The Invisible Primary

2 Aug 2014


Many would associate the invisible primary with politics in the USA, but it is also relevant to UK politics as well.

Simply put, an invisible primary (also known as ‘the money primary’) is an unmarked period that exists between one election and another where political parties market themselves to the electorate and fundraise. An invisible primary can start at any point after the last election, usually with enough time to capture the vote for the upcoming one.


This differs between UK and US politics. In the US, invisible primaries last for a longer period of time merely because the parties have to fundraise a lot more money for the cost of marketing, which has risen in the past decade. Evidence of this lies in two presidential elections. In 2004, in a report by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the largest reported sum spent was $367,227,801 by George W. Bush (Republican). Later, in 2008, in another report by the FEC, the largest reported sum spent was $760,370,195 by Barack Obama (Democrat). Consequently, it can be said that an invisible primary in the US starts from the moment the winner of the last election is announced. Watch out for this in 2016.

In the UK there is no need to raise so much money, as politicians are given specific slots in which they can air their political broadcasts. Therefore, the invisible primary period does not last for so long; in fact it only lasts for about a year. During the current invisible primary, political parties have started to take measures to market themselves. The recent Conservative cabinet reshuffle, for example, was a clear investment in the party’s image for the upcoming election.

As the UK’s invisible primary period draws near its conclusion, we could see a progression in these marketing strategies. We may even see parties re-brand themselves using a new version of their logo and adopt new policies in order to present a fresh image to the electorate.

An interesting party to look at during this period is the Liberal Democrats. Indeed, Clegg and co. have a lot of marketing work to do if they want to retain seats in 2015. The Liberal Democrats have lost a lot of public confidence over the last five years and in short period of time will need to restore confidence in their political philosophy, or else suffer an electoral collapse.

Invisible primaries have a pivotal impact on an election. If a party does not have the money to fund their elections then they can say goodbye to a lot of voters - this goes for elections in the UK as well as elections in the US. Likewise, if the party does not have the time to market itself then it will lose vital media coverage and supporters. 

My advice? Keep your eye on current events. What happens over the next few months could make or break a party, and decide the election.

By Nicola White


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