The Consumption behavior of Politics Consumers: View Through the Marketing Lens

Post Gujrat elections, rims of newsprint, hours of primetime news and thousands of pages of social media are abuzz with multiple views on the winners and losers of the elections. Despite different undertones of the opinions colored by political affiliations, identity inclinations and EVM scare, there exists a common underlying theme; the real winner of the election was the voter, the consumer of the Indian politics. Possibly, the last time that the voters (consumers, here on) swayed on a ‘wave’ was during the elections that followed the end of Indira Gandhi era. Since then, Indian voters have evolved in their approach to voting decisions (read political consumption). Voters are seemingly making a shift from being an automatic thinker to becoming a rational thinker (effortful thinking) while making their choices. If one scans through the results of the recent Gujrat elections, it would be difficult to miss this shift. With so much of noise around the GST by the opposition parties and general anti-GST sentiments among traders, the results of Surat constituencies threw a pleasant/nasty surprise. Through their majority votes, the traders almost approved the reform initiated through GST. Anyone would have guessed that ‘automatic response’ from these voters will be against the BJP, however it turned out to be in favor of the BJP. Clearly, the consumers of political parties (read voters) did some effortful thinking when it came to exercise their choice.
Daniel Kahneman, in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, describes two systems of thinking; system 1 that operates quickly and automatically without much effort, and system 2 that allocates attention and effort to think through complexities. Possibly, when voters in Gujrat were confronted with the choice of voting for a party, a large majority applied system 2 thinking. Therefore, when they evaluated GST impact, they possibly traded off through the short-term pain and long-term gains; when they considered reservation, religion, identity, corruption and development, their placed more weightage on development and corruption free ideas. Therefore,

Point No.1: Consumers of political parties are moving to system 2 thinking.

This brings us to the core marketing issue; to understand the mechanism that shapes consumer (voter) preferences and choices. My argument here is as follows; as much in marketing of any product or service or a combination of the two, understanding of consumer choices is equally critical in political marketing. The marketing as applied in elections must move beyond managing communication and image of the political parties and leaders. It must take a customer (voter) centric view. A political promise (if we consider that as a product) is a combination of two or several issues that concerns the consumers such as; job reservations, agriculture reforms, economic development, corruption etc. to name a few. Most of the time, communication focusses on one or two such issues whereas the consumers consider multiple issues in different measures and try to figure out the best combination for her choice. This is like a high involvement purchase situation where a consumer may trade off a shorter warranty period for a lower price being offered by a seller, or a consumer may pay a higher price for a machine for a longer service contract, in this case making a trade-off for long-term value. If you ever wondered that why the voters ignore the ‘Hindutva’ label associated with BJP and still vote for it, the answer lies in the trading off mechanism that puts extreme values on development and trust in the leadership. Same goes with demonetization and GST. Consumers trade off the short-term pains with the long term expected gains. Therefore;

Pont No.2: If you want to decode system 2 thinking of the voters, mine into their trade off mechanism and learn to manipulate that.

Clearly, the way forward is to get close to the consumers. Understanding consumer’s choice designs across consumer segments may turn out to be a great enabler. It’s time to think about voting as a high involvement shopping decision and marketers (politicians and their parties) should tune in to their target segments and understand what is not being said. As a Gujrati friend quipped post-election results: Voters are a thinking lot, BJP ko dara diya, congress ko hara diya (They scared the BJP and made congress lose the elections).

Win-Win is certainly an outcome of  system 2 thinking!