Case study: Boosting voter turnout at the General Election with less time and money

With a fraction of the time and a far smaller budget than it would usually have, the Electoral Commission's chances of boosting turnout at the recent General Election seemed slim at best.

The Electoral Commission met and exceeded its target for new voter registrations ahead of the 2017 General Election
The Electoral Commission met and exceeded its target for new voter registrations ahead of the 2017 General Election

But despite the difficulties of mounting an awareness campaign at short notice, after Theresa May's shock announcement in April of a General Election, the election watchdog was able to bask in the reflected glory of a record number of people registering to vote.

Its 'Your Vote Matters' campaign reminding people to make sure they were registered to vote, undoubtedly helped by the efforts of political parties to mobilise their supporters, succeeded beyond all expectations.

During the awareness campaign, which took place between 8-22 May, there were almost two million (1.97m) applications to register to vote - far in excess of the target of 1,312,000 registrations which the Commission had aimed for.

The deadline for registering to vote, Monday 22 May, saw the highest ever number of applications made in a single day – 622,000.

The success of the campaign was all the more remarkable given that it took place over just two weeks and cost £1.6m compared to the two months and £3.2m spent on raising awareness ahead of the 2015 General Election.

With seven million unregistered voters in the UK, the campaign aimed to ensure that those who wanted to exercise their democratic right were able to do so.

While it was aimed at all of those eligible to vote, the campaign was tailored to focus on groups that are under-represented – such as those aged 18-34, students, people renting from private landlords or who have moved in the past year, expats and service personnel.

The strategic approach was a combination of using advertising known to have worked in the past, exploiting the reach of social media platforms, generating PR coverage at key points, and providing materials for third parties to promote the campaign.

Campaign and creative materials from the 2015 General Election were updated and used, and social media partners such as Facebook, Instagram, Nextdoor, and Snapchat, helped promote voter registration.

A nine-strong team at the Commission, led by Craig Westwood, director of communications and research, worked on the campaign – with help from comms colleagues in the Cabinet Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Ministry of Defence, targeting Britons living abroad.

The success of the drive to increase voter registration, against the odds and achieving results 150 per cent greater than expected, has been recognised by the Government Communication Service – which has declared the Commission's efforts "campaign of the month" for May.

Westwood commented: "The campaign’s paid advertising – including broadcast, social and search elements – provided a central focus for activity to encourage voter registration, around which we worked to galvanise the support of other organisations to support our campaign.

"Central and local government bodies, charities and other NGOs used our materials to engage their communities and we also gained significant value from our new and existing partnerships with social media platforms.

"This range of partnerships is becoming an increasingly important route for the Commission to effectively reach target audiences and we are grateful to these organisations for their ongoing and valued collaboration."

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