A Kuwaiti casts his votes in this file photo.
A Kuwaiti casts his votes in this file photo.
Is political advertising in elections truly effective?

KUWAIT: From street billboards and social media advertisements to public gatherings and personal interactions, every parliamentary election brings with it relentless competitive efforts of candidates trying hard to reach as many voters as possible. However, as election day approaches, a critical question remains: To what extent do these advertising efforts shape voters’ behavior and decisions? Surprisingly, research suggests that their direct influence on individuals’ voting decisions may be more limited than commonly assumed.

Dr Jasem Al-Qaseer, a mass communications professor at Kuwait University, asserted that political campaigns during elections have proved to have minimal influence on voters’ behaviors and preferences. He draws upon insights from “The People’s Choice”, a book examining voters’ decision-making processes during the 1940 US presidential election.

The book revealed that only 8 percent of voters reported being directly persuaded following exposure to political campaigns. Additionally, it mentioned other factors influencing decision-making, notably word-of-mouth communication within social circles. This includes interactions with family members, friends and individuals within one’s social and professional networks, where people turn to their political expertise to form their own opinions.

Dr Nasser Al-Mujaibel, an assistant professor of media and communication at KU specializing in political campaigns since 2006, pointed out the candidate’s prior political experience as another critical influencing factor. According to him, the impact of campaigns often depends on whether the candidate is a former member of parliament or a new deputy. If the candidate has previously served as an MP, their past actions would greatly influence how they are perceived by the public.

Qaseer, on the other hand, observed that in Kuwait, familial or tribal preferences play a more significant role in affecting political decisions, especially due to the voting system where each voter can only cast a single vote for one candidate. He believes that this electoral system reinforces citizens’ tendencies to support candidates from their family or tribe.

While Qaseer highlighted the significant role of familial or tribal preferences in Kuwait’s political landscape, Mujaibel argued for its diminishing influence, particularly among younger voters. He observed that nowadays, young people are increasingly attracted to candidates whom they find persuasive, regardless of familial or tribal ties.

He referred to this phenomenon as a “free vote”, wherein individuals make their voting decisions based on their personal beliefs or views rather than being compelled to adhere to specific party affiliations. Mujaibel emphasized that this trend explains why candidates who do not belong to large tribes or prominent families can still get a significant number of votes.

Utilizing digital media to reach these individuals is crucial, Mujaibel added, highlighting how just a three-minute video of a candidate on social media can hold more influence than a half-hour public candidate statement. He also noted its unique ability to reflect honest and transparent feedback from the public by freely sharing their negative or positive comments about the candidates, a feature that is rarely found in traditional communication tools such as public gatherings (diwaniyas).

Conversely, Qaseer argued the impact of these media tools primarily often only resonates with individuals who have minimal interest in politics or lack exposure to political expertise. Consequently, targeting them presents an opportunity to effectively shape their opinions and decisions, given their vulnerability to campaign messaging.

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