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15th ECPR General Conference, University of Innsbruck

Party Consultancy – All Change or Business as Usual in the Era of Data-Driven Campaigning?

Comparative Politics
Cyber Politics
Political Parties
Party Systems
Sam Power
University of Exeter
Kate Dommett
University of Sheffield
Sam Power
University of Exeter
Glenn Kefford
University of Queensland

Political consultants are a longstanding component of political campaigning. Since at least the 1980s scholars have been proclaiming the ‘rise of political consultants’ (Sabato, 1981) and there have been repeated attempts to clarify and understand the relationship between consultants, parties and campaigns (Grossman, 2009; Medvic, 2003; Plasser, 2000; Sheingate, 2016)

In recent times, the advent of digital campaigning have cast these debates in a new light. As digital technology and tools have begun to be taken up, questions have emerged as to whether a new kind of consultant is being bought into parties and whether these actors are transforming political campaigns (Farrell, Kolodny, Medvic, 2001). Given the growing significance of data-driven campaigning and micro-targeting techniques, it could be presumed that consultants are becoming increasingly pivotal to the way campaigning is performed.

In this paper we draw on interviews conducted with political staffers and campaign consultants in Australia and the UK. Exploring this data we examine the relationship between consultants and parties in a data-driven campaigning environment. Contrary to the image of highly professionalised campaigns that are increasingly reliant on (often external) consulting expertise, we argue that distinct forms of consultancy are emerging. Distinguishing between professional consultants, peer-to-peer party consulting and consulting with grassroots entrepreneurs, we argue that digital campaigning exemplifies a broader range of consulting practices that have so far been observed. This paper makes an important new contribution to an often US centric focus on digital campaigning (Kreiss and McGregor, 2018), offering insight into how other parties around the globe interact with digital platforms and their intermediaries.
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