German election: Why the face of the message can be as crucial as content for voters

Andrea Römmele analyses voter behaviour toward Merkel and Schulz in new paper ahead of German election.

The personalisation of political messages has big stakes for election campaigns, Hertie School Professor of Communication in Politics and Civil Society Andrea Römmele says in the new publication, Bundestagswahl 2017 (German federal election 2017), published by the state political education centre Landeszentrale für politische Bildung in Baden-Württemberg. The paper examines the phenomenon of personalisation in the context of the German federal election taking place on 24 September.

Political messages have long been associated with the person who delivers them, she says - even more so during a campaign. From a historical perspective, this is nothing new, Römmele asserts. Looking at the incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel (Christian Democratic Party, CDU) and her opponent Martin Schulz (Social Democratic Party, SPD), Römmele lays out some of the central tenets of current political science research on voter behaviour.

Events that put candidates on a pedestal, such as the television debate on 3 September, can have at least some effect in swaying voters for or against a candidate. “Under given circumstances, debates can have an effect,” says Römmele. “However, this effect fades away after three or four days. Also, TV-debates are an entertaining and informative way to present politics to the electorate. But there is of course also other information.”

Römmele looks at the issue of personalisation from three dimensions, first defining it from a social science perspective, then analysing the two candidates’ strengths and weaknesses and the issues they focus on. She also examines the role of each candidate in various voter decision-making models, looking how party identification, issues, and personalities factor for voters.

Finally, Römmele sheds light on what polls reveal about the candidates’ chances on 24 September.

Read the paper Konkurrenten um die Kanzlerschaft in Bundestagswahl 2017, published by lpb, the Landeszentrale für politische Bildung Baden-Württemberg. (In German)