You Get What You (Don't) Pay for: The Impact of Volunteer Labour and Candidate Spending at the 2010 British General Election

By Justin Fisher, Ron Johnston, David Cutts, Charles Pattie, Edward Fieldhouse. Summarised by Jenny Brennan.

Researchers looked at the impact of campaign expenditure and free, voluntary labour on electoral performance for candidates in the 2010 British General Election. They find both can have impact, but that, for lower-funded candidates (on average Labour and Liberal Democrats), volunteer campaigning and effective campaign management may have helped counteract their lower campaign spending.

Key Takeaways

  • Campaigns can boost candidates' electoral performance, but effective management of them is key to having significant impact
  • Effective resource management and free volunteer campaigning can counteract financial disadvantage (e.g. Labour and Liberal Democrats vs better funded Conservative candidates in 2010)
  • Effective resource management means directing a higher proportion of funding and volunteers to target seats, as opposed to safe seats

Practical Recommendations

  • Value volunteers - building local networks of active members and supporters can be higher impact than constitutency campaign funding alone
  • Target spending and volunteer efforts strategically to maximise impact (e.g. prioritise target or marginal seats over safe seats)


This paper looks at constituency campaigning by Conservative, Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the 2010 British General Election. It uses candidate spending data (for campaign expenditure) and a survey of election agents (for proxying voluntary labour) to assess the impact of campaigning on electoral performance.