In most attempts to define political parties, the key thing that sets them apart from other political organizations is that they contest elections. Britain is well served by commentary on the conduct of elections and campaigns (for instance: Allen and Bartle, 2011; Geddes and Tonge, 2010; Kavanagh and Cowley, 2010). In recent decades, the process of party campaigning has undergone radical change. In addition to the era of ‘permanent campaigning’, analysts have identified a shift to so-called ‘post-modern’ campaigns (Farrell and Webb, 2000; Norris, 2000). This chapter therefore examines the development of election campaigning in Britain. Discussion proceeds in three main sections. Key to electioneering is an understanding of the electorate. The first part therefore briefly introduces the main models of voting behaviour and briefly outlines the socio-economic structure of the vote in the UK. The second section introduces and assesses the increasingly targeted and marketed nature of electoral competition in British political parties, tracked through developments in the main parties. Far from seeing local campaigns as unimportant, a ‘revisionist’ school of party research has shown that stronger local campaigns can make a difference to electoral outcomes in constituency contests in Britain. The third section therefore assesses the importance of constituency campaigns in Britain.
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