How do political campaigns influence voting turnout?
During electoral periods, the average citizen is encouraged to vote and make a political decision. Media and government encourage us all to vote. I claim that media and politicians should not be the ones responsible for encouraging voting because their encouragement is inherently biased. When politicians encourage voting, I fear that they often give the wrong incentives and arguments to vote in one or other direction. They want to maximize the votes they get; they will create many arguments in order to convince you to vote in one or other direction.
I think that the responsible citizen will very willingly vote according to the information he has, therefore he doesn’t need to be encouraged by media and politicians. However, the uninterested -and by consequence “ignorant” voter-, when encouraged to vote, will be easily persuaded to vote for one or other candidate but will not be able to make the decisions fully informed. He is more susceptible of being persuaded by the wrong arguments.
Of course, that is the very purpose of any political campaign, to change public opinion in order to win the electoral race. The purpose of political campaigns is to encourage and convince the “ignorant”, voter. Therefore, any political race is a race to win the undecided voter, the one who is still not informed enough. Without the “ignorant voters” democracy would not be possible. That is why campaigns are essential to create the “rule of the majority”.
If voters were well informed, campaigns would have little purpose (since voters already know who and why they’ll vote for a particular issue or candidate). If every voter was informed, it would be enough for the candidates to state their policies and agendas and the general population would be able to make an informed decision.
I think the voter should be encouraged to vote by personal incentives and motivations, not by media and political campaigns. Increasing civilian participation is the role of the civilians themselves. It is a task that should be executed by non-partisans NGO’s, schools and educational institutions. There are examples of detrimental political campaigns have, and how they can skew the outcome of the election at the expense of the voter. In some elections in Mexico for example, it’s sufficient for candidates to offer food (rice, beans, cans) in the poorest areas and they’ll likely get the vote of an important part of the population. Campaigns tend to distort opinions, rather than inform. They decrease the quality of the vote, since the voter is more likely to make decisions that don’t necessarily represent his/her interests.
Here in the US, campaigns are based on the distortion and manipulation of specific information. Therefore, we need to make sure that what we are hearing from campaigns and from the media is related to reality. When deciding for a potential candidate, I think that candidate’s websites are a really useful tool to gain the basic information. Every voter should carefully analyze these websites. It is essential to read their proposed policies and then ask the right questions. How will their policies impact the economy? Who will bear the costs? Is this what I want in the long run? Additionally, there are websites that provide useful insight into the electoral process (like opensecrets.org).
As voters and citizens, we have a responsibility to inform ourselves about the current issues. Because our vote does count, we should aim to be as informed as we can about the issues we have to vote on. The voter should be skeptical, curious and engaged. Even though becoming fully informed can be really hard for presidential campaigns since there is too much at stake, I think that as voters, it is our responsibility to inform us on the issues we are interested in.