A few days ago, I put up an article on my blog which had five characters: me and my roommates Lali, Koili, Nikki and Rabina. Lali had the idea of a poll to find out who was the best character among them. All roomies got into campaigning mode. Pretty soon a simple poll had turned into heated political campaign, and we were amazed as votes poured in.
When our common friend Debendra came online from London, we all actively campaigned for his vote with different promises and arguments. And this made me wonder which of our strategies would actually work and who would end up with Debendra’s vote. We noted the choice of Debendra, and began to look for voting trends in other votes too. In time, political mechanism became more and more clear to us, and we could identify them in relation to real life politics. Some of our political insights are:
1. Identity politics
The first thing that Lali did was to send off a mail to all her relatives. They all responded quickly, and within minutes her vote was up by 50. This gave us our first lesson: if you have many relatives and people close to you, you get a lot of votes without question. The younger the better, as they are more supportive. In real life, the politics of ethnicity use this strategy. Prashant Tamangs’s victory over the Indian idol is the best example, when many people voted for him just because he was Nepali without bothering about his singing. Advantage of this tactic is that there are no questions asked, common identity is enough for support.
2. Ideology politics
The second person Koili asked her best friends for votes. Her best friends loved her so much that they voted for her from multiple computers, and even asked their friends to vote for her. These quality relationships showed us that large numbers of supporters was not required. Small number of loyal supporters was enough. In real life, we see this at work with ideology politics. The most motivated people are those who strongly believe in their cause. The negative side is that because of emotional attachment, too many disturbing question may be asked. Koili faced a lot of questions about her future plans. In real life, ideology politics face a lot of questions and disillusionment. Religious groups are an example.
3. Resource based aggressive promotion: Hardcore politics
The next person who campaigned was Nikki who actually did not campaign at all. Her friend did all her campaigning. “I want twenty votes, NOW” her friend barked into the phone. And that was enough to send her votes skyrocketing. The campaign was so aggressive that none of us could even come close. In real life this is reflected in heavily funded campaigns which can sustain the mobilization of a vast number of people for a long time. As long as the funding exists or a large number of willing people are willing to help for no reason, nothing can derail this campaign. Ultimately Nikki won the poll, proving once and for all that this is the most potent form of campaigning.
4. Importance of Personal Connection
When I was a child, I often used to wonder about a silly world record that American President Theodore Roosevelt held for 70 years: he shook hands with the most number of people in a day. But Lali soon illustrated the use of this tactic for me. Once she saw that her votes were falling, she resorted to personal contact, emailing and chatting with people she had not talked to in years. The result was instantaneous: she surged to the front of the race, beating others by 20 votes. Now I know why President Roosevelt was so bent on shaking hands!
5. Getting there first
I used the tactics of the latest winner Lali, and said hello to a classmate whom I rarely talked to. Pukar readily agreed to my request and voted for me. Later, when Lali too asked for his votes, Pukar did not mince his words. “Sewa asked me first, and I voted for her. Now if I change my votes, it loses meaning.” Well said Pukar, not less because you voted for me, hehe. But he made an interesting political point: it is always important to approach your voters first and create bonds of loyalty before anyone else gets there.
6. Image matters
Rabina is known for her excellent PR. If I could have bet on anyone before the poll started, I would have bet on her, because she has the most friends. For reasons unknown, she decided not to campaign. But we were really surprised to see that her votes consistently surged even without campaigning. We can only imagine what would have happened if she had decided to campaign. We had only one explanation for her surging votes: image matters. Pre existing image is one of the best tools for campaigning, very little effort is required if you already have it.
7. Incentives matter
Last but not the least, we come to the most powerful political tactic: incentive. Debendra from London shed light on this tactic. We all had different arguments for him, but when I promised that I would write the next article about him, he readily gave his vote to me (or so I believe. He might have deceived and voted for his beloved disciple Lali, but that is another story to be handled in election rigging).
8. Issues do not matter
No, it does not matter what you are advocating. I told Debendra again and again that since I wrote the article, and brought the issues into prominence in the first place, he should vote for me. But it didn’t work. Similarly, another friend was really taken with the character of Nikki, but ultimately voted for Lali because of previous loyalty (refer number 1 ). In real life, we see this happening all the time. Politicians do not need to fulfill their promises, or even make realistic promises. They can still be successful based on the above tactics.
In conclusion, though Nikki won the poll because of her aggressive campaigning, Lali was crowned queen of poll for her astute use of campaigning tactics. Apart from her two tactics mentioned above, she used many more. Enemy defacement was one of them: as soon as Devendra pledged to support me, she started her slogans: “Debu chor, Laptop chhod!” Throughout the voting, she was also the one who recounted her strategies and pointed out the trends of voting patterns. For this she won the title of “born politician”. She was “Machiavelli and Chanakya combined” without ever taking a class in political science!
Ultimately, it did not matter who was right, who had the most interesting character or the most pressing cause, it only mattered who was able to mobilize the most people. Media management was found to be the single most important thing in political canvassing, regardless of previous status and regardless of connection with issue.