We explore the impact of campaign effort on constituency-level turnout variation in Britain, under the premise that higher levels of campaign visibility stimulate electoral participation. We focus on the relationship between the competitiveness of the race and campaign effort as a provider of electoral information on the one hand, and voter turnout on the other hand. In doing so, we address the role of campaign effort and competitiveness in shaping turnout both independently as well as jointly. Further to this, we seek to add nuance to our understanding of how electoral campaigns mobilise voters by evaluating the comparative ability of different parties – based on whether or not they are ‘viable’ contenders in a particular constituency – to stimulate turnout. We find evidence that campaign effort mobilises voters and has a significant positive effect on voter turnout; this effect is independent from, and unconditioned by, the competitiveness of the race. However, we do find that this effect is mostly driven by the campaign effort of the ‘viable’ contenders in the constituency.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Benoit, K. and Marsh, M. (2003) For a few euros more: Campaign spending effects in the Irish local elections of 1999. Party Politics 9(5): 561–582.
Benoit, K. and Marsh, M. (2008) The campaign value of incumbency: A New solution to the puzzle of less effective incumbent spending. American Journal of Political Science 52(4): 874–890.
Benoit, K. and Marsh, M. (2010) Incumbent and challenger campaign spending effects in proportional electoral systems: The Irish elections of 2002. Political Research Quarterly 63(1): 159–173.
Bonneau, C. W. (2007) The effects of campaign spending in state supreme court elections. Political Research Quarterly 60(3): 489–499.
Bowler, S. and Farrell, D. M. (2011) Electoral institutions and campaigning in comparative perspective: Electioneering in European parliament elections. European Journal of Political Research 50(5): 668–688.
Chapman, R. G. and Palda, K. S. (1983) Electoral turnout in rational voting and consumption perspectives. Journal of Consumer Research 9: 337–346.
Cutts, D. and Fieldhouse, E. (2009) What small spatial scales are relevant as electoral contexts for individual voters? The importance of the household on turnout at the 2001 general election. American Journal of Political Science 53(3): 726–739.
Dawson, P. and Zinser, J. (1976) Political finance and participation in congressional elections. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 425(1):59–73.
Denver, D. T. and Hands, H. T. G. (1974) Marginality and turnout in British general elections. British Journal of Political Science 4(1): 17–35.
Denver, D. T. and Hands, H. T. G. (1997) Challengers, incumbents, and the impact of constituency campaigning in Britain. Electoral Studies 16(2): 175–193.
Denver, D., Hands, H. T. G. and MacAllister, I. (2004) The electoral impact of constituency campaigning in Britain, 1992–2001. Political Studies 52(2): 289–306.
Downs, A. (1957) An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper and Row.
Electoral Commission. (2016) Previous UK General Elections. http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/find-information-by-subject/elections-and-referendums/past-elections-and-referendums/uk-general-elections, accessed 23 March 2016.
Fieldhouse, E. and Cutts, D. (2009) The effectiveness of local party campaigns in 2005: Combining evidence from campaign spending and agent survey data. British Journal of Political Science 39(2): 367–388.
Fisher, J. (1999) Party expenditure and electoral prospects: A national level analysis of Britain. Electoral Studies 18: 519–532.
Fisher, J. (2015) Party finance: The death of the national campaign? Parliamentary Affairs 68(1): 133–153.
Fisher, J., Cutts, D. and Fieldhouse, E. (2011) The electoral effectiveness of constituency campaigning in the 2010 British general election: The ‘Triumph’ of labour? Electoral Studies 30(4): 816–828.
Fisher, J. and Denver, D. (2009) Evaluating the electoral effects of traditional and modern modes of constituency campaigning in Britain 1992-2005. Parliamentary Affairs 62(2): 196–210.
Fisher, J., Fieldhouse, E., Johnston, R., Pattie, C. and Cutts, D. (2016) Is all campaigning equally positive? the impact of district level campaigning on voter turnout at the 2010 British general election. Party Politics 22(2): 215–226.
Fisher, J., Johnston, R., Cutts, D., Pattie, C. and Fieldhouse, E. (2014) You get what you (don’t) pay for: The impact of volunteer labour and candidate spending at the 2010 British general election. Parliamentary Affairs 67(4): 804–824.
Geys, B. (2006) Explaining voter turnout: A review of aggregate level research. Electoral Studies 25(4): 637–663.
Green, D. P. and Gerber, A. S. (2008) Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout. Washington: Brookings Institution Press.
Hayes, B. C. and McAllister, I. (1996) Marketing politics to voters: Late deciders in the 1992 British election. European Journal of Marketing 30(10/11): 127–139.
Hillygus, D. S. (2005) Campaign effects and the dynamics of turnout intention in election 2000. Journal of Politics 67(1): 50–68.
Johnston, R. J. and Pattie, C. (1994) The impact of party spending on party constituency campaigns at recent British general elections. Party Politics 1(2): 261–273.
Johnston, R. J. and Pattie, C. (2006) Putting Voters in Their Place: Geography and Elections in Great Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Johnston, R. J. and Pattie, C. (2008) How much does a vote cost? Incumbency and the impact of campaign spending at english general elections. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 18(2): 129–152.
Johnston, R. J. and Pattie, C. (2011) Electoral systems, geography, and political behaviour: United Kingdom examples. In: B. Warf and J. Leib (eds.) Revitalizing Electoral Geography. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Company, pp. 31–58.
Johnston, R. J., Pattie, C., Cutts, D., Fieldhouse, E. and Fisher, J. (2011) Local campaign spending at the 2010 general election and its impact: Exploring what wider regulation has revealed. The Political Quarterly 82(2): 169–192.
Johnston, R. J., Pattie, C. and Johnston, L. C. (1989) The impact of constituency spending on the result of the 1987 British General election. Electoral Studies 8(2): 143–155.
Karp, J. A. and Banducci, S. A. (2007) Party mobilization and political participation in new and old democracies. Party Politics 13(2): 217–234.
Karp, J. A., Banducci, S. A. and Bowler, S. (2008) Getting out the vote: Party mobilization in a comparative perspective. British Journal of Political Science 38(1): 91–112.
Kavanagh, D. (1970) Constituency Electioneering in Britain. London: Longmans.
Lau, R. R., Sigelman, L. and Brown Rovner, I. (2007) The effects of negative political campaigns: A meta-analytic reassessment. Journal of Politics 69(4): 1176–1209.
Maddens, B., Wauters, B., Noppe, J. and Fiers, S. (2006) Effects of campaign spending in an open list pr system: The 2003 legislative elections in Flanders/Belgium. West European Politics 29(1): 161–168.
Matsusaka, J. G. and Palda, F. (1993) The downsian voter meets the ecological fallacy. Public Choice 77(4): 855–878.
Pattie, C. and Johnston, R. (2011) A tale of sound and fury, significant something? The impact of the leaders’ debates in the 2010 UK general election. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 21(2): 147–177.
Pattie, C., Johnston, R. J. and Fieldhouse, E. (1995) Winning the local vote: The effectiveness of constituency campaign spending in Great Britain, 1983-1992. American Political Science Review 89(4): 969–983.
Rallings, C. and Thrasher, M. (2007) The Media Guide to the New Parliamentary Constituencies. Plymouth: LGC Elections Centre.
Schlozman, K. L., Verba, S. and Brady, H. E. (2012). The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Stevens, D., Karp, J. A. and Hodgson, R. (2011) Party leaders as movers and shakers in british campaigns? Results from the 2010 Election. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 21(2): 125–145.
Sudulich, L. and Wall, M. (2011) How do candidates spend their money? Objects of campaign spending and the effectiveness of diversification. Electoral Studies 30(2): 91–111.
Wauters, B., Weekers, K. and Maddens, B. (2010) Explaining the number of preferential votes for women in an open-list pr system: An investigation of the 2003 federal elections in Flanders (Belgium). Acta Politica 45(4): 468–490.
Whiteley, P. and Seyd, P. (1994) Local party campaigning and voting behaviour in Britain. Journal of Politics 56(1): 242–151.
Wring, D. and Ward, S. (2010) The media and the 2010 Campaign: The television election? Parliamentary Affairs 63(4): 802–817.
This paper is part of a special issue of Acta Politica entitled ‘Information and Electoral Competition’ edited by Sylvia Kritzinger, Susan Banducci, and Heiko Giebler.
Appendix A: Robustness Check
Appendix A: Robustness Check
Table A1 displays findings from models where previous turnout in the constituency is used to control for the profile of the constituency instead of marginality and socio-economic characteristics. It is operationalised as the percentage of voters who cast a valid vote at the 2005 general election in the constituency. The findings reported in Table A1 are in line with those presented in the main text. Campaign spending – aggregate and disaggregate – consistently has positive effects on turnout, while the effect sizes associated with campaign spending by viable and other contenders are comparable and remain within a rough 2:1 ratio.
About this article
Cite this article
Trumm, S., Sudulich, L. & Townsley, J. Information effect on voter turnout: How campaign spending mobilises voters. Acta Polit 52, 461–478 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41269-016-0027-8
- campaigns electoral participation
- campaign information
- Great Britain