Saturday, November 20, 2010

Election Leaflets Are Not Junk Mail

Anyone who has ever delivered any political leaflet for any party will know the scenarios.

1). You see a letter box with a sign saying "No junk mail". You avoid it. Later when canvassing the occupant complains they never get anything through the letterbox and says that their sign is just to stop leaflets about pizzas, doubleglazing, taxies and so forth.

2). You stick a leaflet in the letterbox and someone subsequently comes out to complain (or sends a complaint to party HQ).

Both scenarios can cause difficulties, but in the second case the person in the home is wrong because election & political communications are not junk mail, i.e. commercial advertising, but rather "informative" material. If people put up "no leaflets" or "no circulars" (or even the more specific "no political/election leaflets") then the situation is very different. This is the definition distinction in all the formal advice I've been given over the years, but it can confuse when people put up instructions without checking the terms used. See for example Stop Junk Mail: Political junk mail, and how to stop it which has the right idea but continues the confused use of the term. See also Our junk mail isn’t junk mail.

For those who have been on the receiving end of angry recipients, here's an interesting story from an Official Monster Raving Loony Party leaflet:

Election Leaflets Are Not Junk Mail

Earlier in this campaign, I was confronted aggressively by an irate person who objected to the fact that I had just delivered a election leaflet through his letterbox. This was despite the fact that his notice merely said "no free newspapers or junk mail" but it did not say "no leaflets" or "no circulars".

I politely explained to him that election leaflets are not junk mail (junk mail means advertising such as pizza leaflets), but he made a specific and overt threat that he would "punch me in the mouth" if I continued the conversation.

I immediately went to the police station and reported this threat, but I was told that the police would not bother to do anything because it was "not a arrestable offence". Such threats are unacceptable in a democratic society. Those of us - candidates and agents - who are engaged in the legitimate business of communicating our policies to the electorate during a election campaign need to be confident that we will be protected by the law if necessary.

The full leaflet can be seen at Official Monster Raving Loony Party: Croydon Branch: ELECTION LEAFLETS part 1: 2005 to 2010.

The campaigner subsequently produced a limited print run second version of the leaflet in question, this time including the above text, and delivered it to the same household to explain the point to the voter directly.


Bill said...

Were you the voter in question? :)

Seriously, though, what you write does seem to mirror some of my experiences when I was still delivering party political leaflets.

Anonymous said...

Anything that the householder hasn't asked for is junk mail, just like email. I wouldn't expect to see adverts for x rated material in my letter-box just as it shouldn't be in my email.

I haven't asked for an election and I'm only on the voter register for one reason - because it improves your credit rating.

It's a shame the canvasser wasn't punched in the mouth!

I've never voted in my life, because of junk mail, one party sends me a letter each election, despite the no junk mail (and it also mentions election junk mail) and I write back (to their freepost address) to say I don't vote because of their junk mail, and the extact same thing happens at the next election - clearly not voting must make these idiots think I'd vote because of all their election crap!

Then the same happens with the second most popular party in my area. yawn yawn yawn

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

@Anonymous The position parties operate on is that "junk mail" is legally only unsolicited commercial mail. Individual activists vary in their precise level of caution when hand delivering, but the official advice (and friends in other parties have shown me similar) is that it's not junk mail. The best advice is to make sure any sign explicitly says "no political leaflets".

As letters, in parliamentary elections all candidates are allowed a free mailshot to all households/voters and the system for this isn't good at tracking people who've declared they don't vote. Similarly most hand deliverers don't have a list of boxes to avoid.

Anthony Miller said...

If election leaflets are not junk mail then ...
Then why do you need to print so many
and why is what you've got to say more important than what I've got to say?
Of course you have massively increased the volume of direct untargeted junk mail by bans on street flyering
£23,577 was spent on directly pushing Barwell ...
In 2010 the Conservative party alone spent £43,362 on printed propaganda pushin my prospective conservative MP in an estimated 300,000 flyers and leaflets
probably 10 times more than the entire London Comedy Circuit Produces in a year.

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Unknown said...

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