Date:14 Dec 2012
Door-to-door campaigning gains prominence in Ghana's growing democracy
In the run-up to Ghana's 2012 general election, leading political parties have gone fully for the door-to-door model of campaigning.
Unlike in the past when presidential candidates took to holding huge rallies, they are now criss-crossing the country, moving from community to community, and talking to individuals, and small groups in their homes, and community meetings.
This mode of selling campaign messages is a sharp departure from the previous practice of busing supporters to venues for huge rallies.
Since 1992 when the country returned to multi-party democracy, after 11 years of military rule, the major political parties - National Democratic Congress (NDC), New Patriotic Party (NPP), Convention People's Party (CPP), and the People's National Convention (PNC) – have resorted to staging massive rallies.
Former president Jerry John Rawlings is believed to have set the tone for such rallies in the 1992 and 1996 political campaigns for this process.
Rawlings, a charismatic military man who seized power on two previous occasions in a coup d'état, is the only president under the Fourth Republic to have won his first election without a run- off.
Although his critics attributed his electoral fortunes to his incumbency, they could not discount his charisma as playing a major part in his victories.
After his tenure, however, his choice successor, the late president Professor John Evans Atta Mills, failed to win the 2000 elections, losing in a run-off to then candidate John Agyekum Kufuor, in spite of the huge crowds that thronged the rally grounds of the NDC.
In the 2004 elections, Mills lost again to Kufuor whose NPP ran a second four-year term, till January 2009.
Rather than change Mills, the NDC renewed his candidacy in December 2006 to lead them for the third time in the general election.
Determined not to lose a third time, Mills in the run-up to the 2008 general election adopted the door-to-door campaign strategy.
As early as January 2007, Mills started his long journey to the presidency by visiting street corners, homes, communities and markets to sell himself and his campaign message of "I Care For You" to the electorate in all 10 regions of the country.
This tactics drew mockery from his main political opponents - the NPP - who thought it was an impossibility to walk round the country soliciting for votes, more so when it was an open secret that the NDC candidate was not in the best of health conditions.
However, in December 2008, Mills' strategy paid off. He led the NDC to win the elections, securing a slim majority in parliament before winning the presidency in a run-off.
As if to borrow a leaf from Mills in the 2012 elections, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, presidential candidate of the opposition NPP, was the first to hit the road, walking in cities, towns and villages across the country selling his message to them while listening to their concerns.
This has been beefed up by rallies as the days draw near while still holding small group meetings with student groups and other identifiable groups.
The other parties, CPP, Progressive People's Party (PPP) of Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom, PNC candidate Hassan Ayariga, among others, have been using the same door-to-door method to campaign across the country.
"Politics is a game of numbers and a variety of methods are employed by politicians to woo the electorate. So the door-to-door campaign is important because not everybody leaves home to attend rallies organized by political parties," said Clement Apaak, a political analyst and lecturer at the University of Ghana, Legon.
He believed that since Ghana's 2012 election was expected to be tight, it was important for the parties to adopt the door-to- door campaign to establish a close rapport with people, a situation that is not possible at a big rally.
"It is an old campaign strategy which might even be older than the huge rally strategy and in this you are able to come into close contact with people at home, and speak to parents, children and other relatives," Apaak pointed out.
He believed that since people wanted to associate with others who shared in their values, and also discuss their concerns with them, the door-to-door campaign strategy was very important in political campaigns.
Sitting President John Dramani Hamama has not held a single regional rally, compared with his main opponent, Akufo-Addo, but rather chose smaller group meetings and smaller crowds in cities, towns and villages, where his daily campaigns last till about 4.00 a.m. on Dec 4.
His vigorous campaign style is well focused on the door-to-door strategy, a system he may have learned and adopted from his predecessor, late president Mills.
Project Consultant with the African Election Project (AEP), Kwami Ahiabenu, acknowledged the fact that door- to -door campaign gained prominence in Ghana during the campaigning for the 2008 elections with then candidate Mills.
"He worked to ensure there is a more personal interaction with electorate and this in a way contributed to the success of NDC at the polls," the consultant averred.
More importantly, Ahiabenu believes the parties are turning to door-to-door campaigns because "it is more cost effective, since you do not need big budgets for it," but conceded that it was time- consuming and needed more boots (foot-soldiers) on the ground.
"It is important to indicate that the Ghanaian voters are getting more discerning and therefore reaching out to them via door-to-door campaigns is proving to be a useful strategy," observed Ahaibenu.
According to Ahiabenu, though door-to-door campaign does not provide visibility which comes with big rallies, it is quite effective and efficient.
He cautioned however that this style of campaigning could not replace big rallies, saying: "You still need to hold rallies to galvanize supporters and show images of large followers.
"The door-to-door campaigns are not going to ever replace big rallies, but political parties for some time to come are going to deploy either big rallies or door-to-door for appropriate situations."