The future of election campaign is digital
According to the Nigerian Electoral commission, 51% of the registered voters in Nigeria are under the age of 35. This number is most likely going to increase given our high population growth rate. Recently, there was a drive for reducing the eligibility age of people intending to contest for public office via a campaign aptly dubbed “Not Too Young To Run.” The campaign was mostly successful as a bill was passed by the National Assembly to address it.
What was surprising was that in spite of the “Not Too Young To Run.” campaign, very few young people vied for positions in the elections. It is understandable because elections are costly exercises as most of the engagement with the electorate is still analog. I believe that should change soon to digital and significantly reduce the barriers to entry as it is evident that demographic shifts are happening.
Interestingly, the young candidates who contested recently were very popular online and had their message and the progress of their campaigns followed on social media by many. They may not all have won in this first iteration; there will be future opportunities to perfect their political skills as age is on their side.
The role of design and digital media
I believe the role of digital media and specifically social media remains primarily misunderstood in Nigerian elections. People commonly proclaim that “elections aren’t won on social media,” but they are mistaken. Elections are not conducted on social media, and nobody wins elections on social media because they all currently lose to apathy.
Apathy was a more significant competitor to all the candidates in the recent elections as voter turnout was remarkably low. Some of those who managed to beat others did so because of the help of social media and not in spite of it. If it were not a significant platform, politicians would not have surrogates propagating their campaign messages online daily. Politicians themselves would also not be available on social media. Using an analogy from the bestselling book “Prosperity Paradox” by Clayton Christensen and team, one can say that voter apathy is the equivalent of non-consumption or non-voters are non-consumers in the current electoral process.
A large part of the eligible electorate are being “rational” about the current process as it involves too much friction and has not yielded them any net economic benefits in the past. Those non-voters are a demographic who could be more responsive to the equivalent of unique market creation innovations. The innovations this time around will probably come from the new breed of politicians who are most likely of the same age group that are now the majority of the electorate.
Getting to non-voters in the future will involve a lot more than sharing food or printing posters. It would require more proactive design thinking approaches. Successful digital entrepreneurship ventures will become quite relevant in the future as they will become platforms for gathering demographic data and understanding potential voter expectations. They could also provide digital incentives to voters.
If we look at things from purely a design thinking perspective, the journey of the voter from getting their PVC to casting their vote at polling units is arduous and filled with needless friction. I predict that potential candidates in the future will no longer depend solely on party grassroots organizing as there will be less of the grassroots to organize via analog means.
An increased number of younger people will be present online, and their presence will lead to new approaches at voter conversion. It does not mean that offline canvassing and conversion attempts will disappear; they will become more effectively organized with the focus on reducing friction while increasing engagement in the process.
Digital channels are not only crucial in promoting awareness about candidates and encouraging debates about issues; they will become mechanisms for feedback. Overall, there will be lower conversion costs per voter than analog and an increased potential for greater reach.
The good, the bad and the winners
According to Naval Ravikant the Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist and Co-founder of Angellist – “Social media makes it easier to organize people, so the motivated people are organizing digital mobs…Digital mobs are implacable, unaccountable, and leaderless. Targets are isolated and torn apart by an intolerant and numerous minorities, with no single participant responsible for the killing blow.”
Digital media is not just a tool for positive engagement; it can also be a tool for negative propaganda and disinformation. The issues from the last American elections are still fresh in everyone’s memories. Both state and non-state actors can capitalize on the ease of creating digital and anonymous mobs against opponents. Disinformation is now an area of grave concern by all the major social media networks after recent events. Facebook recently reduced the number of people to whom one can forward WhatsApp messages within a period.
While bad actors can hijack digital media, it can also create winners. A digital media startup was recently reported to be responsible for the now-famous slogan that led to the defeat of a well-known Nigerian senator. As digital reduces the barrier of entry for contestants, it will improve campaign efficiency and make future races much more competitive.