Election expenditure has tripled between 2009 and 2014 from a little over a 1000 crores to a whopping 3870 crores. Experts suggest that the 2019 general election might just be the most expensive election in the world. Candidates and parties are amping up the game since the discrepancy between the two main competitors seems much closer this time around. Massive allocations have been made towards social media marketing alone. And why might parties stake so much expenditure on campaigning? Because the key determinant of electoral success lies in the power of rhetoric.
It is essential to recognize the manipulative nature of the campaigns that just appeal the emotions of the voters rather than grounding campaigns on reason. Subramaniam Swamy, a key member of the BJP, himself said, “Ram Mandir, not economics will win us the election”. When the interim 2019 budget Swamy was vocal about the failures in the budget to actually combat the structural problems in our economy. Rather, he said, the budget was just a more ‘acceptable’ budget to live under than the previous one. In criticising his own party, he highlights a critical issue of how elections campaigns have very little to do with policy than it does with promises. The BJP adopts the pro-Hindutva rhetoric, while the Congress adopts an anti-BJP rhetoric. Fallacious reasoning seasons their campaigns, appealing to emotions of fear and anger to sway the voters in their favour.
The approach adopted by campaigners is also indicative of the ‘irrationality’ of voter behaviour, the irrationality can be attributed to multiple factors. Specifically with relation to the information, voters are subject to incomplete information, are subject to framing effects and rely on time saving heuristics (rules of thumb) choosing to vote without investigating manifestos and effectiveness of parties in executing their policies. Candidates are careful not to reveal all the agendas, and intentions they wish to pursue when they take office. Policies are presented in a manner such that it yields to the populace’s framework, and the play in favour of the psyche skews their ability to view their objective reality. The partisan politics, and emotional campaigns become more convenient to rely on that making the effort to assess the information for oneself. The stronger the rhetoric, such that one can identify with the views the candidates propagate, the lesser the desire to fact-check them on their ability to deliver.
Social media has become a great enabler for the rhetoric to transpire across the nation, because of the reach it provides. Further, there is no fact-check on a WhatsApp forward that ensures that the campaign information spreading on these platforms is the truth. Social media is also quick to provide responses to party policies and politics. Therefore, parties who can create goodwill on these platforms have swayed public opinion.
Ultimately, electoral success all comes down to the player who can push a voter’s reason to the backseat and let them run on emotion. And what better means to accomplish that end, than to invest in rhetoric. Hopefully, with a sense of awareness about the theatrics we end up part of, we approach our decision to vote with a sense of caution and care.