Ghana’s elections are set down for December. That means political parties and candidates are looking for strategies to influence voters. Some academics have focused on what drives potential voters away. These are factors like internal disharmony, the neglect of party “foot soldiers”, and political amateurism. Then there’s what draws them in, like the use of traditional and digital marketing strategies.
But there may be another way to influence voter decisions: practising political social responsibility. By this we mean voluntary action taken by political parties and candidates to fulfil their commitment to promoting societal wellbeing. These initiatives would not be supported by government resources.
This concept has a close relation in the world of business, where there seems to be an argument that corporate social responsibility could play a role in promoting organisational competitiveness. Corporate social responsibility could be linked, for instance, to improved corporate reputation and even growth in sales.
We undertook a study to assess whether the business case for corporate social responsibility is applicable in the political context. We propose viewing political parties as businesses. They must win customers (voters). Like businesses, they can gain competitive advantage through marketing strategies that highlight social responsibility. The strategy enhances voter satisfaction, preference and intentions.
We developed a scenario of a hypothetical political party and asked 173 voters how they would respond to its social responsibility initiatives. We also used a combination of content analysis and quantitative research methods.
Political social responsibility
Political social responsibility could take a number of forms. One could involve interventions to support political groups or individuals. Another could be an exchange of money or services for votes. Exchanges could occur during rallies, house visits and town hall meetings. Or it could take the form of financial incentives for party volunteers.
In our study, however, we focused on three hypothetical initiatives. First, investment in a cause; second, involvement in the local community; and, finally, concern for the environment.
We asked voters questions like:
What is the responsibility of political parties or candidates? How can political parties be responsible? Are there some challenges with political parties engaging in social responsibility?
We also conducted an online content analysis of party activities.
What we found
The content analysis revealed that political parties and candidates in Ghana often undertake some form of social responsibility initiative. For instance, the governing New Patriotic Party’s US branch donated money to the Ghana COVID-19 Trust Fund. An opposition member of parliament, meanwhile, donated COVID-19 relief items to a hospital.
Our analysis showed that political actors who engage in social responsibility initiatives will attract satisfied voters. Satisfied voters will recommend a party to friends and family. They will also commit to voting for the parties and their candidates.
The parties that are usually associated with social welfare are leftist or socialist. But our findings show that political social responsibility has benefits for parties and candidates across the political spectrum. This makes it a valuable resource, no matter a party’s politics.
We also found that philanthropy is one of Ghana’s most dominant forms of social responsibility. Voters may associate social causes with a party or candidate. Social responsibility can also help to build a political brand.
The voters in our study formed voting intentions based on their satisfaction with a party’s past social responsibility performance. We conclude from this that it’s not enough to perform these activities. A party must also remind the electorate about these activities. This requires strong and strategic communication programmes.
How to improve political marketing
So, how might political parties incorporate our findings and their implications?
First, parties should consider conducting baseline studies of how voters perceive their current social responsibility profiles. As they deploy programmes to build and win voter confidence, they should regularly check through studies whether these are having the desired effect.
Then they need to hit the streets. This means getting involved in, for instance, environmental causes and engaging with their local communities. This work must happen at a party level, of course. But individual candidates should be out there, too. This will foster voter affinity.
Political parties’ marketing should incorporate social responsibility initiatives at a national, regional and local level.
We also propose that parties should seek funding from corporate entities that share the same social concerns. In the US, for instance, research has shown that Democratic-leaning firms spend, on average, an extra $18 million per year on corporate social responsibility relative to Republican-leaning firms.
The Democratic Party also places more emphasis on issues such as environmental protection, nondiscrimination laws and affirmative action, and helping the poor and disadvantaged.
Political parties should choose distinctive social responsibility initiatives that align with their philosophical positions. This will help them win over undecided voters while also consolidating support from their core electoral base.