Although the evidence suggests a poor polling day forecast doesn't impact turnout, cold-weather canvassing has proved tricky for some activists. So does it matter?by Stephanie Boland / December 9, 2019 / Leave a comment
It’s general election week, and that means two things for party activists. One, every single one of them is now sleep-deprived, running solely off Wetherspoon’s coffee and constituency office biscuits. Two, they’re nervously eyeing Thursday’s weather forecast.
It’s a long-held belief that bad weather is risky for Labour’s turnout in particular. Anthony Howard once called a rainy evening “a frightening prospect” for the party, reflecting the theory that working-class voters who head to the polls after tea would be less likely to venture back out in grim weather.
Fast-forward to 2019, and with some parts of the country forecast snow for polling day, worried activists are now anxiously refreshing their weather apps, hoping that the chill won’t put off voters.
But are they right to do so? Stephen Fisher, a politics researcher at Oxford University, analysed 15 years of elections up to 2002 and found there was no obvious correlation between turnout and the weather. (There is a caveat to this: if severe transport issues come into play—and there are reports of disruptions Thursday—or polling stations close, people could struggle to get to the polls.)
Shorter days, too, seem not to have much impact, with the University of Strathclyde’s John Curtice recently citing the two post-war February elections—both of which had high turnout—as evidence that a bit of gloom won’t stop voters exercising their democratic rights.
There is, however, another caveat to the above: and it’s related to something that does affect whether or not someone is likely to get out and go to the polls.
Although the weather doesn’t have an impact, Fisher suggests, there is a variable that measurably does: “Having been contacted by a party worker makes a difference to turnout,” he says.
Conventional wisdom has it that this is particularly important for the Labour party, with activists often citing a strong ground game, fuelled by Momentum volunteers, in helping to narrow the polls in the final weeks of the 2017 general election campaign.
A 2010 study found that the “more people canvassing for a party in a constituency … the better its performance there.” With the Conservatives spending more money but less time on the doors during recent campaigns, Labour, in particular, has focussed efforts along exactly these lines.
Analysis of 2015,…