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News release

AI and technology are not a panacea for voter apathy, Afrobarometer surveys director tells political campaigns expo

1 Feb 2024 South Africa
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News release

Artificial intelligence (AI) and technology can help address voter apathy, especially  among African youth, but cannot take the place of substantive policy solutions,  Afrobarometer Director of Surveys Boniface Dulani told the International Political  Campaigns Expo (IPE). 

“While AI and technology provide opportunities for greater engagement with voters, it’s  not a panacea to all the problems related to voter apathy, particularly among the  youth,” he said at the maiden edition of the IPE in Cape Town, South Africa. 

The IPE brought together political leaders, political scientists, campaign strategists, AI  experts, and technology innovators to explore the transformative potential of AI and Big  Data for political campaigns and voter engagement in Africa.  

Dulani expressed concern about the low rate of political participation by African youth and  urged political parties to leverage technology and AI to engage them, considering the  youth’s heavy reliance on technology. But he also stressed the need to address the  underlying issues that matter most to young people. 

Afrobarometer data show that unemployment tops the list of the most important problems  that African youth want their government to address, and young Africans are considerably  more likely than their elders to be out of work and looking for a job. They are more likely than  older cohorts to see state institutions and leaders as corrupt and to mistrust them. Youth are  also more willing to tolerate a military takeover of the government if elected leaders abuse  their power (56% among those aged 18-35 vs. 47% among those aged 56 and above). 

“Simply reaching out through technology is not sufficient,” Dulani insisted. “Political actors  must actively tackle the root causes of youth apathy.” 

In a separate panel discussion at the Expo, Afrobarometer co-founder and senior adviser  Robert Mattes echoed concerns about dissatisfaction eroding political party support.  Mattes emphasised the impact of face-to-face interactions in political campaigns and  debunked the misconception that gifts significantly influence voter turnout. 

“Let’s remember that the research literature suggests that face-to-face contacts have a  far greater impact than other forms of voter engagement,” Mattes said. “Canvassing  matters and makes voters even more likely to vote. Campaign rallies also matter. But, in  contrast to common wisdom, giving gifts does not seem to have any significant impact  on voter turnout.” 

The International Political Campaigns Expo featured a line-up of speakers with a diverse  range of perspectives and expertise, showcasing a shared commitment to effective  political campaigns that promote sustainable development across the continent.