Pandemic-is-endemic will be the call as pressure to campaign hard bears down on election candidates

Economist Cielito Habito in his Inquirer piece “Election boost” writes of his optimism that the coming elections will boost the Philippine economy “from the deepest slump seen in our part of the world as a result of the ongoing pandemic”.

Why do elections perk up the economy? As everyone knows, large amounts of money go around the economy in the months leading up to the election itself. The money comes out of private bank accounts here and abroad, whether hidden or unhidden; out of government coffers (legally or not); from cartons or treasure chests stashed away in secret hideaways; and even from illegal money printing machines (watch out for those fake currency notes going around in the months ahead). All that money traditionally buys campaign posters, tarps, and streamers; radio, TV, and newspaper ads; transport services, hotel, and other lodging accommodations for candidates and their campaign workers; food and meals consumed and given away during the campaign; T-shirts, caps, fans, pens, and other accessories bearing candidates’ names; show business personalities’ talent fees; and many more. This time around, a prominent item that would figure in the campaign budgets would be social media campaigns, including money to pay “troll armies” and hackers who could manufacture and disseminate fake news to favor or discredit certain candidates.

The traditional economic boost an election cycle brings to the economy may or may not materialize this cycle due to the exigencies of the pandemic. Mass gatherings are banned so there will be no usual campaign sorties and rallies in the provinces. This raises the question of how the campaign will be conducted. It will be done online through social media platforms, traditional broadcast outlets such as TV, radio and CATV in the regions where connectivity doesn’t exist or is spotty at best. There will be more ads on these platforms which will fuel temporary employment for those who are adept in the fields of digital sales and marketing. It will be an effort on the part of the candidates and the voters to meet halfway and exchange information.

There will be an increasing reliance on internal surveys to determine if the messaging is getting across. You can be sure the data collected at establishments for contact-tracing will be sold or given as a campaign contribution. This will fuel demand for competent data analytics experts who can build a database and design surveys which will determine if key performance indices are being met on the ground.

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Local candidates will have the least difficult time as constituents will judge them solely on the basis of their pandemic response. The social amelioration aspect plays a large part here. Any challenger to a local chief executive will have a hard time if the incumbent has done well. It will actually be pointless seeing as how satisfied constituents will have the “if it ain’t broke why fix it thinking.” But there will still be the usual election paraphernalia as giveaways to reinforce name-recall with voters.

In this election cycle, communications and messaging are key. Candidates have to be coherent and concise. Majority of the voting population is made up of millennials with short attention spans. It is important to have a campaign platform with plans of action rather than ones full of no more than motherhood statements. A disruptive campaign platform which captures the imagination of voters is best. 40 million voters are digital natives meaning they are basically tech literate. They will respond to technology-driven reform initiatives. Digitization is the solution to most of the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Candidates need to have a pandemic-is-endemic mindset moving forward. The hot-button issues are the economy, particularly employment and recovery, education and public health. This is true for both national and local candidates. It will be an interesting contest because this election cycle may well be the first step taken by both candidates and voters to focus more on issues than popularity.

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