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Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The obvious and predictable result - The absurdity of modern election campaigning

Finally! The votes have been made; the US and the whole world can get a rest now. Not a rest from a hard week of work, or a natural disaster, but from something far more exhausting than any other public event or full scale military operation:
Presidential elections!
Now, with Barack Obama being re-elected, the US can get back to normality, after having been pushed through nearly two years of constant campaign rallying. It’s not only a relief for the candidates and the parties, but above all for the people who were getting extremely annoyed about the constant election presence in media and in daily life. It was not only a long and exhausting campaigning time, but also an absurd one.

In a recent facebook post of “The Economist”, a cartoon was show satirising the massive efforts of the two Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to be (re-)elected: how much money they spent, how many tedious and unsubstantial speeches they have held, and how many days they spent campaigning in the past two years – primary elections included. At the end of the cartoon, Romney and Obama were running down a finish straight, neck at neck, with Uncle Sam and a big Earth globe waiting at the finish line. While waiting, the globe – obviously annoyed and not impressed – finally asked Uncle Sam: “Is there no easier way to choose a president?”

This question not only applies to the US Presidential elections, but to any election in any democratic country. Parties and candidates invest large quantities of (partly public) funds for their campaign rallies. The actual campaigning not only starts a few months before Election Day, but already years in advance. And the work load during elections is immense: speeches, public events of all kind, massive election teams are being recruited to support the candidate, candidate ads prepared to bomb the television networks and the websites.

Even before Election Day, not only the American voters were bored by the constant election hype, but also people abroad. Even if you look to Germany, election campaigning for the 2013 parliamentary elections has already started – even though the elections won’t take place before the end of September. Parties and single candidates are driven by the hunt for every single potential vote – from their own electoral basis as well as from the swing voters. The spin doctors invest time and money into deep analyses how to win more votes from potential voting groups, they draft specified target audience programmes and individually designed key messages, they prepare their candidates for the TV debates by simulating the main adversary.

If you compare a Presidential candidate to modern corporate marketing, you won’t be able to spot a big difference. The way a company attempts to sell his product to the customer, the same way is done by a party with its candidate. Some might find this comparison cynical, but it is a matter of fact: the President and his adversary were nothing but products, and the voters are the consumers who have to pick either one of them. The only – obvious – differences: even if you don’t vote you get either one of them, without actually paying, nor do their get any refund in case they’re unsatisfied with the performance of parties or politicians after the elections – which would in fact be an economic disaster since voters are notoriously unsatisfied.

So, elections are just like modern advertisement, it’s all about commercials and constant product placement. Marketing experts have a relatively easy job: if a consumer is already convinced about the company’s product, he will keep going these company’s products.
Basically, it is the same with political parties or candidates.

If someone votes for a party because he is convinced with the party agenda and identifies his preferences with this party or candidate, he will keep going voting for this party – or not voting for the opposing party/candidate. As a result, the campaign rally organizers focus on the swinging voters and states, with mass media boasting these swingers up to a state in which they might have thje ultimate decisive role in an election.

It sounds plausible, specifically if the numbers of these swingers are high. However, it is widely exaggerated for a good reason:
Although the presidential candidates mainly focus on swing states like Ohio or Florida, the outcome was more or less predictable. During the 2008 elections, both states have voted for Barack Obama. It was exactly the same for this year’s elections. And to be honest, even though this election was closer than the one in 2008 between Obama and his Republican adversary John McCain, everything else but a victory for Obama would have been a massive surprise.

Ask yourself: if the results seem obvious and the vast majority of the population keeps voting for their pre-selected parties and candidates, is it reasonable to do all the campaigning efforts just for a few undecided voters? In economic terms it doesn’t because the investment made in extra campaigning does not necessarily lead to a massively different result. You can take any election of any democratic state into account. Elections are already decided because of long-term planned political agenda setting or because of unexpected events, and not by massively conducted campaign strategies.

Being aware of this, people get tired about the long-term campaigning and just want to get back to their daily schedule. It should also be noted that this nearly two-year campaign rallying has paralyzed policy making in the US because both parties were specifically focusing on self-promotion and attacks on the opponent. Both camps, Democrats and Republicans would have been well advised to focus on the common problems of the US in domestics and international relations rather than hunting for votes. The 2012 Presidential elections have increased the cleavages between the Democrats and the Republicans, and above all between the American social classes.

You might think now that elections and campaigning are redundant per se, if the outcome is pretty much predictable. In a certain way, it is. Looking at the constant election condition in the US, things could be organized and conducted far more efficient, without constant media barrage resulting in the paralysation of a whole nation in the middle of a recession. It seems, however, that none of the two camps actually focused on anything else than self-promotion, agenda promotion and attack. Now, with the elections finally over, maybe the can gather some remaining power for the crucial needs of the country. It would be required.

The to-do-list is massive, and time is running out. After having won the elections, President Obama stated that “the best is yet to come”. Obviously, he is still in an optimistic campaigning mode, as the prospects are no good at all. Too much precious time has been utterly wasted and the fiscal cliff is coming closer and closer.

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