The Political campaign reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Political campaign

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A political campaign is an effort to reach a certain political goal. In particular the term refers to involving (or trying to involve) mass participation with a particular issue, candidate or proposition.

Political campaigns are as old as government--in fact, any system might have them. One early example of a political campaign might be the campaign to execute or banish Socrates from Athens in the 5th century BC.

Table of contents
1 Characteristics
2 History
3 Techniques
4 Modern Election Campaigns in the UK
5 Modern Election Campaigns in the US
6 Issue-based Campaigns
7 List of campaign techniques


The defining characteristic of political campaigns is the involvement of the people to try to influence government or other important social bodies. Campaigning on specific issues is related to lobbying and propaganda but is distinguished from the first by the involvement of mass action and the second by the fact that it is limited in scope and acts within the constitutional system.

Hallmarks of modern campaigning are the combined use of mass communication methods, the media, face-to-face contact and public protest. Electronic campaigning is a growth area within the techniques used.

Compare the noisy demonstrations held by the campaign to ban genetically modified organisms with the tactics adopted by corporations to try to gain tax or trade concessions.


Political campaigns have existed as long as there have been informed citizens to campaign amongst. Often mass campaigns are started by the less privileged or anti-esablishment viewpoints (as against more powerful interests whose first resort is lobbying). The phenomenon of political campaigns are tightly tied to special interest groups and political parties. The first 'modern' campaign is thought to be Gladstone's Midlothian campaign in the 1880s, although there may be earlier recognisably modern examples from the 19th century.

Democratic societies have regular election campaigns, but political campaigning can occur on particular issues even in non-democracies so long as freedom of expression is allowed.


The campaign is established with a particular goal in mind; pass or repeal a law, win an election, or similar.

The focus of the campaign is to reach as many people as possible and persuade them to support the goal of the campaign; and hopefully contribute actively to the campaign itself with time or money.

One of the first priorities for the campaign team (which may be as small as one inspired individual, or a heavily-resourced group of professionals) is to establish the campaign message. This is a brief summary of what the goal is and why the average voter should support it. This draws on techniques from advertising and propaganda.

The message is then communicated by a number of methods. Possible methods are below. Not all are appropriate for a given campaign.

The campaign will typically seek to identify supporters at the same time as getting its message across. These identified supporters are then sent additional information requesting their active support. This can involve 'joining' the campaign, donating money, doing voluntary work, writing letters to the media, voting in a particular way, and generally proeslytising for the cause.

The ideal of the campaign for the numbers of people involved, the media presence, the funds available, the hours worked by volunteers and the number of people reached by the message to increase rapidly and to keep increasing until the goal of the campaign is reached.

Ongoing campaigns can become entrenched as institutions, charities or political parties. Equally exisiting bodies use campaigns to keep themselves active and relevant.

Modern Election Campaigns in the UK


(see also Elections in the United Kingdom)

British election campaigns are very much centered around political parties.

The Labour Party, the Conservativess and the Liberal Democrats aim to contest every seat in mainland Britain, with the exception of the Speaker's seat (to avoid violating his political neutrality).

Plaid Cymru contest seats in Wales and the Scottish Nationalist Party and Scottish Socialists contest seats in Scotland.

Each party has a membership and organisation in each parliamentary constituency and each local authority (see constituency labour party). These local branches are responsible for selection of candidates and for campaigning outside of the four to six week period of the election. The local party organisation is effectively responsible for the local effort in all election campaigns.

This provides a common organisation for candidates of the party at all levels of government, from parish councils to the Westminister and European Parliaments.

Conduct of Election Campaigns

Candidates depend heavily on the national media profile of their party and party leader. The UK has far more national newspapers and TV than, for instance, the United States. Media attention is therefore heavily focused on political activity in and around Parliament and on national figures.

During the campaign parties deploy a great deal of effort in news management, trying to make sure that media coverage focuses on their core messages. The focus on this in the national party headquarters becomes even greater.

In the UK, broadcast media are explicitly forbidden from taking advertising on matters of political or industrial controversy. This means that national advertising campaigns are effectively restricted to billboards and hoardings. While paid advertisements in newspapers are legal, they are relatively unusual.

While TV advertising is illegal, UK parties are entitled to party election broadcasts and party political broadcasts, typically 5 minute pieces produced by the party and shown on the same day on all five principal TV channels.

For Parliamentary elections candidates are entitled to an election address delivered to the voters by the Post Office. The candidates are responsible for creating the content of the election address, which can take the form of a letter or leaflet.

The campaign 'on the ground' in the election is also of great importance. Parties aim to concentrate resources in their marginal seats.

They aim to contact as many voters as possible either face-to-face (canvassing) or over the telephone, both to introduce candidates and to gain information on the voter's intentions and inclinations. They also produce a variety of newspapers, flyers, newsletters and letters intended to influence voters' opinions.

The campaign culminates on polling day where the parties launch an effort to get out the vote by contacting supporters in person, over the phone or by mail. Most voting is conducted in person at a polling station, but there is a right to vote by post at request (in which case ballot papers are issued by mail in advance and returned in advance). There are experiments in progress with 'all-postal' voting and electronic voting.

Ballot papers are typically counted on the night after close of polls. It is an offence to publish an exit poll while voting is still ongoing.

When ballots for an election have been counted, the election agents of candidates are told the provisional result by the Returning Officer in private. The agents are then able to request a recount of the ballots before the result is publicly announced.

Legal restrictions

As well as restrictions on TV and radio advertising, expenditure on campaigning is strictly limited.

Any campaign has an election expenses limit based on the size of the electorate of the ward or constituency in question. A candidate who spends above the limit can be unseated on the ruling of an election court (if elected) as well as facing a significant fine and/or jail term. (In practice this is very rare).

Expenditure by third parties intended to influence the result of the election is counted as an election expense and must be authorised explicitly by the candidate's agent. This too is an extremely rare practice.

There is also a national expenditure limit for spending by the parties.

There is no limit to the size of a donation made to a party or a campaign. However, donations exceeding ã200 a year to a party must be recorded and those exceeding ã5000 are published. Donations from overseas sources are not acceptable. Donations of over ã50 made directly to an election campaign are published.

Modern Election Campaigns in the US

The US has a huge number of elected offices and there is wide variation between different states and counties on which offices are elected and under what procedures.

Unlike Democratic politics in much of the rest of the world, the US has relatively weak parties, with the campaigns being controlled by the individual candidates. This, in part, leads to much more expensive campaigns than are found elsewhere.

US campaigns are typically heavily reliant on broadcast media advertising and direct mail to communicate with large, diverse electorates. Smaller-scale campaigns are more dependent on grassroots techniques such as lawn signs. The use of the Internet has significantly increased in US campaigns, most notably its use for fundraising. Presidential candidates John McCain in 2000 and Howard Dean both raised large amounts of money online.

Campaigns in the US are increasing sophisticated using campaign management tools and professional consultants.

Campaign finance remains an area of changing law and confusion. Money is spent directly by the campaigns, by the parties, by Political Action Committees (PACs) and by certain non-profit organizations (commonly referred to as 527 groups due the tax code section under which they are organized.)

Issue-based Campaigns

List of campaign techniques

lawn sign canvassing election promise negative campaigning get out the vote attack ad push poll opposition research