This month the UK's political parties are relying on members' support to secure seats on local councils, the London Assembly and the European Parliament. But how do you motivate people to campaign, to canvass, to get involved with local politics?
The key to getting members out and about lies in recognising their different motivations, according to Dr Sue Granik, a visiting research associate in the Department of Industrial Relations at LSE.
Dr Granik teamed up with Welsh nationalist party, Plaid Cymru The Party of Wales, to conduct the UK's first study of party member participation based on key principles of organisational behaviour.
A total of 472 Plaid Cymru members filled in detailed questionnaires about the work they did for the party during the 1999 campaign for local and European elections.
The study found that the members who were the most active in Plaid Cymru felt that party policies closely reflected their own personal values. But the type of work that members chose to do was determined by scores on three other factors: job satisfaction, socialisation and political efficacy.
Dr Granik said: 'The people canvassing on doorsteps and delivering leaflets are likely to have much higher than average scores on socialisation - the extent to which they feel a part of Plaid Cymru. They also enjoy the work, as you would expect amongst people who volunteer. On the other hand, party officials organising the campaign activities show a different set of motivations. Although they also score very highly on job satisfaction, they rate themselves higher than the party average on political efficacy - a sense that they are good at political activity, and that the things they do bring about the changes they want to see. The people who are active all year round, attending meetings and getting involved with local issues, show high scores on all three factors: they like their work, they feel part of the party and they have a strong sense of their political efficacy.
'Members aged between 55-64 are the most likely to participate in any one political party activity, with nearly 90 per cent of respondents in this age group claiming to have participated at least once over the course of a year. The 45-54 year olds are the second most active group, and are the most likely members to spend more than five hours a week on party business.
'This is the first time that the organisational behaviour of UK political party members has been researched using tried and tested psychological measures. As a result, it is now possible to devise tailor-made strategies to encourage membership participation in election campaigns - and all year round.'
Contact: Dr Sue Granik email: email@example.com or tel: 07768 616586
To illustrate the kinds of motivations that underpin members' choice of party work, meet three fictional members of Plaid Cymru:
The election participant
'Ceinwen from Carmarthen', health visitor, age 46. She's supported Plaid Cymru for several years, and though she isn't always very active, she likes the people in her local branch. Getting involved in campaigns keeps her in touch with what's going on. Besides, delivering election leaflets is a good way of getting some exercise and supporting the party at the same time.
Those who are active sporadically may rate their political efficacy lower than those who are active all year round. They pick and choose the work they do, focusing on activities that they think will benefit the party most. As a result, their job satisfaction is high. They feel a part of the party because of the social aspects of participation, they enjoy working with people they like and maintaining the friendships they make.
The branch official
'Simon from Swansea', legal practice manager, age 57. He joined Plaid Cymru to learn more about Wales when he moved from Manchester six years ago. Now he enjoys using his administrative skills to plan the campaigning activities of his local branch. He's a good organiser and believes that his contribution can make all the difference to Plaid's chances in this area.
Some organisers feel less a part of the party than other members: perhaps because they view themselves as leaders rather than followers. Their sense of their own efficacy gives them the confidence to take on roles within the party at branch or national level. They also experience high levels of job satisfaction.
The loyal worker
'Angharad from Aberystwyth', student, age 23. Both Angharad's parents are staunch Plaid Cymru supporters and signed her into membership when she was just 13. She's already a seasoned campaigner and believes strongly that people can influence politics if they are prepared to get involved. She attends party meetings all year round, but door to door canvassing this month will help take her mind off her looming postgraduate exams.
Members will be highly socialised into Plaid Cymru if they view it as being a part of their upbringing. If this is combined with a sense that politics really can bring about change, they will be active all year long, not just at election times. An added benefit of sustained participation is that it can distract members' attention from stressful events elsewhere in their lives.
1 June 2004