M Ali Siddiqi talks about a contentious matter of Pakistan and political attitudes
The current Pakistan and political attitudes has plenty to do with the origins and formation of political attitudes within the ranks of political governance order. In the context of political attitude it is pointed out that they emerge from ideological commitments and the attitude that places them above the mundane considerations of impulses and passions. The main issue here is that such attitudes mostly pertain to the inner thoughts of individuals and are not apparent and stay latent or lack observation giving rise to the ambiguity of their clear-cut enunciation that is usually the case in Pakistan. The crucial issue that is countered in this respect is that attitude could only be measured through assumption and this yardstick, at times, proves quite dubious in ascertaining with finality. The best that could be done in the matter is to apply the principle of a stimulus or a pertinent question and then to gauge the response it elicits. It is generally assumed that by assessing verbal expressions from which they can be inferred had a significant impact yet the hollowness and duplicity of Pakistani expressive regime is nothing but extremely misleading.
With particular reference to democratic political sphere voting is often applied to measure certain attitudes but the problem here is to distinguish between rational choice of the voter or the impulse that overtook him. It cannot be determined if the voting exercise contained some kind of objective interest or it was the consequence of the multiple messages an individual is exposed to in a communication process that in political parlance is widely known as an electoral campaign. This attitude could also be determined, in a large measure, by media and public relations manipulation. Another reason for adopting a particular attitude may be the result of peer pressure including social groups, family, the neighbourhood, friends and colleagues. In this respect it is very difficult to determine that a particular voting pattern is the product of political convictions and ideas of the voter or his ability to match those ideas with the ones the candidates communicate. It may also be interpreted that the voter tilted towards by preferences of any of the attributes or issues he found appealing in the candidate.
This implication is indicative of the difficulty experienced in observing definitively the precise political attitude and conviction of the people involved in the political process as they are heavily dependent upon the assertion of a particular voter. This incomprehensible and latent attribute is generally considered to be political attitude that is regarded as the propensity to produce certain behavioural responses relating to specific subjects, once the individual has been exposed to a stimulus. To the extent that such attitudes determine opinions and behaviour, the individual is an autonomous actor rather than a passive object moved by causes external to him or her. While defining this element it must be kept in view that attitudes vary from one individual to another as for some they are the very essence of ideas explained as a set of articulated beliefs but for some tastes are more important. For some individuals, particular issues are more relevant than general concepts yet for others, moral values are more important than particular preferences. This apparent differentiation has given rise to the apprehension that there are voters who make their decisions in an erratic, random way implying individuals are strongly dependent on mass media, leaders or material incentives and that they are not really autonomous actors.
Despite not being able to determine the correct root cause directing formation of attitudes, the standard representation of attitudes postulates the existence of levels of generality and stability in the judgments people are able to formulate about themselves and the external world. In these hierarchies of judgments each individual holds opinions and attitudes. It is widely recognised that citizens of a country do have predispositions toward public affairs, governments and elections. According to this definition such predispositions gradually convert into attitudes and various labels are attached to them generally known as conservative, liberal and nationalist. However, a definite line could not be drawn in this context as sometimes it is described that many individuals may be to some extent both liberal and conservative depending on the issues that are considered. In normal parlance in some countries, people define themselves as oriented to the left, right or centre but in other countries these concepts are not relevant for many people and Pakistan is one of these where local loyalties matter more than conceptual adherence.
Formation of attitudes may be the outcome of interests as it is recognised that people’s opinions change with their fortunes. The perception that each social position must correspond to a particular set of attitudes is deeply rooted but this correlation is far from being consensual implying that there is no perfect link between the real position of a person and dimension of his attitude. At this point formation of attitude towards governance and its dimensions become relevant. Such attitudes may swing from being favourable to very unfavourable this range of variation between these two levels of is far more restricted and that there is no better way to approach attitudes, at least in a quantifiable way. It is commonly accepted that political attitudes help the analyst explain and predict political preferences and behaviour therefore it is imperative that they are measured by a fairly credible yardstick.
In case of electoral democratic process it is often observed that there is a great deal of research examining the effects of electoral campaigns, political communication and messages delivered by political leaders on voters’ attitudes. While there are no universal generalisations supported by such attempts yet a voter’s level of education and the quantity of information an individual may acquire, facilitate a higher propensity to change. This is the salient consideration poll-taking groups take seriously in Pakistan basing their analysis mostly on urban locales though the acquired results may not be close to the real perceptions existing in the socio-political arena. In countries like Pakistan where political parties have considerably less acceptability and influence in governance process the narrative-building efforts of arbitrary elements have made inroads within the public attitudes that view all political action with a jaundiced view and could be easily weaned away from democratic political action.
Though large groups of citizens in Pakistan hold reasonably convincing brief for democratic political system in Pakistan but is also found easy to sway their attitude by portraying the democratic process in negative light. We know that many citizens today hold stable political predispositions and do not change them easily. It is therefore proposed that consistent efforts at involving the people in electoral campaigns is beneficial in country like Pakistan as they are sources of intense stimuli and being concentrated within a short period of time they cannot be resisted by the voters. It is imperative to view that the principle of political behaviour, and specifically voting behaviour, must be related to what citizens have in their minds is at the root of democratic governance. It should also be kept in view that the old problem of the relationship between attitudes and behaviour is central in the realm of politics and therefore all efforts should be made to keep attitudes stable as they are susceptible to change. This is what is required in present day Pakistan and for it to happen political parties are required to make extra effort. TW
M Ali Siddiqi is a writer who contributes to leading