How to Convert a Hardcore Supporter to Vote for Your Candidate

First, understand what's on their mind.
Photo/s: Lacson-Sotto 2022 Media

Refusing to believe that the choice of presidential candidate is unshakeable, Mark Vitug floods his timeline with political memes, satire videos, and court rulings on martial law, hoping to dissuade his contacts from voting for Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

The mechanical engineering graduate likens the endeavor to supporting his thesis argument with related literature. Often, he feels frustrated that his facts-based approach is met with disbelief, especially from relatives whom he expected to appreciate his argument.

"Feel ko responsibility ko na hindi dapat ako tumigil kasi... 'yung boto nila if ever 'yun ang mananalo, hindi lang sila ang maaapektuhan. Kapag 'yan nagloko, hindi lang sila ang maaapektuhan, pati rin kami, pati ibang tao," he told reportr.

In the case of health worker Mabel Santos, a supporter of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, she is voting for Vice President Leni Robredo to succeed Duterte after seeing her on the ground pandemic response, said her daughter, Faye Alberto.

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Alberto told reportr she has still to convince her mother to drop the trapos or traditional politicians from her list of senatorial candidates.

Aside from track record, voters pick a candidate based on a host of factors including childhood values and the influence of like-minded peers, clinical psychologist Joseph Marquez said.

That's why those like Vitug and Alberto who want to convert voters into their fold should understand where their prospects are coming from and why they choose the way they do, Marquez said.


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Why it's difficult to change other people's beliefs

One factors why it's difficult to change one's belief is cognitive dissonance. It's when an individual's behavior becomes inconsistent with their thoughts and beliefs and how they address the inconsistency, Marquez said.

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"Ayaw tumanggap ng pagkakamali or admitting na wrong 'yung pinili nila, na hindi angkop sa nakakarami that's why they're sticking to it," he said.

A 2021 study published by Oxford Research suggested that when people can't change their behavior, they will change their attitude so it could be more in line with their behavior. It's like a smoker who would defend the benefits of smoking even if they knew it could cause cancer.

A 2010 Northwestern University study also said that the less confident a person felt in their opinion, the more they would labor to convince others they are right. 

Instead of admitting they're wrong, they could selectively collect evidence backing up their claims despite contradictory evidence. It's called cognitive bias, Marquez said. "'Yung subjective reality mo na hahanap ka ng paraan to support your claims, 'yung claims mo lang. Ilalaban mo nang ilalaban 'yung paniniwala mo na akala mo tama," said Marquez.

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It's only natural. When the self feels attacked, the brain will defend it, psychologist Jonas Kaplan told Vox. Scientific Reports in 2016 published a study on how the brains of U.S. liberals "light up" when closely held political beliefs are challenged. 

To reduce the negative emotions, people think of ways to minimize the challenging evidence by discounting the source, forming counterarguments, validating their original attitufe or selectively avoiding new information, the study said. 

"It's a matter of pride. Sino bang papayag na matawag na mali in front of many people?" Marquez said.

Then there's groupthink, where like-minded people share a common belief for the sake of conformity. Thinking differently could make an individual feel excluded and create an internal dilemma that they are not devoted enough to the group, said Marquez.

"Sino ba naman ang gustong maalis sa grupo nila o sa kinabibilangan nila, 'yung kokontra siya sa paniniwala ng group nila?" he said.

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Yes, it's still possible to convert a hardcore follower

Despite these challenges, Marquez said there are ways to change the minds of hardcore followers.

Don't attack their beliefs

Name calling will only lead to more disagreements, he said. "You really have to accept kung sino iboboto nila but if there's a way for you to explain and [ask them to] check the platforms, please do so without attacking the person personally, it will only create a divide."

Understand where they're coming from

Even if you have court rulings to discredit their candidate, they might not care about it if they don't understand it. Try to engage on a level they would understand and cite examples instead, said Marquez. Instead of speaking in English, why not talk to them in Tagalog or their native language if you can?

Give them leeway to explain their choice

Instead of making them feel like fools for picking a corrupt candidate, why not ask them to explain their candidates' platforms instead? Discuss other platforms instead to help them realize there could be better options.

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"I-lay down mo sa kanila 'yung platforms instead of just contradicting them in everything they will say. The more na kinokontra mo sila, the more na lalaban lang sila sa 'yo," he said.

In case they won't budge, stop wasting your energy and move on to other people whom you can speak with, said Marquez. Don't burn bridges just because of politics, he said. Even when it's hard, remember to be kind.

"As much as possible, maging makatao din tayo in treating other people kung iyon ang paniniwala nila."

Clinical psychologist Joseph Marquez is based in Taytay, Rizal. His services can be accessed online. You may contact him through this page. 

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