, 14, 17, 21, 25, 29, 35, 36, 39, 41, 45–48, 51–53, 57, 61–63, 65, 67, 69–73, 78–81, 83–86 candidate, 2, 3, 7, 12, 25, 39, 50, 51, 58, 67, 71, 82, 83 canvassing, 12, 25, 37–41, 63, 69, 70, 79, 81, 82, 84, 85 community, 25, 26, 39, 79, 84 Community activism, 60, 72, 79, 84 Conservative Party, 2, 8, 16, 31, 34, 35, 51 Convenience, 69, 70 D Door-knocking, 3, 53, 55, 68 Door-to-door, 1, 2, 4, 5, 25, 39, 40, 63, 69, 70, 79, 80, 85 Drink, 31, 40, 55, 57, 80, 83 Drinking, 47, 56, 57, 72, 83
© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG, part of Springer Nature 2020 R. T. Pettitt, Recruiting and Retaining Party Activists, Palgrave Studies in Political Marketing and Management, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-47842-1
96 Index E efficiency, 15, 47, 64 F Fanatic, 23, 29, 40 Friends, 14, 46, 52 Friendships, 3, 14, 47, 52, 53, 55, 71, 72, 83 Fun, 14, 52, 55, 72, 83 G ground game, 2 Group, 9, 12–15, 23, 41, 47, 53, 56, 57, 59, 60, 64, 65, 67, 85 H Human side, 46–48, 57, 71, 72, 81, 86 I incentives, 2, 4, 9, 13–15, 24, 27, 29, 39–41, 46, 47, 49, 52–55, 59–61, 65, 71, 82, 83, 86 Influence, 15, 16, 47, 59–62, 84 J Journey, 22, 27, 28, 40, 45, 46, 48, 77, 80 L labourdoorstep, 64 Labour Party, 2, 8, 11, 13, 16, 22, 23, 31, 34, 36, 39, 59, 67, 78 Leafletting, 41, 53, 55, 69, 84 Liberal Democrats, 6, 8, 11, 16, 35, 36, 68, 70 Like-mindedness, 31
M member, 4, 7, 10–13, 15, 16, 23–25, 31–34, 39, 41, 53, 54, 59, 68, 78 membership, 10–15, 22, 24, 31, 34, 41, 54, 68, 78, 82 O Organisational side, 46, 47, 59, 65, 71, 72, 81, 84 Outcome, 2, 13–15, 46, 49, 79 Ownership, 59, 62, 72 P Personal touch, 28, 40, 79 potential activist, 3, 4, 21–34, 39–41, 45, 48, 60, 77–81, 85, 86 Pub, 9, 31, 35, 53, 55, 57, 80, 83 Purposive, 13, 14, 24, 39, 53 R Recruiting, 9, 10, 12, 16, 25, 28, 29, 39, 48, 77–79 Recruitment, 2, 3, 11, 16, 17, 22, 25, 27, 33, 36–38, 40, 46–48, 61, 70, 73, 77–81, 85, 86 retention, 3, 4, 14–17, 36, 45–48, 50, 52, 54, 57, 59, 61, 69–73, 77, 81, 84–86 S self-recruiting, 3, 37 Skills, 15, 68, 73, 85 Social action, 25, 26, 39 Socialising, 14, 29, 47, 53, 57, 71, 72, 83 social media, 1, 68 Social norms, 13, 16, 27, 40, 41 social side, 3, 14, 46, 52, 83, 86 Solidary, 13, 14, 29, 40, 46, 52–55
Support, 3, 7, 8, 11, 12, 21, 23, 25, 31, 37–39, 41, 62, 78–81, 85 Supporter, 2, 6, 7, 11, 23, 25, 35, 39, 48, 79
V volunteer, 4–9, 12, 14–17, 21–23, 25, 28, 36, 46–51, 53, 58, 59, 61, 64–72, 78, 81–85
T tailoring, 47, 69, 72, 73, 84, 85 team, 11, 14, 56, 57, 61, 62, 66, 73, 83 Thank you, 3, 46, 47, 57, 58, 83 torycanvass, 64
W Weirdo, 29, 40 Winning, 60, 84