Getting out the youth vote

A rather novel way to try and encourage people to vote…


The three seats challenge


I noticed a few tweets about this from the UK over the weekend, and a blog post today from UK Labour Councillor, and European candidate, Sanchia Alasia.

Basically, the three seats Labour challenge idea is that a large group of activists get together and pool their collective resources, with the aim of making as many voter contacts they can over one weekend, throughout three target Labour seats (for a good summary of UK Labour’s 106 target seats, read this).

This particular group of activists managed to contact over 1,500 voters in the target seats of Redbridge, Brighton and Hove and Crawley in one weekend. If they are to keep this up at a decent rate, perhaps once a month between now and the election in late 2015, they are sure to make a massive difference to the outcome of the next election.

Certainly a model worth looking at for elections on the other side of the globe.

You can keep up with the three seats challenge by following @lab3seats or #lab3seats on Twitter.

A rather good speech

Over summer I’ve been back in New Zealand, catching up with family, friends and some of my excellent former colleagues.

As well as talking about what we have to look forward to this coming year, and I have a few blog posts about this ready to go, we’ve been doing a bit of reminiscing. I’ve got a few things that have randomly come up in conversation to post, this is the first.

It is, I believe, Gordon Brown’s finest hour. It’s a speech he gave to Citizens UK three days before the 2010 election, following on from David Cameron and Nick Clegg at the same event. I’ve never been a huge Gordon Brown fan, but in this 10 minute speech, despite a stage invasion, he manages to passionately get across what it means to be Labour. Enjoy.



Forward, not back.

Just 18 months out from their next general election, the UK based blog published this excellent piece yesterday about how Labour needs to move forward, not look back, to be competitive in 2015.

With 18 months to go to the election it is obviously time to assign campaign roles and start finalising ideas for the manifesto. It is encouraging for Labour that so many talented figures seem ready to lend a hand. What is so far less clear is what the central thrust and tone of this campaign will be. It will be important not to refight old battles, or unthinkingly recycle old techniques. May 2015 will be different. It will involve a volatile electorate, reduced loyalty to the three old parties, the unknowable UKIP factor, and a media industry in some disarray. No-one has fought a UK election in circumstances quite like these before. Cutting through to sceptical, free-floating voters will require brilliant communication skills. “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”, as St Paul said.

Some good advice for their antipodean comrades. I highly recommend reading the full post.

Lies, damned lies, and graphs.


Alastair Campbell on the Ralph Miliband/Daily Mail affair

Alastair Campbell is the master. Watch him demolish the Daily Mail’s Jon Steafel about the Daily Mail story about Ralph Miliband, the Labour leader’s father.


The importance of getting statistics right

The Atlantic picked up on an interesting piece of research from a demographer called Conor Sen from Atlanta:

The whole article is well worth a read. Something that sticks out however, is this claim:

But you may also be struck by the shape of that trend line (Sen is quick to note, by the way, that he’s not a statistician). It roughly suggests a political tipping point somewhere around a population density of about 800-1,000 people per square mile.

Justin Esarey, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rice University, has picked up on it and noticed something  quite interesting.

As he notes:

Huh. Well, that did not look like a very good fit to me. So, I reconstructed the data set using the Wikipedia-sourced PVI data and the Census-sourced population density data that Conor talked about. I then ran an analysis of this data replicating Conor’s log-fitted model, plus a loess nonparametric fit line and a simple linear model. Here’s what these three models look like when plotted against one another:


What Justin is showing, is that by simply employing a different type of trend line you can paint a very different picture.

The interesting part (for me!) is how this would actually apply to political campaigns. For example, Dave Troy came to this conclusion using the original log fit line:

at about 800 people per square mile, people switch from voting primarily Republican to voting primarily Democratic

If you were to base a campaign on that principal, then depending on your voting system, it could be a fair assumption for a Democratic campaign to ignore districts with a population density of less than 800 people per square mile, and likewise, that very dense districts are only marginally more Democrat-leaning than moderately dense districts.

The two other trend lines tell a story. With them you get a far simpler, and in my view, far more logical story. Whereby there is no “tipping point” where a low population density district area becomes “worthless” to Democrats, and where a district continues to be stronger Democratic the higher the density.

All goes to show how important it is to get statistics right.

Please note: I am in now way claiming to be a professional statistician at all, so please excuse any errors on my part too!

Australian Labor leadership election

The ballot papers that rank-and-file members of the Australian Labor Party will receive this week are for the most important vote they will ever have as a member. For the first time, rank-and-file members will vote for the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party leader.

For a party that was often a pioneer amongst social democratic and labour parties, it seems odd that Australian Labor was the last major centre-left party in an English-speaking Westminster democracy to embrace the direct election of the leader.

A lot of that is due to the experience of the Australian Democrats, a socially liberal third party. The Democrats were a successful minor party for three decades, holding the balance of power in the Australian Senate and having representation in state parliaments. The party imploded after the membership of the party elected a federal leader that were not supported by the caucus room. The party now has no parliamentary representation and has been overtaken by the Greens. The Democrats have been cited by many opponents of the direct election of leader.

Read the rest of this entry »

Organising for the Living Wage

I haven’t been following the UK conference season at all, but did take note when the group Movement for Change posted this video on the Living Wage campaign they’ve been running with Labour Students. Pretty inspirational.



Campaigning in Japan

A few months ago I took a vacation in Japan – it was an excellent trip. Earlier in the year when I was planning the trip a friend joked that if I was really lucky, the Japanese government would collapse and there would be a snap election for me to observe – given how often this has happened in recent years it didn’t seem like that much of an outside possibility.

As it turns out, Shinzō Abe’s LDP government has been rock solid this year – their ultra-nationalistic foreign policy, and use of quantitate easing (their economics package has been nick-named “Abenomics”) has been very popular.

However, we did manage to time the trip to be just before an election for the House of Councillors (the upper house of bicameral parliament). These elections are normally a bit of a non-event, and with the LDP polling at around 70% there simply wasn’t a contest – still, we did get to see quite a bit of how the Japanese campaign.

Election campaigns in Japan are very different to what we’re used to in New Zealand.

Their election campaigns are very highly regulated – they operate under a system that would make the Electoral Finance Act look positively liberating. Their Public Offices Election Law  basically bans all activity that might be deemed to be campaigning, unless it is expressly allowed – and there is not much allowed.

Traditional Japanese election campaigns have had two techniques at their disposal.

The first is the use of posters, which take the place of what we’d call hoardings or coreflutes in New Zealand. The actual billboards are erected by the officials (I couldn’t tell if it was organised by the local government, or elections department) with each party allocated an equally sized square to put their poster in. Very recently it seems this rule has been relaxed somewhat – as we saw other (non-square!) posters taped to walls and fences in some places.

A public election billboard.

A public election billboard.

A poster for the DJP taped to a wall in Fukuoka.

A poster for the DJP taped to a wall in Fukuoka.

The second traditional campaign technique used by the Japanese are the use of campaign vans with megaphones on the roof. The candidates and their helpers drive around the streets blasting campaign messages through the speak systems. It was quite a strange experience!

With a campaign van from the centre-left DPJ party.

With a campaign van from the centre-left DPJ party.

There are also TV commercials, but we didn’t spend a lot of time watching Japanese TV and didn’t see any. Until recently – that has been it! No fliers, no direct mail, no large billboards, no door knocking and no phone calls.

Very recently the law has been changed to allow the use of social media in campaigning – before the law was changed the candidates didn’t even have Facebook pages or Twitter accounts!  The upper house election we witnessed was the first that used social media. The Japan Times has a very good article about the use of social media (in English).

Overall it was a strange experience. With the exception of their recent inclusion of social media their rules create a huge barrier between the voters and the candidates. It makes the population almost entirely reliant on the media for information about politicians and their policies, and their plummeting voter turnout levels (the last upper-house election had a 40% turnout rate) unsurprising.


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