Liberal democracy is the best contemporary political option. Its political core energized by a distinctive individual and group rights, public reasons and inclusive governance. Liberal democracy places priority on persuasion over coercion; and compromise over dogmatism. Further, it gives individuals and groups the right to articulate their political views on public issues. Election is at the center of liberal democratic process. It gives the opportunity for citizens to freely choose their rulers at periodic intervals. Consequently, a concern with elections can be seen as one of the enduring themes in the modern democracy.
To begin with, of all modern democracies, the American elections have the profoundest complexities and excitements. More than any other country, the US elections have onerous requirements. It requires electoral regulations, substantial financial deposits, well-planed campaigns, media relations, high number of signatures, strong endorsements, and extensive campaigns focused on how to persuade citizens to cast their votes. These elements are quite exhausting for the candidates, and sometimes hinder them from getting their messages across to the electorates. Above all, the equilibrium of election requirement is the most obvious way in which a candidate may succeed or fail.
Like every other form of democracy, election process is an enterprise that embedded with various theories and strategies. From its very beginning, the American elections are inspired by different visions. Each political candidate has to find space and time to articulate her/his high philosophical abstracts, public policy projects and present them in practical and workable tasks to the voters. In other words, each candidate has to present and articulates her or his political ideas, socio-economic agenda, and other public issues to electorates. In return, the candidates hope for the electorates’ votes and winning outcome. Hence, candidates have more interests and involvements in all sorts of abstractions, idealizations, practical, and even nitpicking arguments during the elections time. In general essence, candidate is a negotiator, a doer, rather than knowledge wanderer, truth seeker, or a contemplative thinker. So, political candidate is not only driven by the desire to express her/his ideological principles, but, also she/he is driven by the interest of winning the elections. Yet, winning election is not as easy as some people think.
Winning political election in America is not as easy as some people might think. American election process is practically complex matter. It is very serious and more than just a popular intellectual pastime. That is why we see today, election theorists, analysts and candidates are locked in increasingly intense struggles on how to influence voters and win the election. Of course, there is no one blueprint theory or strategy about how to win the election. Therefore, it is important to note that any grand election strategy is based on the construction of diverse theories and strategies. So, and in order to comprehend the biggest picture of election strategies, we also need to understand one or some of its theoretical components. To reiterate, there are diverse ideas and strategies about how political candidates overcome the difficulties and win the election. We at The Key Group, and for our present purpose in this specific analysis, focus on electorates’ cognitive behaviors and decision-makings. We particularly concentrate on three different categories (ideology, interest, other) of voters, and see why they vote for their preferable candidates. This distinction is crucial for candidates to identify voters’ perceptions and decision making process. Importantly, it will enable the candidates to design the winning strategies to interact and persuade the voters and win their votes.
So, American people do vote. In any giving general election, millions of people go to the polls and vote. Political candidates have to outline their political agenda and voters make decisions and choose their political representatives. But, election process is not that simple as one could imagine. To unravel the practical complexities, voters make perceptions, choices and decisions based on different individual and group calculations. So, how voters perceive and evaluate the candidates, and how they make up their minds? The best way to understand voters’ decisions is via their political ideologies, interests, and other reasons and preferences.
Like other democratic countries, American people vote for ideological, calculable interests and some other reasons. At most, people are motivated by political ideologies, how the government and society should be structured. Some other people are driven by pure rational economic and other interests. Still, other people vote for unknown or less clear reasons. Nothing tells us more about electorates voting behaviors than the opinions they hold and reasons for holding them. To say it in different words, the way people think, is most likely define who they are. Generally, people hold their opinions with deep conviction and genuine passion. In sense, people’s views play a large role in making them who they are: conservative, liberal, or middle-of-the road in politics; a believer, an atheist, or an agnostic in religion; etc. So, often people are uncritically or consciously abided by their own political ideologies, interests and do not listen to any counter views.
Ideology is playing a pivotal role in voters’ perceptions and decision-making. Some people construct their mental schemes and political judgments through ideological lens. To this point, once the ideology is in place, individual and group mental constructions will focus on specific candidate who possess similar ideological believe system. Furthermore, their mental constructions obstruct proper reactions to any other candidates that do not share the same political views. Here, they focus their energy and actions to reinforce the political agenda and rhetoric about their preferable candidate, and place them even further on the margins of election life. In short, people with strong ideological creeds are likely to be loyal and easy to predict their voting decisions.
The voting behavior that is based on ideology is explicit and easy to understand. Electorates in this category are devoted to their political affiliations, and less likely to change their voting decisions, or at least they will stick with it for a long period of time. However, human beings are, first and foremost, individuals who often endowed with reason, and enjoy the maximum possible freedom of choices. In this respect, not all people who vote for ideological reasons are constitute hermetically sealed systems of thought, enjoy a fixed logic and internal consistency. Rather, some electorates with ideological belief might hold fluid sets of ideas, perceptions and choices. So, sometime they embrace a broad range of conflicting opinions against their candidate’s views. Therefore, it is important to emphasize that despite the voters are sharing the same ideology with the candidate; they are not necessarily going to vote blindly for the candidate.
Electorates must have strong and sufficient reasons to believe that their chosen candidate is able to lead and represents their political ideals and ideological aspirations. Sometimes, electorates with the same political ideology might have different preferences, orientations and dispositions. While some voters with the same ideology are well-articulate and clearly thought out their political views; perhaps, some of them might have different agendas, tendencies or predispositions. For example, in one political party we might find some people position extremely to the left, right or moderates to the party’s political and public agenda. In other words, even if voters believe in the same political ideology, perhaps, they might disagree on specific political agenda and public issues. Such small variations of differences within the same ideology might have huge impact on the voters’ perceptions and decision-making. In very obvious sense, these fractions of differences will influence electorate’s behaviors and choices alike. Even though, and most likely electorates with the same political ideology will make similar voting decisions, yet, the effect of their small different views might hinder the candidate to win the election.
Unlike the ideology based voting behavior, some people cast their votes for pure self-interest reasons. Humans, sometimes make their decisions based on pure rational calculations. In this context, electorate will give priority to personal gains and material profits over political ideology. That is to say, some people do not restrict their voting choices to one specific candidate, political party or ideology. They form their voting decision out of individual or group interest that leads into specific utility maximizing. In most occasions, they select the candidate that can bring them the most benefits and highest personal or group satisfactions. To illustrate further, when they are confronted with two or more candidates (Democrat or Republican); they choose the one that better serves their interests. Thus, regardless of ideological affiliations, when individual or group of interest base voters are faced with different political candidates, they pick the candidate that efficiently and effectively addresses their aspirations and grievances.
Some voters have no attachments to any ideological affinities. They are only concerned about how to maximize their personal or group gains. So, they choose their preferences among the best available candidates that allow them to realize their interests. In essence, they are free from any restricted political ideology, yet, they have strong voting power to say which of the two or more political candidates they consider preferable or that neither is preferred to the other. For example, if they prefer Democratic candidate over Republican candidate, and the Republican candidate is preferred over the Libertarian candidate, then they will prefer the Democratic candidate over the Libertarian candidate. Here, the voters are assumed to behave rationally. They scrutinize the candidates from different perspectives, by taking accounts of candidates political and public agenda, other available external sources of information about the candidates, etc. Also, these rational voters make their judgments and choices of the candidate based on probabilities of future events. So, they decide on rational calculations (costs-benefits analysis) bases, and vote for the candidate that represents their intended preferences.
Contrary to the ideology basis voters, interest voters construct their decisions based on prudent and logical calculations that maximize their interests and minimize their losses. Their voting behavior and decision-making is tied to what the candidate can provide them with the most optimal level of benefits or utilities. In other word, they vote rationally for candidate that best serves their interests. Their intended interests might not necessarily always involve receiving the most monetary or material benefits. The interests could be purely emotional or any other kind of individual or groups preferences and satisfactions.
Not all voters reasonably select their political candidates on ideological or calculable self-interest basis. Of course, all voters are living in exactly one physical world. But, they are different in their perceptions about political candidates, ideologies, public and private issues. Some voters are neither ideologists nor rational utility-maximizers. Further, they are not loyal to any political brand or having specific and clear agenda and interests to promote. Moreover, they do not classify themselves, or agree to be labeled as democrat, republican, liberal or conservative. Simply, they are politically indecisive types. When it comes to public issues, often they are not able to make critical connections between tax policy and the overall economic condition of the country. They are largely oblivious on many critical public issues, and their decisions are not governed by their conscious mind.
These indecisive types of voters, normally decide on a cauldron motives and unconscious propensities. One shortcut that they take, usually choose their candidates based on hunch, or modest commonsense reasoning. Their evaluative perceptions about the candidate convoluted with different random criteria. Most of the time, their evaluations depend heavily on media or experts’ opinions about the candidates. In some occasions, they give less attention to politics and public issues. Further, they narrowly focus on candidate’s personal traits such as virtue, honesty, fidelity, physical features, attractiveness, etc. Predominantly, their behaviors and voting decisions are carried out by the unconscious mind or minds. Most likely they are not critical and make their voting decisions quite fast, and sometimes make it in the last minutes. Generally, they often choose their political candidate and not even able to explain why they did so.
In any event, elections occupy major position in our democratic process. There are enormous researches, studies and strategies about successful elections. It is also important to note that most people seem to believe that winning the election is very simple and straightforward process. They conceive it as simple as just to put a candidate’s name on the ballot, appear on media press and throwing up some yard signs. Or just the candidate has to present her/himself to general public, voters cast their ballots; someone counts them quickly and announces the winner. In reality, election is not that simple. It is a complicated process. Triumph in any given election requires the best theories, excellent crafted strategies, and well planned out far in advance of the campaign and the election day.
In general sense, in any election, the common place is that candidate pursues specific designed strategies to enhance her/his chances of winning. At the same time, electors have to decide, and choose one candidate over the other. Often, different voters, or the same voters in different situations, can employ judgments in choosing their political candidates. These judgments could be based on political views, calculable interests, past experiences, present perceptions, socio-economic status, age and individual differences, or based on fallible cognitive biases. That is to say, electorates’ behaviors and decision-making process are distinctly various from each other.
Candidate has to fight strong uphill battle in order to win voters trust. To date, the attempts to attract people and win their votes have faced great obstacles. Voters are not just random particles go to the polls and cast their votes. They go into the voting booth carrying with them reasons, emotions, ideological views, interests, excitements, hopes, fears, prejudices and so many other assumptions. For many people, voting is more meaningful and more understandable as political believes, clear interest maximization and different rational or irrational process. So, in point of fact, understanding voters’ cognitive behavior is extremely essential to secure their attentions and votes.
It is crucial to point out that election triumph occurs as a result of adapting the best theories, and applying brilliant and skillful strategies. Knowing electorate cognitive behaviors will give candidate the opportunity to secure their consents. This is not always easy to do, but it is not impossible. In a positive side, humans are actively interdependent beings. They evolve and thrive better when they deal and interact with each others. Mutually reinforcing connections between people have profound implications for various benefits and progress. Part of this inter-dependency and progress is embedded on how people grasp their fellow human’s behaviors and the way they make decisions. But, once more, it will be well to keep in mind that what is at issue here, does not just understand voters’ behaviors as such. But certain applications of this understanding should be applied to bring positive outcomes. In this view, the candidate should grasp the dynamic of voters’ state of minds and use it effectively to get desirable election result.
Persuasion is part of human endeavors. At this point, comprehend people’s behavior, acquire their consents and redirect their decision-making process is part of our daily life. Most of our activities involve the persuasions of other people, for whatever purposes and with whatever moral justifications. It is out there, in our family, market, social life, education system, government, judicial system, etc. When it comes to election, persuasions and engineering consents are very much the same like any other human activities. So, knowing voters’ behaviors will give the candidate a unique ability to know their political ideals, interests, hopes, fears and motivations. Most importantly, it will give the candidate the opportunity to coordinate the efforts, manipulate the election’s environment, and persuade voters and win their votes. In all of this, of course, candidate should be supported by good strategists, a large staff and very large budget.
We would stress strongly that saying this does not imply that the candidate has no ethical responsibility. Political candidate should stay clear of moral and ethical quagmires. Of course, sometimes, behavioral manipulation isn’t novel. Still, some political candidates do it directly or indirectly all the time and they always have. They see that the competence and strength that bends others to their will is so greatly valued; and pursuing it by all means is one of some candidates’ great occupations. One might point, for example, some candidates manipulate voters’ perceptions by applying specific emotional techniques. Further, they manipulate voters’ behaviors with knowledge, arguments, persuasion, incentives, pressures and sheer publicity. In many occasions, some candidates have a lot of practice in treating voters instrumentally. At some point, their acts harm other people. They promote hatred, animosity, discrimination, inequality, etc. This unethically despoiling of voters is a repulsive stance in itself. Having said that, in the positive side, there are some candidates with morals and ethics. They treat voters as an end in themselves, and not as means to an end, or objects to be utilized and adjusted. Moreover, some candidates are morally and ethically promoting justice, equality, tolerance, peaceful world, and more livable environment. Certainly, a candidate who is morally and ethically sensitive will have excellent repute. Sure, the candidate image strengthening in public mind; will earn voters’ trust and prevail.
In sum, election process is grueling. It requires greatly augmented efforts to achieve positive impact. The fundamental reality is that there are different categories of voters. Each type of voters share some common traits, and also they have several differences. The appearance of one group of voters on the scene would seem to indicate one strong unified behavior and voting decision-making process. Now it must be admitted that this image of unified behavior of one group of voters is misleading. In reality, inside each group of voters, there are diverse perceptions, various behaviors, preferences and the way they make decisions. With the consideration this dynamics, the successful political candidate is the one who better understands the voters’ mode of thinking. Thus, positively as well as ethically obtain their consents, redirect their decision-making process and win their votes. Political candidate should never waver to refine the best theories, perfect strategies and blending them together with ethics, and hope for unprecedented triumph. In the end, the greatest winnable election strategy is the one that is done in an ethical way and persuasively gets the job done.