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Polygence Scholar2023
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Asher Cohen

Class of 2025Englewood, NJ


Project Portfolio

Identity Politics and Campaign Strategy Re-Formation

Started July 12, 2023

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Abstract or project description

Why do political candidates choose to engage in identity politics, and how does this decision impact the effectiveness of their campaigns? This paper examines the use of identity politics through political campaigns in India, Indonesia, and Malaysia to explore how candidates use the identity of their voters as a tool in campaigning. The paper argues that candidates in these case studies have two possible ways to gain voters' support: either through a campaign based on policy issues (e.g., economics) or one centered on identity politics (an exclusive political alliance formed by a social identifier). I assert that candidates turn to identity politics when they need to try a new method to revitalize their campaign because their policy platform fails to capture the attention of a large enough voter group. The case studies that follow assess the use of religious rhetoric by the Bharatiya Janata Party in India (1980-2014), the competing Islamic and Christian candidates vying for gubernatorial and presidential power in Indonesia (2014-2019), and the rise of the Perikatan Nasional Party in Malaysia (2008-2020). In these case studies, candidates recognized the strength of a religious bond between themselves and their voters. They used religious statements to create a solidified “political affinity group” voter base of their current supporters of the same identity. They then grew this base by converting policy voters to identity-based voters who would change their political affiliation because of religious sentiment. By looking at the successful election outcomes of these case studies, this paper argues that identity politics can be an effective campaign strategy for candidates and parties struggling with their current approach.