Saturday, May 21, 2022

Dealing with types of voters to influence campaign strategies

This year we expect to witness intensive preparatory activities as political parties gear up for the 2014 elections. Central to these preparatory engagements would be the drive to firstly win more electorates and secondly to keep these in the mould so that they translate into effective voters for the respective parties. It is these voters that I want to focus on this week and try to make sense of want are the likely types of voters the political parties will be dealing with. In this piece I will borrow from one Aronson’s categorization of how as individuals and/or groups respond to social influences and want to add political influences for purposes of this discussion. Aronson argues that beyond the more simplistic ways and reasons for conformity are the more complex classification of how as individuals or groups we get to conform to certain dictates and in this regard political persuasions and recruitment drives undertaken by political parties. He says we do so in three different ways; complying, identifying and internalizing.

Firstly, compliance describes our behaviour when we are motivated to join political parties by the desire to be rewarded or likely or potential to avoid punishment. It would be interesting to see how any of the campaign strategies of our political parties includes elements of either rewarding or punishing potential voters or non-voters. Whilst at a theoretical level all parties have the potential to engage in any of the two, it would appear that at a practical level the reward side dominate and they would be less of punishment because the latter is likely to disenfranchise voters and drive away potential voters. It also seems likely that carrot dangling strategies are likely to be more useful and effective to the ruling party as it can use state resources to reward electorates, whilst the opposition parties while likely to do the same too, are disadvantaged by their lack of state power and resources. What this means is that part of the campaign strategies could actually be ways of how best to increase one’s voters by actually promising rewards for potential votes attained. The question maybe what types of rewards is likely to carry weight and induce voters to this or that political party?

At a group level it would seem logical that any rewards promised would be in the form of development projects that will benefit groups of specific localities in the event they vote any of the parties as promised. This is the most reasonable but difficult to fulfil promise to make as it entails processes that may not lend themselves to ease of fulfilling these at a practical level, especially if political campaigns do not reflect the actual commitment to principles and stated ideals of a party’s road map to development of the nation. The other level of reward based campaigns is of promises to individuals which normally is very short term and unsustainable because at that level it’s about the benefit of the individual and not the group. Individuals’ interest are normally better addressed through monetary and other self-based items in the form of money, properties such as cars, houses, in some cases appointments to positions in the public service and any wealth type items. At a general level however, the complying voter is a short term gain and will not necessarily translate into permanent member for political parties and naturally the most resourced party is the likely beneficiary.

The second type of voter would be the one that wants to identify with either the party ideology/programmes or sometimes the individual simply feels a level of self-satisfying relationship with either the party itself or individuals within that party. Unlike the compliant, the identifying voter will believe in the opinions, values and political outlook of the party albeit sometimes not so deeply. These type of voters can and do change allegiance as and when another political party’s ideals and policies begin to appeal to their self-satisfying identity.

These are the lot that make regular defections and relocation to other parties and often may exhibit characteristics of both the compliant and the identifying voter, strictly based on the campaign strategies employed by different political parties. Amongst these, the more volatile are the ones whose self-satisfying identity with the party rests on their respect and influence of certain individuals in the party, because if those revered individuals shift or cross over to other parties, the tendency is for this lot to follow suit. The positive about this lot is that ordinarily they are not attracted by rewards.

The third group of voters are those that internalise values, traditions and party ideology (if any) and become party ideologues, driven by what they believe to be the right thing to be done by a chosen political party. These are voters who will be motivated by the individuals or general party position and perceive that to be a trustworthy and of a good judgement, resulting in them internalising and integrating it into their own beliefs and values. It is these types of voters that political parties should be chasing at all cost because once they are inside they become extremely resistant to change for another political party viewpoint. These are long-term and reliable voters who provide reference and stability of membership. The difficulty is that there are not that many out there of this calibre and the few are a rare breed often sought by all political parties.

It will therefore, be interesting to see how our political parties’ campaign strategies encompass targeting any or all of these types of voters in this year. I want to believe that all political parties are by default opportunistic in orientation and therefore all will target all types of voters. The only limitation could be with respect to the first type of voters, especially amongst opposition parties who are under resourced. Let me acknowledge that whilst this categorisation of voters can be helpful in understanding voter behaviour and preferences, it’s by no means the ultimate voter category to be followed religiously. I look forward to see the unfolding campaign strategies as we slowly approach 2014.

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