Digital Media and Presidential Campaigning in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Study of the 2016 Election in Ghana
Adeiza, Matthew Ohiani
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The dissertation is a study of how presidential campaigns in new democracies in Sub-Saharan Africa use digital media to organize their teams and mobilize voters, with a focus on the 2016 presidential election in Ghana. Political campaigns aim to reach and convince the highest number of voters possible to vote for the campaigns’ preferred candidates. To do this, they use different strategies and tools to communicate their ideas and promises to voters. The literature on African elections suggests that campaigns try to mobilize voters by developing clientelist relationships with them, and they mostly engage in valence campaigning because they do not have ideological policies to communicate. The literature on political campaigning in the US and Western Europe suggests that campaigns increasing aim to develop custom online platforms to organize their teams, raise funds, and mobilize voters. The goal of the dissertation was to investigate how these scholarly assertions held up in the 2016 presidential election in Ghana. The study was centered on a four-month fieldwork in the country that included interviews with, and observations of, major political actors in the months before the November 2016 election. The study advances three major arguments. First, contrary to received wisdom, campaigns in Ghana relied on ideology for differentiating themselves from their opponents and for appealing to voters. An ideographic analysis of official party statements and transcripts of interviews with both the incumbent National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) campaign leaders and members shows that both parties used distinct ideological languages to mobilize voters. Second, campaigns used digital media, specifically WhatsApp, for mostly internal organizing while depending on campaign members for voter mobilization. In addition, digital media use played a complementary rather than a central role in how campaigns mobilized voters. This approach, necessitated in part by low digital media penetration in the country, could be described as relationship-based campaigning in contrast to technology-based campaigning that is common in the West as documented in political communication literature. Finally, the dissertation demonstrates that Ghanaian campaigns did not compete primarily by trying to build clientelist relationships with voters. The campaigns, especially the NPP, did not have the capacity to build such relationships, and available voting data indicates that clientelism does not explain voting patterns in the last five presidential election cycles. The dissertation therefore calls for a more nuanced understanding of the interaction of digital media use and the context in which their used in new democracies.
- Communications