Sunday, February 24, 2013

It’s time to address the undecided voter

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 24 February 2013

Just seven days before our defining General Election under the new constitution, we should be witnessing the most intense campaigns aimed at convincing the undecided voter to select one candidate over the others. Instead, politicians continue to appeal to the same issues that energise their base and alienate their opponents’ supporters.

I shall dispense some free advice to the contending politicians. This week, they should organise their campaigns to appeal to the truly undecided voter. Those who think there are no voters of this type should simply save the money they are wasting in campaigns and invest it in something more profitable.

According to some of the recent opinion polls, up to three per cent of registered voters are undecided this late into the campaign period. Due to the predicted closeness of the election results, it is plausible that whoever will convince this segment of the electorate in the coming week will go into the polls with a greater chance of achieving the magical 50 per cent plus one threshold to win the election outright.

The candidates, therefore, need to discover the characteristics of this voting bloc and tailor their message to address this segment’s concerns. A key requirement for the candidates will be to convince this group to actually go out and vote on election day. 

Tailor message

In the event that no candidate addresses their concerns, it is highly likely that undecided voters will choose to watch from the sidelines. It will take a candidate or political party that tailors its message to their wavelength to convince them to go out and vote.

As far as the profile of the Kenyan undecided voter is concerned, none of the pollsters have pursued this angle in their reports, although one hopes that the candidates have conducted their own internal polls on this subject. If not, they could reanalyse the data provided by pollsters, focussing on the characteristics and opinions of those voters that are categorised as undecided.

Due to the nature of Kenyan politics and the manner in which voters make their decisions, one could make a few observations on the likely characteristics of the undecided voter.

This voter is likely to be female aged between 18 and 35 years and living in an urban or peri-urban area.
She probably considers herself too busy to engage in politics. Her key concerns will have to do with transport and security, as well as the need to have a steady income to take care of her needs including food, housing, clothing and recreation.

The matters currently being canvassed on the national stage such as land and farming, the International Criminal Court, national unity and historical injustices register only distantly in her mind. In fact, when she does encounter them, they do not resonate with her needs and aspirations, and they will not affect her decision one way or the other.

Talk of violence makes her wonder if she should not apply for that hard-to-get Green Card after all. Above all, although she has some connection to her tribe, she has friends from all over the country, and her choice of spouse will most likely be from another ethnic group.

I could be wrong, but this is the voter our presidential candidates may need to convince in order to have a clearer chance of winning this election. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association, and a senior lecturer at the Moi University’s school of medicine; Twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

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