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Peter John Loewen and Daniel Rubenson, "For want of a nail: Negative persuasion in a party leadership race," Party Politics, 17 (January, 2011), 45-65. [Available at http://ppq.sagepub.com/content/vol17/issue1/ ]

First paragraph:
Should party leadership candidates communicate their policy positions to the party's electorate? And should they do so when their own ideal position is outside their party's mainstream? We present field experimental evidence from a party leadership campaign in which a front-running candidate chose to articulate positions outside the mainstream of his party. Among other means, the campaign chose to communicate these positions through direct mail. Ultimately, this had deleterious effects and calls into question leadership strategies that necessitate direct and controversial communication with voters.

Figures and Tables:
Table 1. The 2006 Liberal Party leadership election results (%)
Table 2. Effects of Ignatieff mail on average leadership candidate ratingsa
Table 3. Effects of Ignatieff mail on delegates' preference orderinga

Last Paragraph:
(First paragraph of colclusion) Given the mixed evidence on the mobilizing effects of direct communication and given the lack of evidence of positive persuasion effects, why do we observe campaigns devoting substantial resources to this tool? We have three explanations. First, campaign operatives are certain that these tools work. This message is consistently delivered in trade publications such as Campaigns and Elections and in operative training sessions such Loewen and Rubenson 59 as the 'universities' which Canadian parties hold prior to elections. It only makes sense to use these tools given the received wisdom. Second, it is not difficult to talk oneself into believing that a chosen campaign tool is working despite a lack of evidence of positive effects or evidence to the contrary. In the hubbub and stress of a campaign an operative will look for any affirmation that things are on the right track. A positive comment about direct mail can quickly become enough to convince one of larger effects. Similarly, it is easy to become convinced of the importance of direct mail when one knows it is being used by other campaigns. A third possibility exists - one that is less pessimistic about the analytical abilities of campaign managers. Even if direct mail were known to have very minor effects, it may still be the most efficient use of resources. Volunteers cannot be bought, professional call centres and automated calls are demonstrably inefficient, a candidate can only work telephones or shake hands a certain number of hours each day and time cannot be stretched. The implication is that a campaign that did not spend its remaining money on direct mail may not be able to spend it at all. Moreover, direct mail can be sent at a relatively low cost and can often be easily scaled up into repeated or more substantial mailings. Indeed, once a campaign has settled on a message and obtained a list of voters, the marginal cost of mailing consists only of the cost of producing materials and postage. Knowing this, why would a campaign not spend whatever extra resources it had on printed material? Perceiving that direct mail has some effect, knowing that it is widely used in other campaigns and being able to send it economically, what campaign manager could be expected to take the risk of not sending the mail?

Last updated December 2011