Talking Politics and Political Campaigns

A while back my host sister and I were talking about politics and social issues in Alaska and the US. (So far, only my host sister has asked me to comment on the Trump administration.) One thing that stood out to me was that she is 14 years old and is interested in politics overseas. I know there are a few who are very young and take an active interest or even participate in politics in Alaska and the US, but it definitely isn’t typical. It led me to wonder when do people start developing an interest and an opinion on politics in La Paz or Bolivia more generally. Also for comparison, my family in Santa Cruz has never asked me about politics in Alaska or the US, or for my commentary on President Trump. Having that experience, I didn’t expect my host sister (or Bolivians in general) to take an interest in US politics. But I guess it is also expected, given the theatrics of politics in the US at the moment.

Our trip to the Órgano Electoral Plurinacional and the discussion we had with a round table of people also made me wonder about people with political aspirations and how they achieve those goals. I was also thinking about how people’s motivations for entering politics change over time, as well as their public image and perception from supporters and the opposition alike. From what I gathered, it seems more difficult for one person to decide to run for political office, and must attach themselves to a political party or entity. This is a stark contrast to grassroots political campaigns I see in Alaska, where someone just decides to run and create their own unique or relatable brand, and they draw supporters through word-of-mouth, visits to cafés, debates at conventions or auditoriums, and more. An individual candidate may gain favor and make a name for themselves within a specific community of people (like community organizers) but may not build up enough momentum outside certain circles. How do campaigns work in Bolivia? Where are the “grassroots” campaigns and what is the role of social media in campaigns here (keeping in mind today’s guest speaker, Mario Durán.)

I was also thinking about seasoned politicians who keep their position year after year. Even new and “old” politicians who are honest in their political aspirations and motivations behind certain choices are looked at with suspicion (at least in my experience). Alaska has some politicians who have been around for a long time. I haven’t noticed a lot of anxiety around these seasoned politicians in Alaska. For the most part, people seem to accept them as politicians that cannot be dismantled, but that doesn’t mean that people in Alaska aren’t politically active (they are) or don’t have anxieties about the future of the state. All of this is to say,  I am curious about Bolivian voters and what causes voters anxiety. Are seasoned politicians considered a positive thing? Are newcomers “better?” What are the limitations of politicians in Bolivia? What is the relationship between Bolivian people and their government? Does trust in the government exist here- if not, is there any country where people generally do trust their government? (In my mind, that seems implausible.) And lastly, what drives people to stay current with politics in Bolivia as well as international politics?

As a note, I also was thinking about humor in political campaigns. There are some funny play-on-words and rhyme schemes in political signs in Alaska and I want to know, out of curiosity, what the role of humor is in political campaigns, political victories, and defeat in Bolivia.

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2 thoughts on “Talking Politics and Political Campaigns

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  1. One reason why your family hasn’t asked about politics is a taboo about talking politics (or religion) with family. It’s often easier with strangers. I don’t talk politics (or religion) with some of my family (in US or Bolivia) in part because I don’t want to get into arguments if I think (or know) we have fundamental disagreements. With strangers, we often are either more curious or simply assume they agree with us. It’s a weird social thing.

    That’s an interesting observation about the difference between party-based verses personality-based political styles. Many countries (including most in Europe) have party-based political systems in which people join parties and work up the ranks. This has the advantage of creating clear “career” trajectories and parties have to have clearly defined policy or ideological platforms. There are advantages and disadvantages to both kind of systems. And neither is inherently “better” (or more “democratic”). Trying to understand each system “from the inside” (ethnographically?) is a challenging, but fruitful process.

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  2. Very nice and thorough reflection here, Maria! There’s clear differences between not only how politics happens in both countries but also way people become politicians. So what could the U.S. learn from Bolivia? Traditionally, the question has been posed the opposite way!

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