For the last three months Political Pundits have been analyzing why and how the political novice, Aam Aadmi Party achieved a historic victory in Delhi elections. One area that has received scant attention is the use of Behavioral Science and Social Psychology techniques (whether consciously or unconsciously) by Arvind Kejriwal and his party. Let us explore nine very important social psychology techniques which have massively contributed to AAP’s triumph.
1) Leadership Style– Arvind Kejriwal exhibits what psychologists describe as ‘servant leadership style’ A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. By nurturing participatory, empowering environments and encouraging the talent of followers, a servant leader creates a more effective and motivated environment and makes people feel connected. Kejriwal has constantly exhibited socially desirable qualities of being approachable, humble and sincere. This simply struck a chord with people and the results are evident.
2) Cognitive Dissonance- AAP also used very effectively, the phenomenon psychologists describe as cognitive dissonance- an inner need of people to ensure that our beliefs and behaviors are consistent. Inconsistent or conflicting beliefs and actions leads to disharmony, which people strive to avoid. Now rewind back a little. Most of you would say that you are anti corruption and pro- honest governance. AAP’s constant rattles of- ‘This time vote for an honest party’ would have somewhere hit your conscious, made you uneasy if you were about to vote for congress or BJP. Because you believed strongly about anti corruption and your potential actions (of voting for Congress of BJP) would be conflicting with your belief. This made many, many people change their votes.
3)Learned Helplessness– Psychologists have studied the phenomenon of ‘learned helplessness’ where people, who constantly fail to get results out of their action, give up trying and thereafter helplessness becomes a learned behavior. Large segments of Indians had succumbed to the phenomenon of learned helplessness and felt powerless to change the state of affairs in the country. The AAP could pick upon the nerves of the people and was seen as a savior who would undo this sense of helplessness and make people feel empowered to rise up and fight for change. It provided a platform to varied segments of society to come and voice their opinion. They made agitations, Dharnas, protests feel acceptable. Thus voting for AAP became a catharsis for the masses of Delhi- something which freed people from their learned helplessness.
4) The Bandwagon effect and conformity- As more and more people come to believe in something others conform and ‘hop on the bandwagon’ regardless of underlying evidence. AAP’s self-conducted survey hinged heavily upon the Bandwagon effect by constantly emphasizing that they are going to win as many as 47 seats, thus making more and more people who were undecided, to eventually vote for them.
5) Persuasion– Robert Cialdini in his international bestseller, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, describes six universal techniques of persuasion. The Aam Aadmi Party succeeded in using as many as three of them very effectively, thus persuading people to believe in them and their promises.
a) Authority and attractiveness of the persuader– AAP extensively conveyed, in many of its posters, speeches etc the names of powerful, influential and popular figures who support them, this surely made many people change their party preferences.
b) Liking– We tend to be easily persuaded by people we like or whom we are similar to. The very name of the party created this sense of similarity. Moreover, the volunteers of the party were not local leaders or student union people; rather were aam aadmi– people like you and me- teachers, students, engineers, doctors, housewives etc. Also, Don’t forget Kejriwal’s trademark line- “Main kaun hun? Main toh khaalli ek aam aadmi hun jee”.
c) Commitment and consistency- If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment because of establishing that idea or goal as being congruent with their self-image. AAP large scale signature campaigns, membership drives and online commitment drives hinged on the above principle.
6) Peripheral cues- Research in neuro-social psychology indicates that strong emotions can be aroused by verbal and visual cues. As soon as the EC granted AAP the symbol of Jhaadu, Kejriwal used the party symbol more effectively that anybody has ever done. While a broom was an age-old symbol of sweeping out the corrupt, it was the sole means of livelihood of the oppressed, who lived in the hovels of Delhi that the Shiela Diskhit government had tried so hard to hide during the Commonwealth Games. Also, Aam Party’s famous topi became something people identified with. Every Indian who donned the Aam aadmi topi (cap) felt that they were the party — that they owned the party.
7) The-Movement-Strategy- Arvind Kejriwal has always called the whole AAP phenomenon as a ‘People’s movement’ rather than a political campaign. This has really worked for them because the genesis of a social movement lies in personal discontent and frustrations and the compelling motivation which in turn polarizes people into parallel action. AAP’s movement though negative and antagonistic in is in its origin eventually transformed into positive movement. Following the phase of expressing protest and action against some threat or frustration, the movement eventually generated positive goals and programs of action to achieve a more desirable situation than the one that inspired the protest achieve a new order that is more acceptable.
8)Tactical Attitude change- Any attitude involves both rational (cognitive) and emotional (affective) components, thus for any effective attitude change (In this case, change in voting behavior) both the avenues must be touched upon. That’s precisely what Arvind Kejriwal succeeded in doing. For the more educated classes he presented rational, detailed arguments and for the less informed classes, he heavily relied upon emotional appeal. What is more important is that he managed in using both types of appeals- rational and emotional together, their proportion depending upon the audience he was addressing.
9) Mode of communication- Many political analysts believe that the major trump card that worked for AAP was its marketing and endorsement strategies like extensive use of social media, recorded telephone calls and most importantly, the door-to-door campaign. Even psychological principles of ‘mode of communication’ validate this popular view. While Facebook effectively garnered the youth vote, the door-to-door campaign brought the masses of Delhi directly in touch with party workers and research shows that face-to-face conversations tend to be much more persuasive and impactful.
After the results of Delhi elections, many parties and leaders accepted that they need to ‘learn’ from the Aam Aadmi Party. I think what is needed more than anything is for them to learn these simple, scientifically proven social psychological techniques used successfully By Aam Aadmi Party before the upcoming general elections.