Baffling and bizarre reasons that motivate Kenyans to vote

Voters queueing to cast their ballot at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Sports Complex in Kisumu Central, April 14, 2022. [Collins Oduor, Standard] 

What exactly motivates Kenyan voters to choose whom to vote for? Is it the more conventional reasons such as political party loyalty, issues candidates stand for, candidate characteristics or social background?

Just like our politicians, voter behaviour in Kenya is difficult to explain. In 2013 and 2017, Loyola Centre for Media Communications and Jesuit Hakimani Centre conducted surveys on what motivated voters in choosing candidates. Over 70 per cent of respondents would not mention ethnicity as a motivation.

They would instead list the issues dominant in their area as the reasons they choose a candidate who promises to address them better. Only about three per cent would say clannism for seats in the county and tribe for the presidency motivated them. Of course, the majority of voters will not want to incriminate themselves in a survey question of this kind.

The lesson is that voters do not always tell the truth when asked about their motivation for whom they cast their votes. It is relatively easier for them to tell you whom they will vote for but not why. One way to validate this is to analyse how counties from which presidential candidates originate register a high turnout compared to those that do not have a candidate. A high turnout will also be registered where an ethnic group estimates it has high chance of reaping big from an incoming government.

As the electioneering hits the homestretch, some small but critical voters express some interesting motivations for why they would actually vote. Unfortunately, I do not have statistics to measure the sizes for each category. Nevertheless, the motivations say a lot about our voter behaviour.

First, there is a category of voters whose main reason is to cast a revenge vote after some outgoing elected leaders disappointed in their performance. Consequently, some voters do not take this kindly. They will vote for the opponent just to ensure the non-performer realises who the boss is. The result is that the voter will celebrate a victory of an opponent even if this kind of voter behaviour is weird.

Us versus them

Second, there is a group that will vote for a candidate of less preference to them because they cannot stand a candidate from a tribe that they have stereotyped over years. Some voters have been socialised to believe that people from a certain part of the county or country cannot rule them. Reminds me how growing up as boys we could resist being caned by a female teacher. We felt demeaned. It took some of us many years to undo such primitive socialisation in relating to women.  

Third, there is a category of voters whose main motivation is to rally each other behind their clan or tribe. Day in and day out they analyse the election campaigns from the perspective of 'us versus them'. They look at every other tribe as either friends or foes.

Candidates do not make the situation any easier. They have petrified this kind of voters that should any other person other than one of their own take over power, the clan or tribe is “finished.” I see this category as one that either plays a victim card or is still consumed in a “happy slave mentality”.

Fourth, is the spectacle voter. Like Premier League supporters who go betting their last cent, some Kenyan voters see electioneering as a spectacle. It is a sport of a kind. They love political twists and turns especially if their list of candidates emerges from tight corners to keep scoring against the opponent.

This voter relishes victory. A loss can be detrimental. Spontaneous chaotic behaviour cannot be ruled out for this category. They invest emotionally in the drama of electioneering. Well, voting is not a spectacle, dear voter.

I have no doubt political party influence rather than political loyalty plays a key role for many of our voters. After all our parties come and go. Additionally, this year, gender is a factor in the presidential election.

 -Dr Mokua is Executive Director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communication