Members Are Not the Only Fruit: Volunteer Activity in British Political Parties at the 2010 General Election


  • Justin Fisher,

  • Edward Fieldhouse,

  • David Cutts

Research Highlights and Abstract

This article shows:

  • The importance of non-party members (supporters) in election campaigns.
  • Party evolution rather than self-evident decline.
  • How parties cope with falling membership to staff campaigns.
  • The extent to which supporter activities complement and supplement those of members.

Existing research on volunteer activity in political parties has tended to focus on party membership, both in terms of numbers and activities undertaken. Recent developments in British political parties suggest however, an increasing role for party supporters—supporters of parties who are not formal members. Using data collected through surveys of election agents at the 2010 general election, this article examines the extent of supporter activity in constituency (district-level) campaigns, the extent to which active local parties stimulate supporter activity, the correlates of supporter and member activity, and whether supporter activity makes a positive and independent contribution to parties’ constituency campaigns. The article provides an important opportunity to question whether the evolution of party organisations suggests that formal members may be less important than has been previously assumed in the conduct of election campaigns and the extent to which supporter activity complements that of members.