Playing to the crowd: performance and the politics of campaign rallies

Nicole Beardsworth (University of York)
Gabrielle Lynch (University of Warwick )
Politics and International Relations
Room 11
Session slots:
Thursday 13 June, 16:15 - 18:00
Thursday 13 June, 17:55 - 19:40

Short abstract:

Political rallies are central to electoral campaigns across sub-Saharan Africa. Taking decisions to expend significant time and energy in staging public events seriously, this panel asks what can be learnt about party and electoral politics by analysing performances staged during campaign rallies

Long abstract:

Political rallies - from small roadside meetings to mass gatherings - are central to electoral campaigns across sub-Saharan Africa. Particularly in the context of limited media penetration, rallies are critical sites of voter persuasion and partisan mobilisation (Dan Paget, 2018). Rallies frequently involve popular local artists, traditional leaders and dancers, and local and national dignitaries. They are often marked by the distribution of party paraphernalia, the performance of orchestrated 'defections' from other parties and claims by the key politician to both local relevance and ethnic inclusivity. Informed by a broader literature on politics and performance, this panel takes the decision of parties and individual candidates to expend so much of their time and energy staging these public events seriously. More specifically, the panel looks at what insights can be gained about parties and electoral politics by analysing the performances staged at campaign rallies. Underlying questions might include: What do politicians decide to talk about and how? How do they seek to present themselves and what are the key messages relayed? Who accompanies aspirants and what does this say about campaign strategies? What do rallies aim to achieve? For example, do they seek to inform local citizens of an aspirant's manifesto or to display their support as a means of influencing voters' assessments of likely outcomes? How are ethnic and national claims performed at these 'local' events, and what does this mean for parties' mobilisation efforts more broadly? How do parties conceptualise the importance of rallies within broader campaign strategies?