Elections are here again and so are a plethora of campaign messages littered everywhere. In this article we want to argue that there is so much more to delivering a winning political campaign. And yes, having a well dedicated, disciplined, loyal, resourced, clear-cut vision, saleable candidate(s) and motivated campaign structures on the ground are all cardinal to a winning formula , but not necessary the entire recipe . People must be at the centre of a campaign, if it is to succeed in winning votes. Have you ever wondered why a campaign that was heavily followed by thousands upon thousands of people still couldn’t secure a winning mandate? Its simple, voters have learnt the art of playing along, in short people can smell a fake from a real one. That is why a winning campaign is a thoughtful one, and never be misled into thinking that thousands that flock a campaign will automatically translate into votes. You might want to consider a few tips that we will be sharing hereunder to formulate a people centered campaign:
Empathy: Voters are the real heroes not your manifesto nor your candidate(s)
A successful campaign clearly defines what a voter wants because as soon as it does that; it posits a question in the mind of a voter, can this manifesto really help me get what I want? If a voter cannot answer in the positive but senses the arrogance that normally goes with most political party campaigns, she will play along. Key question is how are you inviting voters into your campaign? Granted, you might have a saleable, articulate candidate(s) and money or gifts to flash around but have you tried to consider who the real hero is in your campaign? Is it your Candidate or the potential voters? Voters are the real heroes in your campaign. A winnable campaign should be able to clearly define what voters are looking for and communicate it simply, in a way that invites them to action – yes in a way that shifts power from the campaigning party to the people .When you define and communicate what the voters’ want- they are invited to own your campaign and its manifesto. If they see your party and its manifesto as trustworthy and reliable guide for what they want, they will likely engage.
Having a campaign message for each class of potential voters
It is common knowledge that voters are differently oriented, and so are their needs and wants especially in an election cycle. If a candidate is to win an election therefore, they should have a political message for each class of voters they interact with. For example, a message of inflation, the country’s policies on fiscal discipline and taxation will prove less effective to a remote rural community whose lives revolve around farming. What such a community would want to hear perhaps is how the road network would be improved in their area so as to open up access to markets. Such a community would also perhaps be yearning for quick delivery of farming inputs, coupled with viable markets where to sell their produce. So taking a message of taxation and inflation to them would prove less effective as most of them would not even understand such especially when garnished with technical jargon.
Similarly, the unemployed youths are ready to entertain a candidate who tells them how employment opportunities would be created for them. They would also lend their listening ear to a candidate that offers social security measures in the interim. They would be less interested in the campaign message that revolves around high tech economic jargon as some of them may not even comprehend such depending on their fields of specialization and level. So, a message that suggests opening up of industries that favour youth employment would greatly do. However, caution should be taken in avoiding the untenable. Remember, this is a class of people that can easily differentiate the tenable from untenable. Also, you could not be the only one campaigning to them. Your rival might just use your own words against you and render all your efforts irrelevant.
Civil servants would also want to have a share; they would be less interested in messages centered around Farmer Input Support Programmes (FISP) for example, as some of them may not even qualify to be beneficiaries. What they would favour however, are messages on lower taxes, subsidized fuel and improved emoluments among others. So a message that centers on improved conditions of service in their respective disciplines coupled with the foregoing would be highly favoured by this class of people.
It is in this vein that leading political strategists have contended that during campaigns, political actors should endeavor to build on the inner voices of the electorate. The voters already know what is affecting them and all they want is someone that will identify with their needs.
Including the electorate in the envisaged vision
Modern politics demand that the electorate be included in campaign messages. This not only builds confidence in them, but also psyches them into identifying with such candidates. Voters, especially those that are enlightened, hate it when all that a candidate does is show solitude approaches in their campaign trails. They would rather listen to a candidate that shows signs of inclusiveness. At worst, candidates with solitude approaches unknowingly alert the electorate that they will have no say in matters affecting them. They also unknowingly alert the electorate on the possibility of abuse of power. Unknown to them, potential voters would have feared for the foregoing and would have shifted camp to an ‘all inclusive candidate’. Candidates should therefore be very smart and try by all means to include the electorate in their campaign messages. For example, instead of saying, ‘I will build a clinic here once elected…’ the candidate is better off saying, ‘with your support, I will build a clinic here….’ The latter statement would assure potential voters of their guaranteed involvement in the envisioned project. Besides, such an approach just makes political sense because not even the most intelligent politician can single handedly deliver development. They would definitely need others in their file and ranks, if not the input of the beneficiaries.
Be ‘their own’ in both articulation and level
Though much overlooked, the aspect of socialization plays a critical role in an election contest. What moves voters to identify themselves with a given candidate is the level of articulation and familiarisation. Voters feel comfortable to identify with a candidate who is their own; a candidate that they can easily mingle with, share their experiences with and make requests pertaining to their well being. Better still, they love candidates that they have been with for a while, and those that know their area very well. The assumption is that such candidates would know their problems very well and would least betray them in terms of advancing such on appropriate fora.
This explains why most candidates that are highly technical and classy have not performed well at the ballot in places with mostly average people. Candidates should therefore try by all means to reduce themselves to the level of an average potential voter during campaigns if they are to win an election. For example, when campaigning in Lundazi, a candidate should try by all means to become ‘Tumbuka’ in their lifestyle. Where possible, they should at least speak a little bit of Tumbuka and appreciate the lifestyle of the locals in the best way possible. However, care should be taken in avoiding faking – the attributes should flow almost naturally.
Avoid despising the electorate over their past choice
It is not uncommon for candidates to despise the electorate over their previous choice. They would mock the electorate to the core. This technique does not only attract a back lash from the electorate but also galvanizes them to vote for the same candidate even more. Out of embarrassment and anger, the electorate will resolve to punish the bearers of such ridicule or mockery by perpetually voting for the same party or candidate they have been despised on. The best way is to take on the rival candidate; bring out their weaknesses and show why you are the best alternative. Other political scientists might contend that it is one way of garnering support but the larger picture is that such an approach alienates the one campaigning from potential voters. There could have been a driving force that was very appealing at the time the electorate voted for the incumbent or immediate past candidate as the case may be. And the fact that such an incentive is no longer in view does not mean it never existed; it did and the electorate could have benefited handsomely. So, to despise them over something that they considered to be beneficial not so long ago, might not be the best way of winning their vote.
As highlighted in the foregoing, campaigning is critical to winning an election at whatever level. However, political actors should be sensitive during campaigns. They should be very systematic if they are to effectively garner the support they so much yearn for. They should go a mile ahead in knowing what would appeal to the electorate; they should have a campaign message for each class of people, endeavor to include the electorate in the vision, reduce themselves to the level of the average voter and better still, avoid despising the electorate over past choices.
About the Authors:
The authors are Social Advocates interested in governance, electoral democracy, economic and social matters, Strategic plans. And can be reached for feedback and interactions on the following emails: Mr.Chimfwembe Mweenge- [email protected], Mr.Robert Theo – [email protected]