The political landscape has changed quite a bit in the last couple of decades. The internet has played a large role in this transformation. Social media, in particular, is now a serious factor in political campaigns, in the way people think about issues, and how candidates defeat their opponents.
While there’s a significant surge in political parties and candidates who are using social media election campaigns to turn the election results in their favor and although social media did major changes in the campaign rulebook, it is important to highlight that it is not the only factor that will determine the election results.
In an advance draft excerpt from the upcoming book "Winning Election with Social Intelligence" by Roger Do, Chief Executive Officer of Singapore-based data analysis firm AutoPolitic, it was said that “an election is a conflict with three possible battlefields to choose from; ground war, air war, and cyberwar.”
Ground war or dirt operation is where candidates go through rigorous town-and-city campaigns, pound the streets, and press more flesh. It is the strategic deployment of teams of staffers, volunteers, and paid part-timers who work the phones and canvass door to door, community by community, voter by voter.
Ground war also reveals how personalized campaigning is influencing electoral outcomes. According to Do, “Dirt Operation has the biggest one-time emotional impact, benefits asymmetrically from repeat exposure, but are costly to manage the relationship over time.” He also mentioned that before mass media of print and broadcast, the candidate with the best social relationship usually won, independent of issues, since the voter trusts their long-time knowledge of the person, independent of any middling view.
Air war, on the other hand, refers to the use of media, especially ads, to court votes. Here, candidates are competing in delivering their messages to voters by advertising their campaigns on television and radio. However, looking back at the country’s elections history, there are indelible lessons too about the insufficiency of the air game to win the political battle. A classic example is Manny Villar, despite having a very sophisticated and catchy advertising program to market him did not actually secure winning results.
In the recent years, social media has dramatically changed the dynamics of elections in the Philippines, Politicians aiming to address voters directly are best off with an active campaign on social media. Although reach and engagement is no guarantee for seats, social media have considerably made online campaigning much more effective.
Based on user profiles, a candidate can perform highly targeted advertising among people with a certain background, domicile, level of education, interests and preferences. A social media campaign allows for addressing specific voters personally with a relevant message at a lesser cost. “Of all three war fronts, it is the cheapest to initiate and managing, measure responses, and deploy for both offensive and defensive issues,” Do said in the article.
However, even though social media is a great tool for campaigning, the present state of cyberspace faces a huge threat due to bots, trolls, fake news and tailored content to sway voters.
With the midterm elections fast approaching, one will have to be more decisive as to which strategy is more effective for a certain candidate. That is why, Do said in his article that the New Model of Campaigning suggests that an effective and competitive campaign builds a base of support for the candidate using the right mix of ground, air, and cyber war. He calls it a full spectrum warfare, which he claims is rarely seen in action.
The article cited the 2016 US presidential election between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump as a case study. Clinton deployed the most air warfare, dominating television with commercials and television appearances. Donald Trump, while he has numerous media reporting through outrage and politically-incorrect messages, relied on rallies and physical, voter contact, while running a simultaneous cyber operation. “Even those juggernauts do not fully deploy full-spectrum warfare, but they do fight on more than just one battlefield,” Do explained.
In this day and age, a candidate must make a strategic choice, even before budgeting and planning, between which of the three forces they will have to abandon. Rare is the candidate who can afford all three attacks and have enough staff to execute all three to good effect. The most campaign relies on one method and the race typically get decided based on external factors. To engineer a reasonable degree of success, a campaign must have a competent operation on two fronts to even have a statistical chance of winning.
After all, campaigning is about the management of three precious resources – time, money and people. Targeting serves to focus the campaign’s activities and use the assets wisely.