Saturday, 12 July 2014

NOW HEAR THIS! Wise words about using loudspeaker cars during elections!

 At the recent elections a candidate was quite insistent that we used a loud speaker mounted on a car, so he could go around the ward broadcasting his messages to the grateful electorate. I explained why I didn't think it was a good idea. Apart from it being a bit crass and passe, I genuinely thought that it would do more harm than good as it was indiscriminate in its target as would do more harm by reminding your opponents to vote. It also ran the real risk of waking sleeping babies, night workers and the sick. In the end it caused quite a row and ill feeling, but I put my foot down and it didn't happen.

I have thought about this on and off ever since, and I wondered if I had been harsh or too dismissive. A few days ago I asked my friends on Twitter and FB what they thought, either as normal voters who might hear a loudspeaker car or as campaign professionals. I am grateful to everyone who responded, in particular Martyn Punyer (one of the Conservative Party's most trusted and experienced agents) and Peter Botting, who is perhaps one of the UKs top independent political strategists and marketing experts.

Wise words all round.

  • Steve Hadley From a simple voter....I find them irritating noise pollution and so yesteryear
  • Toby Illingworth I know quite a few who do and I have seen a few polling day operations where it has worked well, but it does depend on how it is done.
  • Peter Botting Not if they understand differential turnout. Or if getting out the opposition isn't a factor. I have seen Labour GOTV that consists of running from door to door banging and shouting to come out and vote - if indiscriminate motivating of people to vote is ok - then fine, but generally and default = no! no! no! no! no!

  • Matt Davies First time I stood for the council we thought about it, and I must confess I wish we had. The only reason we didn't was the car and loudspeaker let me down at the last moment. But I still wish we had, irrespective of the outcome.
  • Janet Sergison Had great fun in Doncaster in the 1980's but don't think it would go down very well in Hadlow today!

  • Andrew Kennedy Matt Davies Matt - I am genuinely interested to know why? You had obviously canvassed to identify your supporters and had delivered targeted GOTV messages to them to remind them to vote - so why did you want to send around a speaker car which would (i) wake up night workers and sleeping children, causing anger (ii) irritate your opposition and remind them to go out and vote against you. I am not being sarcastic, I just don't understand what any candidate thinks a loudspeaker achieves. And I would really like someone to give me a good reason to use them, so I can at least understand the arguments in favour.

  • Matt Davies The area we would have targeted would have been were my dad worked. Because he was the local GP it proved quite useful and led to me winning the polling district, but losing everywhere else. The idea was to remind voters and try some last minute "canvassing/knock up" would it have worked I'm not sure. But I would have tried it anyway. Sorry that's probably not a great answer why.

  • Martyn Punyer When I was much younger, loudspeaker cars and indeed a slow-moving cavalcade through the shopping areas on Saturday mornings were seen as essential. No thought that we might be upsetting electors, delaying them and adding insult to injury with incomprehensible messages.

    With the adoption of targeted campaigning, the use of loudspeakers etc ceased and was replaced with street-stalls and similar 'profile' activities.

    I don't regret the passing of loudspeakers and can't think of a reason to use them, even in ares where we haven't run any sort of campaign.
  • Tara Hewitt Nothing beats an organised team however big wearing out the shoe leather and quick knock and drop relys in targeted areas. If you need to use mega phone you've probably already lost. Sorry just personal view.

  • Tara Hewitt On the different approach side i do like some of the usa campaign activities in run up to campaign. Music videos, more large open forums, friends of friends networks etc depends on area and campaign being run but think usa has alot we can steal

  • Jean Atkinson The Labour Party used to use it in trench, it actually worked for them at that time and bought out their electors during the course of the evening which was when they won their election, would I use it now, not too sure on that one!!!

  • Robert Cooke The last group in hastings I saw doing it was th BNP nuff said

  • Philip Young Huh? Surely the whole point of the loudspeaker car was the relevant time's best attempt to communicate a message to multiple voters at once. Nowadays technology has moved on just a bit and the same message can be emailed, twittered, facebooked, websited, texted, etc. etc. etc. but unlike the loudspeaker car nowadays technology permits the message to be personalised for each voter. The only possible advantage I can see to a loudspeaker car is that some people might be amused/entertained by the quaintness of it but I suspect this will be heavily outweighed by everyone who will be annoyed by the additional and unnecessary noise pollution.

  • Neil Baker Sorry to be late to this but as an Association chairman and a councillor, I fully agree with Andrew. All it does is potentially get the opposition out to vote as much as our pledges. Surely the trick is finding pledges and focusing on them, turning a pledge into a vote rather than annoying people?

    An example locally a fair few years ago was a by election for the council where an opposition party ran a pre-dawn raid and lost the seat because they woke up so many dogs delivering leaflets at 4am that their supporters were annoyed and refused to vote.

  • Steve Browning I was in Eltham yesterday where an evangelist was preaching loudly. Even though I admire his courage and have sympathy with his message (decent theology withstanding) I just thought how counter-productive his efforts were. He made me embarrassed to share the same faith and everyone else gave him an embarrasedly wide-birth.

    It got me thinking .. if this style of messaging was actually effective, why don't any of the advertising firms do it? I certainly wouldn't buy anything that was shouted at me indiscriminately.

    Surely these loudspeakers are an ego-trip for councillors who are hoping that "that will do" rather than putting in the leg-work and time to reach their people - targeting messages, canvassing, delivering leaflets.

    In other words, empty vessels make the most noise.


  1. Another Andrew13 July 2014 at 05:27

    I was in Newark the weekend before the by-election and UKIP were driving around the town in landrovers randomly shouting 'VOTE HELMER' at all and sundry. I remember at the time thinking what the point of it was, but also how incredibly old fashioned it looked. It really did play up to the UKIP 1950s stereotype in my opinion and I wasn't surprised that UKIP's old fashioned campaigning approach caused them to crash and burn in the end.

    1. I agree. I recall in the late 1980s being asked to attend a by election in the New Forest where the entire polling day organisation consisted of the candidate riding around the very wealthy village in a Land Rover, bellowing his name and a reminder to vote through a loud speaker in between choruses of Land of Hope and Glory. In a village like that the challenge was to get as many people out to vote as possible, on the basis that 70% of them would vote Conservative. It was noticable that even then the Liberals were carefully targetting individual voters.

    2. Another Andrew14 July 2014 at 10:49

      Did the Liberals win that by election per chance?

  2. I think people's views on campaigns are strongly influenced by their attitudes to how easily people can be persuaded to vote for you. The people who love high-profile street stalls and leafleting outside tube stations and railway stations around election time are probably also the ones who love loud speakers. They seem to think that merely seeing lots of blue balloons and hearing the words "Vote Conservative on Thursday" will change some voters' minds. If you think (as I do) that the only effect of this is to remind everyone there is an election, then all you're doing is potentially increasing turnout, rather than the Tory vote share. Some people may just hate canvassing or leafleting and want to believe that some high-profile event or other will substitute for it. There's obviously a huge opportunity cost when it comes to time spent on this stuff that isn't spent on the doorstep.

  3. Yes, I have noticed that it's often new candidates who think this. I suspect their is an innocence, along with a sense of excitment at seeing their name "in lights."