Political campaigns are very important in a country’s democratic process, as they determine which party wins an election. The way a political campaign is conducted is vital in close races.
This is especially true for a country like ours with a history of deadlocked elections where the two main political parties draw their support from the two largest ethnic groups.
Political strategists and consultants spend considerable time staging these events in order to make an emotional connection with their followers and to win over the undecideds who can determine the outcome of elections.
Therefore, it is important for political parties to project themselves in the media as the best choice for governing the country and that they have the support of their followers.
This local government election campaign has taken on the significance of a national election since it can be a precursor to the 2020 general election.
In a sense, both parties have started their campaigns for the general election and therefore it is important to give the impression now that they already have the support of the electorate. The PNM insists that they had a turnout of 18,750 to 20,000 at their launch in the Queen’s Park Savannah and the UNC 8,000 to 10,000 at the Couva car park venue.
Both live and still images create impressions and play a critical role in the political communication process, especially in creating an image or perception of a candidate or even party in the minds of the voting public.
The crowd size depicts the popularity of a leader even when polls are showing otherwise.
Large, high-energy crowds can boost a political leader’s image by giving the impression of growing popularity among the electorate.
So crowds are important for image projection, affecting perceptions, generating and boosting confidence and building momentum in the party.
These emotive photos and images in the mainstream media can sway public opinion and move their audiences to action.
In this election, the action would be to increase voter turnout especially within the marginal electoral districts or as parties try to secure the edge over each other.
In the last local government election in 2016, voter turnout was very low with only one-third of the electorate voting.
If the UNC were to win two additional corporations, even if they do not win the local elections outright, then that party would be confident of their chances of winning the general election next year because the perception would be that momentum was building in the UNC.
For the PNM, it would signal that there is much more work to be done to mobilise their supporters to vote for them, prior to the general election.
The voter turnout and the actual results might well indicate whether there is participation or support from undecideds.
However, some pictures can be digitally adjusted to mislead, misrepresent and even lie.
Even photos which are not manipulated can be politicised to support a particular point of view and influence perception.
It is difficult to estimate crowd size and crowd counting can be very tedious since most political campaigns in this country are free to all and are held on public grounds.
In such a situation, the only measure would be to rely on fallback overhead imaging, to estimate density of the crowd, multiply by the area it covered to produce a reality-based estimate of the crowd.
I am not sure if such a practice is utilised in this country to give an accurate estimate of the number of people who turn out to these events.
Even so, using rough averages would risk considerable bias from the person who is doing the counting, especially if that person is aligned to a party.
The police, for instance, estimate crowd size but even these are not treated as official counts and they are not always provided.
Further, campaign strategists spend considerable time choreographing these events, framing them so that they can convey their messages visually on all media.
There was a stark contrast in the way both political leaders were framed during their main addresses. For the UNC, their political leader was on a stage with a backdrop of diverse people, both young and old, clothed in the UNC colours, conveying the message of diversity and inclusivity of the UNC party.
Simultaneously, the PNM leader stood alone on the stage for his entire address so that one did not have any distractions in the background and had to focus on his message.
Both strategies had their strengths and weaknesses and only time will tell.
If we were to take at face value the images splashed in the daily newspapers following the PNM and UNC launches, then we can comfortably say that both political parties have gotten off to a good start.
However, elections are not just about photos, making impressions and affecting perceptions; moreover, crowds do not win elections; it is voter turnout that would be the deciding factor. What is important is the message which both parties are conveying especially relating to how they are going to turn around the economy and govern in the future.
This might be the key to capturing the hearts and mind of the electorate!