So, thirty-five days away from the general elections and all parties - from the incumbent one to the biggest opposition party - have turned up the campaign machine to full throttle in an attempt to win as many votes as possible.
Now, it deserves mentioning that politics is a game of numbers, and as much as the average voter would like to believe that a candidate is on their side (basically running for office in order to make their lives better) it’s important to bear in mind that they’ll tell you whatever they have to in order to GET YOUR VOTE. That unfortunately may include lies, half-truths, and misrepresentations.
So in light of this, as an informed voter (or better yet, an objective voter), one cannot rely solely on what politicians and partisans say but rather one must be able to look beyond the well-crafted speeches and press releases and be able to discern (at least as much as one can) what’s really being said and done.
In light of this fact we felt it necessary to compile a short guide to help people to, not just vote smart, but also to reveal a few ‘tricks’ of persuasion commonly used by politicians on the campaign trail.
The informed voter
This definition may be the most important definitions in this entire guide, SO PAY ATTENTION! The informed voter is one that has kept abreast with the issues, politicians, and decision makers involved in the political arena. It is important to be able to discern between this voter (who actively goes out to find the information using different channels/means, and reliable sources), and the voter who only thinks he’s informed simply because he’s been voting for the same party for years and is easily swayed by flowery political discourse.
If you Google the word Rhetoric you’d get the simplest – and perhaps most useful - definition of the word.
Which is: “The art or skill of speaking or writing formally and effectively especially as a way to persuade or influence people.”
And perhaps the most useful definition of political rhetoric, again, according to Google would be this: “Language that is intended to influence people and that may not be honest or reasonable.”
If you’ve ever lived through an election, then chances are that you’ve experience some sort of political rhetoric in speeches, debates, and/or public addresses. In truth, very few politicians actually prepare these themselves. Most of these public discourses are usually prepared by groups of professionals that use language tailor-made for a specific audience. Many things are considered in writing these speeches such background, ethnicity, and education just to name a few.
Note that at no time did we mention TRUTH or FACT, which is usually what the voter is looking for in a public address. This is not to say that neither truth nor fact isn’t taken into account, but rather that it isn’t always the politicians priority to tell, “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
This, perhaps, is the simplest of them all. Recently we saw the Mayor of Accra come out and braid hair, and a female aspiring MP cook an entire pot of banku for constituents. Political symbolism is used when the politician wants to the people to identify with him/her with the minimum amount of effort. The most common form is when a politician on a door to door campaign will pick up a constituents baby and fawn over it, meet and greets with the public, or when they go to a factory that’s about to close down just “Talk to the workers”.
Another effective tool politicians commonly use are keywords. These are words that have the ability to evoke emotion in people, words like “Development” or “Freedom”, which may be evocative but can also be conveniently vague.
How to be an informed voter
A vote should be based on issues and results, not popularity. If you support a candidate because he’s from your hometown, or he’s of the same ethnicity, or maybe that he’s of the same ethnicity as you THEN YOU’RE NOT AN OBJECTIVE VOTER.
I) Stay informed, stay informed, and stay informed!
Find a unbiased source, whether is radio, TV, or online. Keep up with the politicians and what they’re doing during their terms in office, this is the best way to know what a politicians’ motive are. If an aspiring MP promised to build a bridge in his community during his first two years in office and didn’t for no obvious reason, then it’s no longer his priority or he’s unable to do it. Either way, you’re better off voters for one who can.
II) Be an objective listener and fact check
When candidates use rhetoric or any of the above mentioned persuasion tools while they’re on a public address, READ BETWEEN THE LINES. Ask yourself, “What are they saying?” or equally as important, “What are they NOT saying?”
III) Do not be cynical
When all’s considered, it’s easy to feel like there’s just no point to voting, that would be a mistake. If everyone felt that way and just gave up, we’d have no democracy. Remember, we, the people, have the power to instill change and that, if anything, is worth the trouble.