OPINION LEADERS INFLUENCE ON VOTING DECISIONS OF THE ELECTORATES IN ABAK LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREA
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1.1 Background to the Problem
Opinion leadership, as defined by Rogers (1983), is the ability to informally influence individual’s attitudes or behaviour in a desired way with relative frequency. Severin and Tankard (1979) refer to opinion leaders as members of small social groups who influence other members of their group. Another way in which Severin and Tankard (1979) look at opinion leadership, is that it is a two-step flow of communication, in which messages flow from the media first and reach the opinion leaders, who then pass them to associates or followers who look to them as influential. This tells us that opinion leaders play an intermediary role between mass media and their followers, to influence them in their decision-making process. People do not feel they are being tricked into a certain way by someone they know, and so they come to them (opinion leaders) to seek for their opinions and advice on certain issues. It can then be inferred that the role opinion leaders play, can be very valuable especially where it has to do with influencing people’s voting decision or behaviour.
The decision to vote for any credible candidate depends on the level of political awareness of a people at a given time, hence, the need for opinion leaders to relate and communicate with voters on the electoral process. It becomes incontrovertible that opinion leaders are sine qua none in a political clime. Due to the fact that they (opinion leaders) have the ability to mobilize people and as well, influence their voting decisions. Thus, Denver (2007, p.127) maintains that communicating with voters in the hope of influencing their behaviour is not new. It is as old as competitive politics itself. He continues that for as long as there have been contested elections those standing for election and their supporters have endeavoured to persuade the relevant electorates to vote for them. They also enlighten voters on the election process which is an essential ingredient for a successful election.
This concept is applicable in assessing how opinion leaders in Abak influence voting decision of people in Abak LGA, Akwa Ibom State, particularly during the 2015 general elections.
- Statement of the Problem
It is an acknowledged fact that opinion leaders are individuals whose ideas and behaviour serve as a model to others. They communicate messages to a primary group, and influence the attitudes of their followers. In traditional settings where community members desire and look for a credible source of information even in the presence of means of mass communication such as local newspapers and radios, opinion leaders are the people they turn to. Opinion leadership entails having an air of authority, whose opinions on issues are respected and unquestioned by their followers. Those issues may include politics, communal and socio-economic discords, community relations, etc.
Political discussions are particular area of interests and one of the most controversial aspects of opinion leadership. Electorates in communities do, almost all the time, look up to those they consider as opinion leaders for their views on political discourse, political candidates and voting choice. Therefore, in certain voting instances, it may be advantageous to direct the communications to the opinion leader who has the ability to influence other’s decisions about adopting new ideas to speed the acceptance of a political message.
The political parties in the state during campaigns find ways to appease opinion leaders across communities in the state in the hope that they find favour with electorates in those communities. Opinion leaders are expected to influence the voting choice of these electorates. As a follow up to this, how well opinion leaders tried to influence the voter’s decision, and the impact it had on electorates in Abak Local Government Area is of little knowledge to the researcher, thus the need to find out the extent to which the opinion leaders were instrumental in creating political awareness among electorates in Abak local government who participated in the 2015 general elections is pertinent.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
This study sought to;
- (i) Find out if opinion leaders in Abak influence people’s voting decision
- (ii) Determine the extent that opinion leaders in Abak influence people’s voting decisions
- (iii) Ascertain how the opinion leaders influence the people of Abak in their voting decision.
- (iv) Assess why opinion leaders are successful in influencing the voting decision of people in Abak.
- Research questions
The research seeks to find answers to the following questions;
- (i) Do opinion leaders in Abak influence people’s voting decision?
- (ii) To what extent do opinion leaders in Abak influence people’s voting decisions?
- (iii) In what ways do opinion leaders influence the people of Abak in their voting decisions?
- (iv) Why are the opinion leaders successful in influencing the voting decision of people in Abak?
1.5 Significance of the Study
It is expected that the findings of this study will be useful to candidates during political campaigns to help them focus their communications on the opinion leaders who will in turn influence the people, thereby improving support and the number of votes from the electorates during election.
Again, it will enhance academic research as the study tends to add more to older existing knowledge. Scholars can thus, build on findings of the study.
1.6 Delimitations of the Study
The study is geographically limited to Abak Local Government Area of Akwa-Ibom state.
There are a number of concepts and issues associated with opinion leadership, such as issues related with community relations and development. This study is basically dealing with opinion leadership and its influence on the voting decision of the electorates in Abak during the 2015 general election.
1.7 Limitations of the study
Due to the problem of fund on the part of the researcher such as having to transport himself to Abak Local Government Area, the researcher found the work highly demanding. Again, some of the respondents were reluctant in giving out information. This also posed a threat to the success of the research.
1.8 Definition of terms
Opinion Leadership: The concept or progression by which certain individuals in Abak that are more politically exposed, informally influence the voting choices or decisions of the electorates in Abak Local Government Area.
Voting Decision: A political decision to vote or not to vote for a candidate, made by the electorates in Abak Local Government Area, during the 2015 general election.
General Election: Casting of votes to elect candidates for some type of political positions, generally, at the local, state, and federal level, throughout the 2015 election period.
Electorates: The people who participated or voted in Abak during 2015 general election.
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