Thursday, 6 July 2017

Zimbabwe Elections 2018 Campaign Discourse

With the euphoria and fever gripping Zimbabweans in the run up to Elections 2018, there are many election permutations mutating from the so called learned Zimbabwean electorate and jostling for recognition and popularity. The most trending tactics so far the fatigued meet the people rallies and social media hype gripping the nation though far fetched from reality as the majority of rural and urban voters struggle to survive and feed families oblivious of the mushrooming and shrinking of the political space. Zimbabwe today with over 35 political parties, numerous coalitions and multiple offshoots of Independent and Dependant candidates is enmeshed in a vacuous dilemma!

Like any marketing effort, political campaigns have products that need to be sold and consumers that need to be persuaded.  Unlike selling soap or soda, though, the marketing efforts of political campaigns have much higher stakes:  the product that needs to be sold is the candidate, and the consumers that need to be persuaded are the voters.  The ruling party ZANU PF has been in power for 37 years and is renowned for its use of coercion and violence to instil its visibility and on the other hand MDC T chides itself as the most formidable opposition party credible to claim monopoly in its opposition and cowing itself into alliances and coalitions to position itself strategically.

But one wonders whether most of the candidates understand the basic similarity of this election with product marketing.  What they may not understand, though, is that many of the same tactics that are used to market products are also used to persuade the voters in political campaigns.  One such tactic is repetition.It’s a fact – shoppers will often choose the brand of cookies, soap, hamburgers… or whatever they are shopping for, based on the name they know best.  Sure, quality, price, and packaging make a big difference, but unless the brand name is one of the two or three that the consumer knows best, the product often doesn’t stand a chance of being purchased.

The same holds true with political campaigns.  Voters, like consumers, have only a limited amount of time in their day – and most of it is not spent thinking about politics.  Unlike candidates, volunteers, party leaders and consultants, the voters only think about political campaigns when they are forced to attend rallies, barraged with advertisements on radio and TV as well as mobile devices, receive t shirts and regalia and get coalesced into debates and the like.

Most voters don’t take the time to sit down and reason through the choices they face on the ballot.  Instead, many voters simply go into the polls on Election Day and vote for the candidate whose name they know or recognize.  That’s one reason why incumbents are so hard to beat – they have been in the paper, on TV and radio, at town hall meeting and in parades, so the voters have heard their name before, even if they don’t know what elected office the incumbent holds.

For this reason, campaigns must work diligently to raise the “name ID” of their candidate.  The name ID is the percentage of people who recognize the candidate’s name… who have seen, read, or heard it enough times to know it (even if they don’t know anything else about the candidate).  Before the campaign can connect the candidate with a positive message, or introduce the candidate’s issue or bio to the voters, it must first work to raise the name ID of the candidate.

The key to raising name ID is repetition.  The more times a voter sees, hears, or reads the candidate’s name, the more likely he or she is to be open to the candidate’s message, and to vote for him or her on Election Day.  In short, in politics, repetition is a good thing.  If you can get the candidate’s name in front of each of your targeted voters three, four, or five times, you will be far ahead of an opponent who only reaches the voter once during the campaign.

There are many mass communication ways to get your candidate’s name in front of the voters, including live facebooking, rallies and going door to door, doing literature drops, parcelling out party regalia, getting press coverage, placing newspaper, television, or radio ads, putting up signs, etc.  The campaign should plan on using a combination of techniques for getting the candidate’s name out there and getting the voters to remember it.

In fact, the opportunities for repetition are endless.  Take going door to door, for example.  If you simply go door to door, that would count as presenting the candidate’s name to the voters once.  If the candidate hands out literature as he goes door to door, that reinforces name ID with a second repletion.  The campaign can go even further, though, if it has the resources.  The campaign could mail out a postcard to every home the candidate will visit that says “I’ll be in your neighborhood next week.”  That’s three repetitions.  The campaign can also mail out an “It was nice to meet you last week” postcard after the walk.  That’s four repetitions.  If a group of voters wanted to put up signs for the candidate, a volunteer could drop them off at a later date.  That’s five repetitions.  The possibilities are endless.

A major part of any campaign plan should be getting the candidate’s name in front of the voters through repetition on a regular basis.  By repeating exposure to the candidate’s name, the voters gradually become familiar with him or her and are much more likely to vote for the candidate on Election Day.

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