During every election, political advertisements invade our media. They enter our lives uninvited and over time they increase. We see them during commercial breaks, while watching our favorite talk or game shows, most times during the news hour or even as we read the news on the papers. We see them between the sports and weather updates. We might even see them on bill boards while on traffic, or during a rerun of a law or medical drama on cable television and mostly on other media of mass communication. These political messages come in various tones and shades, thus appearing as important and indispensable tool use by political parties and politicians to send messages to large number of people who may or may not be interested. This was evident in the just concluded 2015 Governorship Election in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. However, to what extent Political Advertisements influence Electorate’s participation is uncertain. As such, this has created a pine for the search of knowledge and understanding on the major role of Political Advertisements during elections. This research specifically studies influence of Political Advertisements on the Electorate’s participation in the 2015 Governorship election in Akwa Ibom State. A survey of electorates in the three senatorial districts of Akwa Ibom State (Eket, Uyo and Ikot Ekpene) was conducted to determine the influence of Political Advertisements on the Electorate’s Participation during Elections. From the field survey, results were collated, analyzed and summarized using frequency tables. Finding unveils that Political Advertisements influence electorate participation positively during elections as the play important role of information providers to the electorate. Consequently, television serves as the major source of political information as it is frequently accessed by electorate during election. In addition, political advertisements and political programmes stimulate electorate participation and the public perceive political advertisements as persuasive as well as information oriented.
1.1 Background to the study
In modern democratic societies, political parties are important because they provide the platform through which political representatives emerge to administer political systems on behalf of the people. These political parties, as observed by Lawal and cited in Usua (2010) are fundamental instruments that enable proper and adequate functioning of any political entity. Huntington cited in Usua (2010) thinks that the stability of political entity depends on the strength of the political parties that make up that entity. For electorate, the strength of political parties can only be evaluated based on parties’ articulated programmes which are led by party ideologies (Usua, 2010). In essence, party flag bearers build their plans for electorate through party programmes and ideologies because party ideology and electioneering promises constitute the basis for electoral mobilization. Through this, electorate makes decision among political parties and political candidates. Thus, political campaigns are the means of reaching electorate and entire citizenry with party programmes and ideologies. However, Philips, Robert and Benjamin as cited in Usua (2010), note that one of the functions of political parties is political communication and, political advertisements serves as the major source of political communication.
In all, Political advertisement is a specific and applied form of communication which aims to persuade and impact politics and decision making processes of any society. According to Afamefuna & Azubuike (2010), political advertisements seek to motivate, stimulate and mobilize the people to take a particular action which at the end benefits the message originator. This is to say, political advertisements exist to seek vote from the electorate or to gain public support in terms of legalizing government policies and programmes. However, the concept of political advertisements involves the use of communication techniques through the mass media to sellpolitical candidates in order to be accepted by electorate. Asadu (2008, p.213) sees political advertisements as exposure of a candidate’s qualities and political ideology to the electorate who are scattered in space and time. Consequently, Grabber (2005, p.479) opines that political communication encloses the construction, sending, receiving and assimilation of political message that potentially have a direct or indirect impact on an entity’s politics. The key concept inherent here is that political message has significant impact on the thinking, behaviours and beliefs of individuals, groups, organizations and society at large. Thus, political ideologies and campaign promises are built into radio and television programmes, newspaper features, advertorials and direct advertisements as well as the internet, bill boards and hand bill (Usua, 2010). This is because the media act as social agents amidst other prominent features which it possesses.
Besides, communication is made effective with the help of the mass media. Hence, Asemah (2011) sees communication as a phenomenon that can best be explained by the impact or the effect it causes. The emphasis is that human beings best function when ideas, feelings and notions are exchanged. This exchange is expressed through face to face communication, traditional media, mass media and other existing medium, making communication a unique aspect of human existence. Asemah (2011) further notes that the purpose of communication is to affect the behaviour of receivers. Thus, the whole essence of communication is persuasive. Likewise, Dominick (2007) sees the mass media as channels used for mass communication.
Therefore, the mass media are the channels of communicating political messages and sharing meanings with the public but these messages are not just sent out, they are packaged in form of programmes.Still, having a medium and messages are not sufficient to extract reactions or achieve communication goals. The medium and the message packaged through programmes are the veritable tools used by organization to achieve communication objectives. Moreover, these goals depend largely on the type and class of programme in view.
Political advertisement is communication because it involves sending out information that will better position a candidate seeking the support of the people through their votes, into public office. Communication is central to every human activity (Asemah, 2011). It is a process which involves the sorting, selecting and sharing of symbols in such a way as to help a receiver elicit meaning which may be similar to those of the communicator. Whatever the case, communication is important in political advertisement because electorate, who are the key target of any political message, have to decode the information sent out by political communicators in order to ensure success.
Notwithstanding, political advertisement is advertisement that attempts to influence or comment upon a matter which is currently the subject of extensive political debate. It includes advertisements or marketing communications about a political party, representative or candidate, advertisements about political issues or issues of public interest, and advertising in relation to government policies (whether broadcast/ published by the government or individuals). Advertisements by political parties, government candidates, lobby groups and other interest groups may fall into the category of political advertisements. Nwabueze (2006, p.169) says that political messages get to the electorate through various media paid for by an identified sponsor.
In this vein, the concept of political advertisements hovers around the following;
It includes communications supporting or opposing a candidate for nomination or election to either a public office or an office of a political party (including county and precinct chairs).
It also includes communications supporting or opposing an officeholder, a political party, or a measure (a ballot proposition).
In essence, political advertisements are tools that enable politicians to send their messages to large number of people in a bid to create awareness and attainelectorate support. It is a form of campaigning used by political candidates to reach and influence voters. Political advertisements include several different media and span several months over the course of a political campaign (Pate, 2011). Unlike campaigns of the past, advance in media technology has streamlined the process, giving candidates more options to reach even larger group of constituents with very little physical effort (Aymatt, 2016).
Nonetheless, the mass media are the most common source of information about political process or political candidate in democratic communities and societies in transition in various regions of the World. The media also act as the platform through which people and interests in society express their views (Ibraheem, Ayedun& Adewoye, 2013). In terms of the sheer degree of information available to electorate by way of the media on issues, political parties and leaders, political advertisements often represent a peak for political communication. Subsequently, concerns about political prejudice in the mass media are at the spirit of debates about the roles and responsibilities of the media at election time (Aymatt, 2016). Behind these concerns are the assumption that there might be effects which may be intended or unintended on public opinion, Political Participation and, ultimately, electoral outcome.
Also, in every political campaign, citizens must decide upon the party or candidate which they wish to support as well as decide whether they will vote at all,especially in democratic setting which does not mandate compulsory voting.Most political observers would agree that turnout in an election is a measure of success where the higher the turnout, the better. In most cases, parties and candidates use all means to stimulate turnout and motivate supporters to go to the poll. In some cases, parties and political advertisements aim to elicit participation of theelectorate in order to accomplish their goals.
Over the years, the media are universally referred to as agents of power and political control. Those who manage political power and authority are always conscious of the fact that information management and control is central to capture, retain and exercise of political authority. Moreover, in Nigeria, the mass media (the press) since its inception in 1859 have played significant roles in shaping the political, social and economic landscape and setting the agenda for political development. It is a widely held notion that the political history of Nigeria is inextricably intertwined with that of its media history because of the prominent role the media have played at every strategic point in its political development and the influence of politics on the development and focus of the Nigerian media (Ibraheem et al, 2013). Looking at the role of the media during elections, Pate (2011) argues that the mass media have remained in the fore of the struggle to promote the rights of our people through a credible election process. Nevertheless, this is not to suggest that the media have been perfect in all circumstance. This is because they have served as instruments in subverting the election process at various times. However, in Nigeria the 2015 General election was held on March 28(National Assembly and Presidential) while the Governorship and State House of Assemblies was held on April 11, 2015(Ezegwu, Etukudo & Akpan, 2015). Prior to the election, many political parties canvassed for vote from the electorate and they also made several promises in an attempt to influence political participation and outcome. The point is: didPolitical Advertisements influence the Electorate’s participation in the 2015 Governorship Election in Akwa Ibom State?
1.2 Statement of the problem
Political communication scholars believe that when politicians craft their advertisement content to focus more on the fight to improve electorate’ lives, or something similar and come with some good measure of integrity, the electorate are more likely to believe them (Feyipitan, 2015). This is to say that, electorate are most likely to trust candidates whose political advertisements offer to satisfy their basic needs as opposed to those who dwell on their personal achievements. Yet, these same experts also argue that personality, appearance and language used also play vital roles in political advertisements. Still, many political experts question theefficacy of political advertisements in getting the electorate to participate during election talk-less of voting in favor of a candidate.
During the 2015 governorship election in Akwa Ibom State, as it was the case with other parts of Nigeria, candidates and political parties filled various forms of media with political messages and advertisements all in a bid to win electorate’ votes and influence participation. Various candidates from different registered political parties in Akwa Ibom State contested for the 2015 Governorship election.At the end, Mr. Udom Emmanuel the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) emerged as the winner and Governor of Akwa Ibom State. Prior to the election, advertisements of Mr. Udom Emmanuel flooded various mass media, social media and billboards with messages for every class of people who made up the electorate. Mr. Udom’s persistent jingles dominated radio and television stations, social media sites, while his messages streamed the print and outdoor media with promises to deliver. However, the extent to which his advert fostered his victory or influenced electorate’ participation is unclear
In the light of the above, examining the influence of Political Advertisements on the Electorate’s Participation is essential and the first order of importance to this research. For this reason, this research studies influence of Political Advertisements onthe Electorate’s participation in the 2015 governorship election in Akwa Ibom State.
Conversely, not all political advertisements are sponsored by candidates. In fact major political advertisements in Nigeria as with other part of the world are funded and produced by parties, interest groups, sponsors, supporters, labor groups, congress etc. some of their advertisements are coordinated with candidates’ campaigns, while some are produced and aired independently. Outside interest groups are also part of the mix. Labor unions are recurrently present. The point is, organizations and individuals over the years have seen the importance of political advertisements in terms of creating awareness and better positioning of candidates during elections, notwithstanding to what extent political advertisements influence election outcome is unclear and so this study basically seeks to ascertain influence of Political Advertisements on the Electorate’s Participation using the 2015 Governorship Election in Akwa Ibom State as a case study.