[OUTLOOK]The people want concrete policiesAs local elections draw near, the candidates tend to have the illusion that they are likely to be elected. They collect and trust only data favorable to them. They assume that those who smile at them, shake hands with them and encourage them will surely also vote for them.
The candidates who live in this dream world can’t make rational and objective judgments of their political capabilities. They are also likely to focus on political maneuvering, by running sensational campaigns, libeling rival candidates and spreading baseless rumors, instead of designing better policies and campaign pledges.
In particular, baseless criticism of or negative rumors about competitors make not only rivals but also voters focus on the sensational campaigns, and overlook the candidates’ policies and pledges.
Candidates’ policies and pledges are supposed to serve as the basis for voters’ rational judgment. However, when candidates concentrate their energy on negative campaigns, their policies are often vague and more or less the same. Voters, therefore, can’t make a decision based on candidates’ differentiated policies.
Many candidates think it is still effective to bribe voters, or to emphasize their hometowns or the schools they attended, and to carry out negative campaigns.
However, a growing number of voters are taking a closer look at candidates’ policies than their individual characteristics. According to a 2000 survey conducted in the United States, more people cast their votes on the basis of a candidate’s agenda and policies than the candidate’s party or personal character.
The case is the same in South Korea. In the 1960s, only 6.7 percent of voters said that candidates’ policies were the most important factor but in the 1980s, that number more than tripled to 22.3 percent. Now, thanks to citizens’ increased awareness of politics, more voters are likely to compare candidates’ policies and cast their votes accordingly.
When winning favor from voters, candidates’ promises are more powerful than their individual characters. If candidates focus on image and lack substantial content in their policies, they won’t win the trust of voters nor convince them as they want to.
According to a psychology report, “who” is speaking is more quickly forgotten than “what” is being said. When convincing others, a person’s argument was also considered more important than data about the speaker.
Negative images about a person can easily be erased by the person’s logical and rational argument. If one emphasizes one’s image only in an effort to convince others, the effect won’t last long.
Although voters now think of candidates’ policies and pledges as more important than other factors, candidates seemingly are unable to answer people’s expectations but rather put obstacles in the way of rational judgment.
If candidates are well-prepared and feel confident about their policies and pledges, they are likely to present concrete agendas.
That will satisfy the voters who take policies into account and will also bring back the people who detested negative campaigns and gave up voting. After the elections, the defeated candidates may blame the voters. First, however, they should ask themselves if they presented concrete policies or showed the political capabilities of themselves and their parties.
We should remember that tangible and feasible policies induce rational judgment from voters and therefore create a new and advanced election campaign culture.
* The writer is a professor of psychology at Seoul National University.
by Kwak Keum-joo