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Posters and Election Propaganda

A blog dedicated to the examination of communications in election campaigns, with a focus on posters

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Posted by Steven Seidman at 2:36PM   |  Add a comment
ANC, "A better life for all" (1994) (Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, Northwestern University)

The party of Nelson Mandela—the African National Congress (ANC)—appears to have won a resounding victory again in the South African parliamentary elections held this week. Although ballots are still being counted, the ANC has 67% of the vote, with the Democratic Alliance (a moderate party supported by many whites) and the Congress of the People (formed by a group that broke away from the ANC) trailing badly (16% and 8%, respectively). The only uncertainty is whether or not the ANC will achieve the 2/3 majority needed to make constitutional changes.

The campaign was relatively peaceful and there was an 80% turnout of voters. About 1/3 of the voting population is 18-29, and the ANC's leadership in the battle to end apartheid helps it with many of the younger voters. Many rallies—with posters, banners, and music—were held and were calculated to appeal to this group.

The leader of the ANC is Jacob Zuma, who will undoubtedly be elected president of the country by the parliament, since only a majority vote is required in this election. Zuma headed the ANC's internal security unit during the anti-apartheid struggle.

In 1994, Mandela was elected the first president of South Africa, after apartheid ended. In that election, the ANC won 63% of the total vote. The Mandela campaign was advised by American political consultant Stan Greenberg, who had helped with Bill Clinton’s presidential election in the United States two years earlier. Greenberg utilized focus groups heavily to determine the campaign’s main theme—that the ANC was an “agent of change,” not a “liberation movement.” In addition, he advised Mandela to soften his image. This image management can be seen in the poster  of Mandela surrounded by children of all races—the smiling, grandfatherly change agent who would work to help all the people look forward to a brighter future for their children. Along with the image manipulation, however, came specific goals: “2.5 million new jobs and 1 million new housing units within five years.”

Nowadays, campaigns are generally being run by South African consultants. They frequently chose posters, as well as radio spots and newspaper advertisements, to convey their messages, since paid TV spots were prohibited during parliamentary election campaign periods.

For more on the political history and elections of South Africa, see the book, Posters, Propaganda, and Persuasion in Election Campaigns Around the World and Through History.

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