Case study: Swindon sausage dog steals the show and turnout increases in local authority voter ID pilot

A small dachshund by the name of Slinky was the unlikely star of a campaign by Swindon Borough Council to get people to use their polling card as a form of ID to enable them to vote.

Slinky the dachshund showed off his promotional wings as he walked the streets of Swindon
Slinky the dachshund showed off his promotional wings as he walked the streets of Swindon

The dog was kitted out in a pair of wings promoting the core message of the campaign and filmed walking the streets of Swindon in a film that reached almost 10,000 people with more than 3,800 views – a record high for the council’s social media accounts.

Kate McKee, communications executive at Swindon Borough Council, described the decision to use Slinky as an example of "mixing serious with silly". It worked "as audiences were either delighted, confused or mildly annoyed, which was great as it meant people engaged, shared, commented and asked questions".

The film was just one element of a campaign, funded by the Cabinet Office, which cost £54,175.

The campaign was part of a government pilot to trial the use of voter ID at the May 2018 local elections, with other campaigns mounted in Bromley, Gosport, Watford and Woking.

Swindon’s 134,000 registered voters were targeted with the key message of bringing their polling card to their polling station to vote.

The campaign aimed to achieve 80 per cent awareness, maintain the voter turnout and minimise the number of calls and emails to the council about voter ID.

Media relations, digital comms, outdoor, print and social-media advertising, and stakeholder engagement were all employed. A letter and flyer about the campaign were sent with council tax bills to 86,000 households in Swindon.

In addition, some 10,000 leaflets were distributed and reminders were put on polling cards sent to registered voters.

The campaign’s 322 social-media posts generated 1.49 million impressions and 1,420 engagements across Facebook and Twitter.

About 500 groups were approached to help spread the word, of which 222 distributed information and campaign materials.

The campaign prompted 58 pieces of local media coverage, as well as 28 newsletter articles with a combined reach of more than 86,000.

The results were impressive, with just 60 people turning up to vote without an approved form of ID and only 25 of these not returning with an appropriate one. This worked out at 0.04 per cent of those who cast their votes – the lowest percentage of the five areas that ran campaigns.

There was a general awareness level of 80 per cent in the week before the elections in May. Turnout was up by six per cent and the council received only about 110 calls from people relating to the voter ID pilot.

Phil Avery, the council’s head of comms, said the pilot "allowed us to demonstrate to colleagues across the council the value of well-planned, resourced and delivered communications campaigns".

He added: "It not only protected but enhanced the council’s reputation in the face of local and national scrutiny. The fact that voter turnout increased also helped to illustrate the impact that effective communications can have on engaging residents in local democracy."

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