COST OF ELECTORAL CAMPAIGNS IN A DIGITAL AGE
Cost of Electoral Campaigns in a Digital Age
In the wake of COVID 19, the Electoral Commission declared that Uganda would conduct a scientific election come 2021. This meant that aspirants at all levels would only be able to conduct campaigns electronically via television, radio and social media. Many candidates have had to abandon the traditional campaign models of open-air public rallies which have been restricted to only 200 people.
An article published by ACFIM showed that media associations across different regions in Uganda had hiked radio and TV airtime to profit off this electoral season. Aspirants have therefore since adopted emerging new age digital means turning the web into an electronic brochure for their candidature as an inexpensive option.
They are now utilising the internet space to do promotional ads marketing their manifestos to voters on digital platforms such as Facebook, twitter and YouTube. Boosting and promoting ads on social media goes for 1$ to 4$ daily which is more affordable than the cost of TV and Radio airtime and organising.
A new study: “Social Media and Political Contributions: The Impact of New Technology on Political Competition,” co-authored by Yildirim, Petrova and Ananya Sen, finds that political newcomers can get a substantial boost in support by using social media channels, which cost next to nothing and are easily tapped by anyone with an internet connection.
This finding is important because it indicates how social media can help level the playing field in politics, where money and access to formal communication channels pose huge barriers to new entrants.
You don’t have to have a fortune to be able to communicate on Twitter with your constituency and tell them about what your ideas are for the future. With enough strategy, social media could erase the incumbency advantage allowing new contenders to seek political positions.
Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) in 2019 released a report showing that the country’s internet penetration stands at 37.9%. With over 23 million internet users, a majority being mobile phone users. Uganda’s current population is 42 million meaning more than half of the population is now using the internet. Uganda has about 17 million voters and majority of the new voters are youth who mostly spend time on the internet.
Given these statistics, aspirants are pushing their agendas free of charge on social media.
Owor Paul standing for Busiro South MP seat, Wakiso district is actively engaging social media influencers to reach his target audience by fronting his political manifesto. He is also seen using snapchat, a popular app among the youth to share stories from his campaign trail. This has overtime garnered him a lot of support especially among the youth. Speaking of apps, the NRM in September launched the “Mzee Nalo” app. This was clever move because digital campaigns are the next new thing. The app showcases the president’s profile and achievements of the regime in the past 34 years. It even has a chat section where the president can interact with users targeting young voters who are just a click away.
With the restrictive nature of scientific campaigns and only 52 days left to the E-day, the need to reach out to constituencies is becoming more vital. Social media will indisputably play a role in determining electoral outcomes as it gives young politicians an affordable platform to campaign and reach out to voters they wouldn’t have reached ordinarily. It is likely that even post COVID, Electoral digital campaigns may become a continuous trend taking shape into the 2026 General Elections.