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The landscape of democracy

20 of March '24
w skrócie
  1. The local government is responsible for infrastructure and the quality of everyday life, including regulating traffic congestion and funding public transportation.
  2. Local government elections have a direct impact on the quality of our day, weekend and vacation, although they are often underestimated.
  3. Repetition error in election marketing can influence our decisions, leading to heuristic cognitive errors.
  4. The pure exposure effect and the repetition error are exploited in election campaigns, which can result in an excessive inundation of public space with posters.
  5. For more interesting information, visit the home page of the AiB portal

Imagine a weekend without traffic jams and smog, where every walk in the park or meeting with friends is pure pleasure. It is local government that has the power to make such days an everyday occurrence. On April 7 you have the chance to elect those who will take care of your environment - don't miss this opportunity.

It is quite easy for us to imagine what we want. We can also easily point out things that frustrate us. No one wants to stand in traffic, making several trips a day for a child's cab is annoying, and a trip through city streets in winter can end in an asthma attack if there is smog. Instead, most of us imagine a great weekend tending the garden, making a barbecue, walking in the park or seeing friends in the city. These aspects are mostly the responsibility of the local government, because it is from the budget of local units that infrastructure is funded.

The local government will decide

Municipalities, counties and provinces have the authority to regulate road congestion, fund public transportation, fight fossil fuels or issue building permits. It is the local government that is most responsible for what our daily life looks like. In the after-hours busyness, we don't think about such matters. Civic knowledge has been around for a long time, and it's unlikely that any of us reads the laws on the competencies of territorial units to ourselves at our leisure - understandable. On April 7, however, we are facing elections, which seem somewhat in the background. And yet they are not. They are a very important part of our day, weekend and vacation. Therefore, I would not want us to pass by indifferently.

Although the average Magda, Jan or Kasia doesn't give much thought to the powers of local government, this one should know them well. Moreover, it should have a spatial policy, well-defined directions of development, recognized strengths and weaknesses. While the larger cities in Poland are campaigning, the districts in Poland are putting up billboards and that's about it. The vote is for the one who puts up more posters.

Poster heuristics

This technique counts among the heuristics of making judgments, and these very often lead to cognitive errors. Heuristics are the process by which we use mental shortcuts to make decisions. Simplifying - the idea is that our brain doesn't like to get tired and uses well-trodden paths, shortcuts, in short it is a master of efficiency.

Zdjęcie ulicy zasłanej bannerami

Photo of a street covered with banners

© Magdalena Milert

This tactic is one of the most important for marketing, it's called the law of updating or repetition error. The more times something is repeated to us - the more likely it is to reach us. We know this well from TV or radio commercials. What is the first thing you do when buying a new product? You check reviews, right? After all, that's where you find strong and compelling information that can make you decide to buy. A dozen people on Instagram recommend a hair dryer? Gee, it must be great, I think I'll buy it. I could multiply examples here. Any experienced salesperson will nod that repetition is the key to sales. After all, it is said that people need to hear something seven times before they take action[1].

Repetition error describes how we believe slogans and remember something more if it is repeated to us repeatedly. We recognize and are influenced by cyclical bits of information from multiple sources. This influences our decisions, reactions and intuitive choices. This simplifies decision-making and evaluation of a product, a concept. This serves two functions. First, repeated words or ideas become a hook, an anchor. Second, they reinforce the idea.

Zdjęcie ulicy zasłanej bannerami

Photo of a street covered with banners

© Magdalena Milert

This phenomenon is linked to the pure exposure effect, which was described by Robert Zajonc in 1968. He showed, individuals like more those stimuli that are presented to them more often than others. Interestingly, confirmation of this phenomenon occurs even when we are not aware of seeing the stimuli beforehand[2]. We can find echoes of this study in all that we will call subliminal messages.

So is it worth littering an entire city with your posters? After the arguments made here, one might agree that sure, you can, still how. Reality, or perhaps rather our brains are not so simple again. For it turns out that repeating something too often can be perceived as annoying. In scientific parlance, this is known as semantic oversaturation. This means that overexposure leads to a loss of the stimulant's potency. On top of that, the repetition of something else can distract from the original one. On top of that, we also have the freshness effect. It is based on the idea that the information we get last (it is the freshest) is more important, more powerful for us. According to this idea, in our case, the one who hangs the banner later would be the one to get more votes.

Banner self-government

In a campaign race, of course, election banners are everywhere, and their impact is realistically difficult to measure. Elections are not won with just a poster, but with a series of other actions. The problem is that access to information about what the local government wants to do for the municipality is practically nonexistent. District Poland has been sealed with names and a number on a list, giving no one an answer as to what will be fought for. The local government, the body that is closest to us - responsible for a sidewalk, a bus stop and a plot of land that has not yet become a row of single-family houses - does not want to convince us to go. If we go to vote, for whom? What will we be guided by?

I encourage you to take some time these few weeks before the election and see if our candidate(s) are doing any land-use activities. The Public Information Bulletins have information on council votes from previous years - it's worth reaching out there, checking how the issues important to us were voted. If candidates do not disclose their programs, it may be worth asking about them. After all, we have a right to information. Districts and municipalities are our reality, on which we ourselves spend money in taxes. The local government annually passes its own budget, which is not part of the budget of the state or any other local government. It is up to us and our decisions at the ballot box to determine what daily life will look like in the years to come.

Magdalena Milert


[2] Robert Zajonc. Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology". 9,part 2, pp. 1-27, 1968.

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