Preparing for the Polls
How effective are the endeavors of a political campaigner?
By: Sammi DiVito
A man dragged a chair across the pavement in front of Northrop, setting it in front of the entrance. He proceeded to clamber on top, standing so he could see above the heads of students on their way to class. A poster was unfolded from his pocket, then held up. It said something about somebody running for Senate. The man then began to shout at the top of his lungs, pointing and screaming at any passersby who made the mistake of meeting his eyes. The reasoning behind the clamor? This obnoxious vigilante is trying to get people to vote.
On a college campus in particular, it’s hard to ignore the buzz of election season. While most students may not have been screamed at, many have seen the posters, flyers, and commercials urging people to go to the polls and vote for a particular candidate in the 2018 midterm election. A campus like the University of Minnesota is perfect for political campaigners; it’s swarming with impressionable young kids who understand the importance of government. But despite all the effort to push the vote on campus, the question remains: does it make any difference? If someone corners you into a long conversation about the great qualities of a candidate, are you any more likely to vote for that specific person?
Consider the Social Judgement Theory: the concept that people compare an idea to how much it agrees or disagrees with their existing attitudes. The likelihood of changing someone’s attitude about a topic depends how important it is to then and how it aligns with their pre-existing attitudes. Now think about this in regard to voting. If someone feels very strongly about a candidate, it would be very difficult (practically impossible) to sway their opinion and convince them to vote for someone else, no matter how persuasive a campaigner may be. For example, it would have been nearly futile to try and talk a hard-core Trump supporter into voting for Hillary in the 2016 presidential election.
However, the uninformed voter, who most likely doesn’t feel too strongly about candidates in the upcoming election, is the ideal target for political campaigners. These people may not have been planning on voting, or were planning on voting but didn’t have a specific candidate in mind yet. Their lack of consideration is the perfect place for new attitude formation to occur. A campaigner can fill their heads with ideas and information in an effort to create a new attitude about a candidate.
When I was walking to class and saw that man hollering on top of the chair, I had not put much thought into the upcoming election. Although I don’t remember which candidate that man had been trying to convince me to vote for, it ingrained the idea of voting into my mind. There were several other people walking by that day who might have felt the same way, and however startled they were by the spectacle, maybe it got them thinking about the elections. There were countless flyers shoved under doors and posters hung around campus. It’s hard to walk anywhere without the word “vote” being thrown in your face. This reinforcement tactic has the potential to convince even the flimsiest of students to turn out for the polls. Political campaigning might seem fruitless to passersby, as it’s often easy to sidestep the volunteers on the sidewalk trying to hand out papers. It may not make someone fall in love with a particular political candidate, but, nonetheless, it can certainly plant the idea in the heads of students, which has the potential to cause an attitude change down the road. Maybe that screaming man knew what he was doing after all.