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More awareness = Less voting

Many ads, fewer votes reads a piece in New York Times, All the awareness campaigns couldn’t get people to vote screams Mumbai Mirror. I am sure the Lead India team in TOI and elsewhere is feeling dejected. TOI spent millions in spreading awareness. This time seemed different, in deed it was, it went from bad to worse.

Many experts have started giving various explanations, muslims didn’t vote, long weekend… so people went out of town, politicians didn’t offer a good choice, they didn’t create an atmosphere and a desire to vote. What better motivation than ten gunmen on a shooting spree in South Bombay. This constituency recorded the lowest turnout. Ironically, more people on facebook were worried about the dry days. Contrast this to some rural constituencies in Andhra where voting was close to 80%. If at all, they have more reasons to feel apathy and cynicism, but they vote, election after election.

There are too many peripheral explanations floating around and the blame game has started. There is however a fundamental problem with this “Awareness” mindset. Were people not aware that they are supposed to vote? Didn’t they know that it is one of the most powerful weapon in a democracy? Why are people demanding that voting be made compulsory? It’s a right and we now want to make it a binding duty!

The fundamental problem is that awareness alone doesn’t lead to any action. We are aware that red means stop, we jump signals, we know that the road is slippery in monsoons, we still over speed, smokers continue smoking fully aware of the danger, 90% of those who undergo a bypass do not change their lifestyle. So is the case with voting. So much irrationality, yet so prevalent and consistent.

Awareness is simply over rated. And so is the power of mass media in generating action. Voting day is a different ball game. What Obama requested his supporters on the voting day is more impactful, “I am going to ask you to make some phone calls tonight and knock on few doors”. In villages, there is a local worker of a party knocking doors on election day, you know him because he has met you many times in the past. Who in South Bombay knows any party worker?

Celebrities make little impact in getting people to vote, there is more chance of you voting because your neighbor voted, not because the Bachchan family voted. In such matters, we follow what people like us do, Fashion and Voting don’t work in a similar way.

We need to divert our resources and efforts like political parties do. Ask any candidate, he will tell you that campaigning is just 50%, the rest is about what you do on the polling day. Some of them spend 25% of their budgets just on that day. Tremendous planning goes on for that 10 hours. There are feet on ground monitoring how the voting is, who has voted and who is yet to. There is a strong feedback mechanism. Of course there are also crooked things like Alcohol, Sarees and Money being given on that day. The point however is tremendous focus on action orientation, not just awareness.

So, the next time around we need to focus on interventions on that day rather than just TV spots and full page ads. And those interventions should be based on principles of social influence like commitment and social proof. Only then we will generate action, else we will keep analyzing what went wrong.

#Irrationality #politics #Elections2009 #LeadIndia #SouthMumbai #Voterawareness #NewYorkTimes #2611

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