Tag Archives: Creativos con Antanas Mockus

The 2010 Colombian Presidential Elections, Which Will Prevail? Clientelism or New Media?

24 May

Over two months ago, at the start of the Colombian presidential elections, the race was an easy straight line win, but  it became a statistical rollercoaster. Presently the race has only gotten more exciting because the situation is less predictable—statistics show that the two favorite contenders Antanas Mockus, for the Green Party (34%), and Juan Manuel Santos, for the Partido de La U and President Alvaro Uribe’s former Minister of Defense (35%), are at statistical tie in public opinion polls (Datexco May 21, 2010). In close elections voter turnout is the most important factor in determining who wins. The political party capable of mobilizing most of its electoral base to the polls will win the election. The question for Colombians now is, not who will win, but which electoral strategy will win? Will it be “New Media” or Clientelism?  For the legitimacy of Colombia’s democracy let’s hope “New Media” wins.

In Latin American countries, the practice of clientelism or the use of political machineries is a prevalent electoral strategy for getting voters to the polls. In Colombia a “patron,” “cacique,” or “party chief,” operates mainly in rural areas, which account for 25% of Colombia’s population. He/she is in charge of getting voters to the polls by giving out favors such as: driving voters to the polls, handing out government jobs, buying votes through lunches, groceries, or by guaranteeing that a government subsidy will be efficiently given out to the voter (Familias en Acción). All of these favors are given, if the voter chooses the “patron’s” candidate.  This practice is routinely done to reduce the uncertainty of electoral outcomes.  Just on March 14th, 2010 during the Colombian congressional elections, MOE and other IGOs and NGOs registered an uptick in the amount of electoral irregularities in rural areas of western and northern Colombia. Irregularities included vote buying and altering electoral results at local voting registries. It is very possible that this type of behavior will occur on May 30th, 2010 at the first round of the presidential elections.

By German Silva

“New media” has been reported to increase voter turnout especially among the youth vote. New Media is mainly the use of the Internet to get a candidate’s message across.  This involves the creation of a webpage that allow candidates to show their platform, but the webpage also allows supporters to contribute to a candidate’s campaign. This medium is interactive. Donations can be made not only through economic means, but also by allowing people to volunteer, donate art, music, or by allowing people to upload pictures or video of rallies organized in favor of the candidate. Also, new media includes membership in social networking sites like Facebook, My Space, or Twitter, where people can get updates from a candidate or a political party.  Although it is hard to directly correlate the impact of a social networking site on voter turnout (because a voter may be influenced by many other factors to go out and vote) it is possible that just having a reminder to go out and vote, may increase the chances that people will vote in an election. According to Randi Zuckerberg, the marketing director for Facebook, during the Iowa caucus it is likely that Facebook impacted the turnout rate among voters in the age group 17-24, because they simply reminded this age group to go and vote at the Iowa caucus. According to Zuckerberg, the voter turnout was increased by 2,500-3,000%, which meant that tens of thousands of people turned out to vote.

If it is true that Facebook was an influence on this demographic, then it is quite possible that this result can be replicated. This is an interesting find, because usually the age group 17-24 does not have a high turn out rate. Which means that social networking sites could potentially have an influence on people that are usually disengaged from politics. Zuckerberg believes that simply reminding people to go out and vote, (like reminding someone of a person’s birthday), gets people thinking about going out to vote on that day. Moreover, she said that Facebook makes voting less a private event, and more a social event that is shared mainly among friends.

Why is New Media important for Colombian electoral politics?

New Media is significant because this medium is used by 22% of Colombians and this medium has been used before to mobilize people for a cause. According to Facebook country statistics, Colombia has 10 million plus users in Facebook, which means that about 22% of the population uses this social network. This penetration produced political mobilization–on January 2008 a group of students created a Facebook page to protest the use of kidnapping by armed groups like the Fuerzas Armandas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). This page coupled with the word of mouth brought millions of Colombians together on February 4th to protest kidnapping. Given these statistics and the ease of mobilization of Colombians, new media is a tool that can have an impact in increasing voter turnout.

The “social” or “peer pressure” aspect of networking sites like Facebook, may offset clientelistic practices that are part of Election Day politics in Colombia. Many users check Facebook regularly, which is a beneficial feature for a political campaign.  A political campaign using Facebook is able to captivate people’s attention at least until Election Day by keeping them engaged in a cause they like, by sending daily updates. This interactive communication tool along with the power of peer pressure to “get out the vote” is a reason why Facebook is a powerful ally for political campaigns on Election Day. During the 2008 U.S. Presidential Elections people took cell phone pictures of the ballot as they voted, they also pressed a button on their Facebook page to show friends that they voted. People also used their status to get their friends to vote. All of these actions make voting a social event that makes people want to be a part of.  In Colombia it is possible that these results may be replicated, because of the way membership in Facebook pages has catapulted particularly in the case of Antanas Mockus’s page and the Green Party’s page.

The Facebook statistics are impressive. Just three months ago Antanas Mockus had less than 100,000 fans. Today (Monday May 24, 2010) Antanas Mockus is in first place with 698,694 fans, which makes him the most popular aspiring politician on Facebook. His fans have increased by 50% in the month of May. His fan numbers surpass those of his rival, Juan Manuel Santos, who has 186,864 fans. To be fair, it is possible that Mockus’s “fan” number may be inflated because sympathizers of other parties are joining his (and the green party) fan page, to make comments against his campaign (La Silla Vacia Article 1 and Article 2). Either way, Mockus surpasses other international politicians such as 2008 U.S. Republican Presidential Nominee, Senator John McCain, who has 565,587 fans. According to the Colombian Green Party website, and to Facebakers, a website that provides the latest statistics on Facebook, Antanas Mockus’s Page ranks number 7 in the top ten of political pages on Facebook. According to Facebakers’s statistics, the politician page ranking is spearheaded by U.S. President Barack Obama and his 8 million plus fans and counting. Sarah Palin is in second place with 1.5 million followers. John McCain is in 9th place, and finally the Colombian Green Party has 487,844 fans, placing it in 10th place.

The increase in the use of social networking sites (SNS) in the Internet is valuable for developing democracies such as Colombia’s where clientelism is and has been rampant. Joining SNS is a healthy phenomenon for democracies as it leads voters to join a political cause, because they believe in their preferred candidate’s or party’s capacity to govern. This is very different from when a voter votes for a candidate or party, because they receive instant gratification from voting, such as a lunch, a subsidy, or a job. Voting unconditionally increases the legitimacy of the democratic regime. A winner in a clientelistic regime wins because he or she has more resources at his/her disposal to handout. Whereas, a winner in an election who convinced voters that he/she is able to govern, wins through arguments, not bribes. The candidate wins because most voters were convinced with the his/her arguement, and losers have to accept that the winner’s argument won the election.

Ilustradores con Mockus featurured in El Tiempo

Given that Antanas Mockus and Juan Manuel Santos are statistically tied, could the tie be broken at the voting booth?

In other words, given the speedy rise in the polls and the virtual popularity of Antanas Mockus, can this success translate into actual votes on the May 30th and the June 30th election days? It is quite possible. In close elections voter turnout is the most important ally a politician can have, and voter turnout is driven by voter enthusiasm. Voter enthusiasm is definitely on Mockus’ side. Mockus’s mantras “Life is Sacred” and “Public Funds are Sacred” inspired people to create art and sing. Artists and singers created illustrations and songs for the campaign. Singers of a variety of musical genres such as hip-hop, champeta, reggaeton, folkloric sounds, tropipop, and alternative rock have shown support by creating songs and ringtones. YouTube videos sent to the campaign from major world cities such as Brisbane, London, Paris, Montreal, Miami, Madrid, New York, Barcelona, and Buenos Aires, to name a few, are recorded by common people showing support.  “Green marches,” “Green bike rides,” “Green ‘ring around the rosies’,” and  “Green Flash mobs,” became a normal weekend activity in cities all over Colombia throughout the month of April and May. Flash mobs were staged in malls, parks, and plazas throughout Colombia. Again staged not by leaders of the Green party, but by everyday people who brought their “Green” t-shirts and printed out campaign posters from the campaign’s website. (If the election was determined by the size of the t-shirt market, then the Antanas Mockus campaign would be the winner, because his campaign has created an informal market for t-shirts, which are advertised through Facebook.)

Finally, supporter enthusiasm was shown as Mockus went on the campaign trail. Green party videos show hundreds if not thousands of people at his rallies, in areas of Colombia where many thought that an independent politician from Bogotá would have a small reception. His closing rally at Bogota’s Plaza Bolivar was filled with thousands of people who stood in the rain to show support chanting “mas agua, mas verde,” (“more water, more green”).

Statistically, Who Are Mockus’s Voters?

Statistically speaking, the type of voter attracted to Mockus, is more likely to “get out and vote.” In Antanas Mockus’s case the Datexco survey data reveals that his supporters are young, between the ages of 18-45. This is the age group that also happens to be daily users of Facebook.

Mockus is also popular among the middle to high socio-economic groups—stratas 3-6. In Colombia socio-economic status is measured by how much property taxes a person pays. This tax is a combination of property and public utility taxes an individual pays, and the tax amount determines a whole neighborhood’s status and person’s economic strata. Levels 1-2 is low strata, Level 3 is the middle strata, and Level 4-6 is the high strata. The higher strata (levels 4-6), the higher the taxes paid. Mockus is popular precisely among levels 3-6. This is an interesting fact, because he has said that he would tax them more if he becomes president (Gran Debate Presidencial). This is an important aspect of Mockus’s style of governance because when he was Mayor of Bogotá in his first term, he was able to convince 65,000 of the wealthiest citizens to pay and extra 10% in taxes to improve the cities infrastructure and he was able to do this because of his uncorrupt image and good management. As he said in a televised debate, “I will be tough, but seductive with the rich… you have to say ‘sirs: Guatemala raises 12% of their GDP through taxes, Colombia 18%, Brazil 32%, USA 35%, France 44% and Northern Europe 50+ let’s choose at what rate we want to advance?’”

In terms of education, Mockus is also popular among those in the electorate with a college education, who is 18.2% of the population surveyed in the Datexco poll versus, those with a basic education, who are about 81.8% of those polled. He is also popular among those who are students and those who are actively employed, versus those in the electorate who are not in the workforce, be they housewives, retired, or unemployed.

In contrast, Juan Manuel Santos for the Partido de La U has garnered political support from older Colombians ranging in ages, 46 and above. Santos is also more popular among those in the low socio-economic strata, and among those with basic levels of education, who are unemployed. Santos is split with Mockus with those who are employed.

Antanas Mockus’s Statistical and Logistical Obstacles

Mockus’s electorate is richer and more educated, but demographically speaking they are a minority within the Colombian electorate, which poses a numbers problem on election day. In contrast, Santos’s electorate is poorer and less educated, but this population is a majority of Colombia’s population. If democratic theory is correct, education and income is a determinant of voter turnout. The more educated and the richer, the more likely a person is to vote. This would benefit Mockus. However, usually older voters are more disciplined than younger voters, and this would benefit Santos. Moreover, practice of clientelism benefits poor and less educated voters, who sell their vote for a lunch, groceries, or a government subsidy. Clientelism requires extensive political party machinery, which the newly created Green Party does not have (and does not wish to have), but which is likely to favor a traditional candidate like Santos and his party La U.  As mentioned earlier well-organized political machineries will pick up voters and take them to voting booths, thereby lessening the transactions costs of voting for rural voters. Transaction costs, which ease the costs of voting, but lead to electoral corruption.

Will the Youth Vote Come Out To Vote for Mockus’s Eccentricities?

In this election, what will be interesting to see is whether the youth vote will be a determinant of who will win the presidential election. Given the clientelistic obstacles found within Colombian political system, Mockus’s campaign has two qualities in his favor for mobilizing voters: successful experience and awkward charisma.

Antanas Mockus’s Proven Success

First, Mockus is an independent candidate that has shown politicians and citizens in Colombia that it is possible to be an honest politician and still be efficient. His first government in Bogotá created a surplus—something nobody thought could happen in a city buried deep in corruption. His past successes challenge mainstream politicians, and because of this, he is able to raise the standard of the political debate. For example, during the six televised presidential debates, the issue of increased security became such point of consensus among all candidates, that the debates became more focused on other socio-economic issues such as: education, the economy, corruption, and the status of forced displacement victims. Social issues have been a weakness of the current government headed by President Alvaro Uribe, and so they were issues where Juan Manuel Santos, who was Uribe’s fomer Defense Minister, has had to be on the defensive.  The debates, which focused more on social issues allowed Mockus and others to present new ideas and criticisms.

Bogota Change a 4th Documentary by Cities on Speed on Successful Cities Around the World.

A “Kick-Ass” Politician?

Antanas Mockus’s second quality for attracting voters is his awkward style of charisma more similar to the movie “Kick-Ass.” In “Kick-Ass” the teenage superhero grabs people’s attention by wearing a spandex suit and helping a kid who is getting beat-up, but the hero never stops being a “geek.”  Mockus is an awkward hero. During his first Mayoral term, he dressed up as “Super Citizen” a lanky hero that picks up garbage and follows street signs. His charisma is definitely not in the style of the “strong caudillo,” the “charming” Bill Clinton, or the “cool” Barack Obama, but his “geeky” style makes it easy for people to follow him because he never carries an air of superiority, self-righteousness, or perfection. His most famous political moment is when as National University president; he mooned an unruly crowd of students to quiet them down. However, his other less well known moment, but the action that got him his first job as Mayor of Bogotá, was when he got into a fist fight again, with members of an unruly crowd of students, after one of the students threw animal excrements on him an the rest of the candidates while they were exposing their ideas on the future of Bogotá. It is contradictory that as president of The National University it was students who challenged him, and today it is students that follow him. His ambition to champion honesty and respect, in a system where violence and corruption override the rights of the powerless, attract people towards him, especially now that Alvaro Uribe’s administration is mired in corruption scandals.

The Determinants: New Media and Youth

Whatever the tied statistics say, the fact is that Antanas Mockus’s unorthodox political methods have engaged a great part of the electorate in just three months of campaigning. Now it will be interesting to observe what the exact impact of New Media and the youth vote will be on election day, May 30th 2010.

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