How an effective PR Campaign Can Increase Voter Turnout – 5 Lessons from the Delhi MCD Elections

The recently concluded Delhi Municipal Elections recorded the highest voter turnout in the last four MCD elections, with 55% of registered voters casting their vote. This is a significant rise from the last election which registered a turnout of approximately 42%. While anti-incumbency factors might have contributed to the rise of voters, an innovative PR campaign also helped increase voter turnout.

MCD’s Overall Campaign Idea – Dabangg for Delhi

For the past few months, the State Election Commission has implemented a campaign to raise voter turnout which asked voters to be “Dabangg for Delhi.” Referring to the extremely successful Bollywood film of the same name, the campaign implored voters to imbibe the spirit of the movie’s protagonist, Chulbul Pandey, played by Salman Khan, and make their voice heard on issues that matter to them. The MCD spent 20 crores on the campaign – and activated it across variety of mediums.
Given the success of these elections, here are the top inferences for how effective PR helped mobilize voters.

1.  Bollywood Sells

With the possible exception of cricket, there is nothing else that unites India’s diverse citizens as much as Bollywood. Merely watching any commercial break on Indian television will show just how many brands bet on Bollywood – but in a country that produces more films than any other place on earth, this is a relatively safe bet. Quite simply, Indians love their movies and there are few more beloved films than Salman Khan’s 2010 blockbuster ‘Dabangg.’ The campaign, then, not only aligned itself with Bollywood’s larger-than-life image, but also increased relevance by encouraging voters to become heroes by voting for their cause.

2. 360 degree campaign with effective partnerships

The term 360 degrees is bandied about in PR with great frequency, so you have to skeptical of any campaign that describes itself as such. But credit where credit is due, the Dabangg campaign by the SEC implemented a wide reach through television and radio, print, hoardings, songs, plays and pamphlets.

As the State Election Commissioner Rakesh Mehta said, “We are doing nukkad nataks, TV spots, ads on FM channels, informing voters through pamphlets apart from print and TV advertisements.”

Additionally, the SEC also implemented effective partnerships to amplify their reach – most notably with the NGO Vote My India, which performed street plays in every ward to spread the message and also reached out in other innovative ways – for example, by sending out wedding cards that said “You are cordially invited to write the future of Delhi. Come vote for MCD elections.”

3. Focus on the Issues

With state and national elections, the struggle is to connect the macro issues that politicians debate to the micro issues facing voters. With the MCD elections, the Election Commission knew that the issues of the elections affect voters much more directly – the streets they drive on, their garbage collection, water shortages etc. The campaign tackled these issues directly – highlighting a couple of particular issues on each poster and radio announcement. In a sense, they de-politicized the conversation, elevating the debate to “we’re all in this together.”

An example of one of these messages: “Street lights in my area get repaired before I register a complaint, I am Delhi’s dabangg. It’s your vote, your power that works. Vote daalo bano dabangg.”

4. BJP’s Messaging – Think National, Vote Local

While defending Congress’ poor showing in the MCD Elections, Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit was quoted saying how the BJP had introduced national issues of price rise and corruption into the local debate with a “vicious and aggressive campaign.” The CM said “Price rise is not just a Delhi phenomenon. They (BJP) also blamed us for corruption, but couldn’t establish any charge. We couldn’t make the voters understand this.” However, on the flip side, what the BJP did was have an aggressive PR campaign that encouraged voters to equate this election to national issues – doing so, they translated national anti-incumbency into more local votes, leading to a resounding victory.

Could social media have helped increase the youth turnout?

5. Where the State Election Commission Missed Out – Social Media

While the SEC campaign looked to increase turnout across a wide range of areas, where they missed the boat was in terms of social media. With no official presence on Facebook or Twitter, the campaign missed an opportunity to engage younger voters through social media. The political parties had tepid social media campaigns, but there was no reason why the Dabangg campaign should not have been extended online. In the age of citizen journalists and whistle blowers – where the Times of India features citizen reports in the City section – it is important to feel the pulse of the youth. A social media campaign, then, would not only have increased youth voter rates, but would also have galvanized younger voters to action and active participation.

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