Monday, January 14, 2013

How subliminal messaging could win election

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 13 January 2013

In many countries across the world, elections are won on the strength of issues canvassed by political parties and candidates. In Kenya, however, this has never been the case in the past, and it is largely unlikely that serious issues will play any role in the forthcoming elections.

It remains intriguing how Kenyan elections are won or lost, but a few factors have come to be appreciated as key determinants. Ethnicity or kinship, wealth and gender seem to be deciding factors whenever a Kenyan voter stands in the polling booth. These factors are well studied, and politicians are busy developing their strategies based on them.

There is no doubt that they will determine the main winners and losers this year as well. However, a new factor is emerging that may influence the so-called “swing” voters. Subliminal messaging, or crafting messages in a manner that is not so obvious, will influence the undecided voters at the very last minute. Let us examine some examples of this.

Firstly, let us consider the naming of coalitions. Competing coalitions have given themselves names that are aimed at influencing voter perceptions at levels other than the conscious analytical mind. These names speak to either perceptions of ubiquity, or strong emotional needs in every human being. 

Package itself

In our 50th year after independence, at least one of the coalitions has taken advantage of this happenstance to package itself as the team whose time has come, with undertones of religious determinism and entitlement. The fact that all government leaders across the political divide have had to mention this anniversary somewhere in their speeches only serves to illustrate the point – they are embedding the message in the minds of their listeners that they don’t mind the holders of that name winning an election this year.

Another coalition seems to have been named to appeal to those of us who were completely freaked out by the civil unrest following the last General Election. However, there’s more to this than meets the eye. This coalition, headed by a candidate from Western Kenya, has been fronted as a forum in which voters from Western Kenya communities may exert their influence.

Indeed, the coalition has been campaigning in the region flaunting their strength, power and unity. Interestingly, among many of the local dialects, the coalition’s name means “strength, power or authority”. Perhaps the undecided Western voter will choose the coalition whose name rings a subconscious bell in their mind.

Finally, one other factor that has been studied in other elections also unconsciously influences the undecided voter. Multiple studies have demonstrated a “ballot order positional effect”, a phenomenon whereby candidates placed at or near the top of the ballot tend to win elections more often than those whose names appear in the bottom half. This effect is amplified when the lists are long and multiple positions are being contested, as is certain to be the case in our forthcoming elections.

Given the amount of confusion among the voters concerning the various candidates and their coalitions, it is very likely that the subliminal factors mentioned above will influence voter behaviour. Unless the electoral commission takes steps to ameliorate some of these effects, it should be easy for observers to predict the outcome of the election based on the percentage of undecided voters.; Twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

1 comment:

  1. Great work doc, but the worst form of subliminal messaging is during adverts. Either on air or visual subliminal messaging. Take an example when G W Bush was campaigning against Al Gore. There he called the democrats as bureaucrats, but subliminally, messages of RATS where subliminally inserted to create hatred for the democrats....might that have worked?? who knows. So in this election, if these guys could do this on air or visually, the Bitange has more work to do since hate speech reloaded will be the issue here. Jubilee could visually subliminally be called 'Ju-ni-Thieves' or such like or CORD be known subliminally as 'BORED' etc
    I wonder how Swahili version of this might work


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