When people in Germany complain about the Americanization of politics they usually mean the political communication, especially during election campaigns. But is it true that German election campaigns have become Americanized?
A key difference in the political systems of Germany and the United States is funding for campaigns. In Germany political campaigns are funded by the public (taxpayer’s money). Political parties receive reimbursement for campaigns if they receive more than 1% of the votes in a state election or 0.5% of all votes in a federal election. Public campaign financing means parties are more independent than they are in the United States, where fundraising for the election campaign is an essential part of running for an office. This means that in Germany it is much easier for smaller parties or lesser known politicians to take part in an election.
However, the German approach to party funding is not entirely public. Parties also receive money from their members, donations (about 15% of the funding is covered through donations) and money from mixed sources, such as donations from members of the parliament, who receive their pay from the state and then donate some of that to their party.
So why do Germans think their election campaigns are becoming Americanized? A famous campaign slogan used by the Christian Democratic Union in 1957 was “Keine Experimente” – No experiments! Simplified, this was true for the time when Chancellor Kohl was in power, from 1982 to 1998. Election campaigns became more personal and more psychological with the election of Gerhard Schroeder in 1998. He had a different approach to politics, he as a person became central, instead to Kohls approach, which was centered on the goals of the party, reducing politics to a matter of thinking. Schroeder recognized the need to incorporate psychology because people just do not vote for a party, they vote for a person. Since then, TV debates have been introduced to German election campaigns. The Berliner Morgenpost calls Schroeders aprpoach “Star Politik” and labels it hollywoodization.
German politics have thus become more like advertisement campaigns, they attempt to engage the voter in an effort to compete with the modern media reality, where everything is more interesting than a stiff politician. Does this mean they have become Americanized? Since the bigger emphasis on psychological aspects and the personality of the candidates is an effect of the media gaining importance it would be necessary to determine which started first. Did the media gain influence over politics first or did the media become so important and politics so irrelevant that this was the only way out for politics?
However, the systems are so different (Germany has a big number of relevant parities, the US has two parties of relevance) that while the US system might have an influence on the German system, they are far from becoming one and the same. At the core they are far too different from each other and operate in existentially different media realities for them to ever become very similar.