The role of Parties, campaigns and leaders in electoral success

Various factors that affect party success

 In an ‘age of dealignment’, parties place increasing faith in leaders and leadership to win elections. However, what makes for an effective leader in electoral terms? Successful leaders have to demonstrate a number of qualities: 

• Accessibility. Leaders must be telegenic and demonstrate a relaxed ‘likeability’. 

• Trust.Voters need to believe that what their leaders say is true.

 • Strength. Leaders have to demonstrate that they can ‘run the show’. Tony Blair was widely believed to have been a considerable electoral asset for Labour in 1997 and 2001. By 2005, however, his personal appeal had diminished significantly. However, Blair had not become an electoral liability, as neither of his main rivals (Michael Howard for the Conservatives and Charles Kennedy for the Liberal Democrats) were able to establish a lead over him, particularly on the issue of competence. In fact, Blair enjoyed a healthy 15 per cent lead over other party leaders when respondents were asked to choose who would make the best prime minister.

The importance of leaders was, potentially, greatly enhanced in 2010 by the introduction of US-style televised debates between the candidates of the three leading parties. Although the first debate appeared to transform the fortunes of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, ultimately there was only modest evidence that the televised debates shifted anyone’s opinion, even though they may have had a marginal impact on turnout. Of almost certainly greater significance, in terms of explaining the outcome in 2010, was the poor personal standing of Gordon Brown, who consistently lagged badly behind Cameron in opinion polls. An advantage that the Conservatives enjoyed in the run up to the 2015 election was the clear and consistent opinion poll lead that Cameron maintained over Ed Miliband, who many voters struggled to see as a credible prime minister. 2017 Theresa May's presidential style and her lack of charisma harmed her campaign while in 2019 Boris Johnson projected an energetic image with a clear message 'get Brexit done'.

Case Study: 2021 May Local and Regional Elections UK

Conservative Party Factions 

1983 -One of the reasons for Labour's historic defeat was splits in the party. Another  example was  the division in the Conservative Party over Europe contributed to  Labour's landslide victory in 1997 The election of 1997 In 2017 Theresa May's campaign was damaged by the divisions within her party over her approach to brexit. BBC 10 Reasons May lost her majority 2017

Associated with a party’s policies and the appeal of its leader is the image that a party has in the minds of voters.

See Media theories : 'salience’ and ‘valance' 

For instance, Labour undoubtedly had an ‘image problem’ in the 1980s, still being seen as a ‘cloth cap’ party closely linked to the unions. During the 1990s, the Conservatives developed a reputation as the ‘nasty party’ (a description used in 2002 by the then Conservative chairman, Theresa May). The party was seen to be associated with a ‘get rich quick’ ethos and appeared to show little sympathy for the weak or disadvantaged. After he became Conservative leader in December 2005, Cameron’s strategy was largely devoted to ‘detoxifying’ the party’s image. In this, he consciously drew on the example of Labour’s rebranding (‘New Labour’) in the 1990s. In Cameron’s case, this involved a stress on achieving a more inclusive appeal (aiming at the young, women and ethnic minority voters). Such image rebranding contributed significantly to the 5 per cent swing from Labour to the Conservatives in 2010. This was accompanied by a campaign, launched once they had been returned to power, to damage the Labour opposition’s image by associating Labour with ‘excessive’ spending, particularly after Blair’s re-election in 2001. The post-2007 financial crisis was thus portrayed as ‘Labour’s debt crisis’, an allegation that Labour failed effectively to counter

Labour won the Social Media Election 2017

Conservatives supporting press made a strong association between the personality of Boris Johnson and the issue of Brexit in 2019.


In the run up to the 2015 general election, the Conservatives amassed a war chest of £78 million, dwarfing the spending power of Labour, and exceeding all the other parties combined. A change to the law on candidates’ election spending which allowed spending levels to rise by 23 per cent, enabled the Conservatives to deploy this war chest during the campaign itself. However, the net impact of national campaigning (via party-political broadcasts, leafleting, newspaper advertising, media interviews, rallies and the like) may be less significant than, for example, getting the backing of major newspapers (especially the Murdoch group). Not uncommonly, party strength on polling day is often little different from what it was at the start of the election campaign. On the other hand, there is clear evidence that local campaigning can make a difference.This has led to a growing tendency for parties to ‘target’ key seats as a means of artificially concentrating their support where it will have the greatest impact.