How effective are petitions?

A group of 38 Degrees members hand in our NHS petition

38 Degrees members deliver a petition of over 410,000 names to the NHS.

The 38 Degrees office team receive a number of queries about petitions and questions about how effective they are. 38 Degrees isn’t just all about petitions. And we certainly don’t think petitions are a magic bullet. However we do think they are an important campaign tactic, which has shown itself to be valuable part of people powered campaign.

Here are 3 reasons why:

1. Showing public support: Petitions help show how many people support a campaign and want things to change. When hundreds of thousands of people add their names to a 38 Degrees petition, it can shift the debate by proving to the media and decision makers that a campaign has public support. It makes it harder for politicians or the media to claim an issue isn’t relevant or important, and shows to them how many votes/customers they could stand to lose.

2: Supporting other campaign tactics: A petition can be a launchpad for other campaign tactics. For example they can become a focal point for hundreds of local meetings with 38 Degrees members and their MP. These can be vital face-to-face discussions that show an MP that local voters care about an issue enough to come and meet with them. It’s also possible to organise high-profile hand-ins of the petition at Parliament or a company headquarters, that can get vital national media coverage that can help build the pressure.

3: A first step towards other forms of action: A petition often acts as an entry point into a campaign first campaigning step after which signers get involved in other forms of action. 38 Degrees members who’ve signed a petition often go on to take further vital actions like emailing their MP, organising a local meeting, or donating to pay for hard-hitting adverts.

A great example of the role a petition can play in a campaign is the half-million signature on our Save Our Forests petition. It was the petition, combined with emails to MPs, walks in local woods and high-profile media coverage that helped build momentum that led to the government changing its mind about the forests sell-off. More here.

A petition was also central to our NHS campaign. Although eventually the Health and Social Care Bill was passed, there’s no question that it would have been an even more damaging law if it wasn’t for the efforts of 38 Degrees members. For example, together we forced the government to pause their plans and eventually announce some changes, as reported on Sky website last year, in “Why Tories Have NHS Jitters”.

You can read more on what people power achieved on the the Save Our NHS campaign here.