Monday, April 16, 2012

The Americanization of Germany: Political Election Campaigns

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.,0,0,Amerikanisierung_der_politischen_Kommunikation.html,1518,371490,00.html


Cara Truesdell said...

Although during election season, we can't seem to turn on the television without seeing a political ad (I'm sure it will be unbearable this November) I feel as if those ads do not change many voter's minds. The political party system in the U.S. fosters high debate between Democrats and Republicans, and the majority of people have their respective party that shares their viewpoints. I have taken several advertising classes for my major and every time we talk about political ads it seems as if the candidates simply have these commercials to keep their name in the public. Sure they try and convince voters, but the typical commercial isn't going to make or break the election for the candidate. I wonder if the difference in publicly funded campaigns and private funded ones result in a decrease of lobbyists? If there are no hidden agendas, the government could prove to be much more productive. The 1% policy seems very different that anything we have here in the U.S. If there is less risk in entering a political race, more people enter, if more people enter then would there be less party loyalty? Looking at the independent candidates in the United States, they are often not voted for because it's so unlikely that they would win, and many feel like their vote is wasted.

Christian Vette (ASL) said...

I too noticed an increasing Americanization of the style political campaigns are being conducted in Germany. Thankfully, the German media is not yet as flooded with political ads as the American media during election season (too bad though there is no Stephen Colbert Super PAC in Germany!). The first televised debate in the US was in 1960 between Nixon and JFK. It took Germany only 42 years to catch up: in 2002 incumbent chancellor Schröder debated challenger Stoiber on television. Contemporary attempts by politicians to reach out to potential voters now include all major social media outlets: twitter, Facebook, weekly video podcasts similar to the White House, or Angela Merkel’s series of “Bürgerdialog.” The problem with this kind of advertising is that most of the time political positions become reduced unduly. The idea that politics can be simplified to a catchy slogan tends to relieve citizens of detailed probing for pros and cons. Let’s all hope sympathy and showmanship cannot expand any further.