The BBC's psephologists seem to be touting the idea that the small parties are going to be the big winners in the local elections, with both the Greens and BNP mentioned for the amount of seats contested and expectations of their success. Is this simply to make an interesting story, as elections lack any significant interest it seems, or is there truth in this? Well the short answer is who knows, data is contradictory and results can be unpredictable especially when turnout is so low and the course of the campaign has a way to run as yet. Perhaps a more interesting question is why would these parties do well!
The main parties run their campaigns at two levels, nationally and locally; the mass media campaign dominating and hence it is leader perceptions that could have the most impact among many voters. Small parties can only really campaign locally and build upon their records where possible. Their resources will be focused on the streets and doorsteps, each candidate or activist establishing a perception of the party through that one meeting. Basically the local campaign makes contact with voters both personally and politically, it makes them think about the contest, heir choice and the overall context of the election. If only one party, a small one particularly, makes contact, they do not suffer as much from campaign noise from other sources and may have the ability to build a relationship founded on trust through a single meeting. Research conducted at the 2005 general election suggests that such activities can have significant impact even when there is a mass media campaign running simultaneously; so the local elections should be even more fertile ground. The major issue will be can the Conservatives fight off this challenge, as if not it may suggest that the Cameron style is not having the impact polls suggest and that trust needs more substance than he is currently offering. Hence it should be Cameron that is most worried about the performance of the smaller parties, as if his noise can not block out their grassroots style he may be on shaky ground when the real contest comes around.