German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama:

Lesson in how incumbents can win during hard economic times.



Obama's 'No Change' Election Formula Will Work Like a Charm for Merkel (Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Germany)


"In turbulent times, a conservative trust in the tried-and-true is most appealing: What is being called for today is caregiver leadership. ... Usually in the United States, the rule is that high unemployment and poor economic data invariably lead to a loss of power. That was evidently not the case with this election. In spite of the unfavorable economic data, voters had in the back of their minds that 'he prevented the worst.'"


By Karl Rudolf Korte*



Translated By Stephanie Martin


December 8, 2012


Germany - Sueddeutsche Zeitung - Original Article (German)

Merkel supporter Helga Schuetz shows a signature of the chancellor during an election rally in Koblenz, Germany, in 2009. Merkel looks well-positioned to win a third term next year, with voters looking for a safe pair of hands rather than a reformer or change-agent.

DEUTCHE WELLE VIDEO, GERMANY: Taking Germany's pulse before the 2013 Bundestag elections, Oct 5, 00:01:45RealVideo

To learn from Obama is to learn to win. Merkel also has a good chance in her upcoming election as well - as crisis chancellor. With a forced passivity, she navigates her way through crises. For many voters, that is enough.


No comparison? Let's skip the ritual incantation about the differences between the U.S. and Germany which makes all similarities suspect. Democracies can be compared. We can't help but project voter behavior and strategies from the American presidential election onto the upcoming Bundestag election year.


Unless the mood for change is present, the status quo reasserts itself. In the debt crisis, the executive is benefiting more than ever from his dramatic handling of crisis-summits. Taking advantage of incumbency, Obama intoned: "I have prevented the worst!"


Elections are never harvest festivals for governments: In the voting booth, what is generally rewarded is the assumed future competence of the candidate. This time, however, the perpetual sound of the financial crisis mixes audibly with the future needs of the public. There is no other way to explain how the slogan "No Change" can win elections. In turbulent times, a conservative trust in the tried-and-true is most appealing: What is being called for today is caregiver leadership.


Usually in the United States, the rule is that high unemployment and poor economic data invariably lead to a loss of power. That was evidently not the case with this election. In spite of the unfavorable economic data, voters had in the back of their minds that "he prevented the worst." More than ever, the standard of measurement is based on experience, competence, and credibility. In times of crisis, successful politicians are those most likely to be competent managers of risk.


Politicians have difficulty making decisions under conditions characterized by high complexity, uncertainty, time pressure and lack of knowledge. This must be communicated to voters. The globalized financial crisis is also a crisis of knowledge for which no master plan is available. Therefore, managing with confidence when there is a lack of knowledge becomes a power resource for president and chancellor. Seen this way, the phenomenon of "leadership voting" can be easily applied to Angela Merkel. As chancellor/president, Merkel garners high points when it comes to personal sympathy. With a forced passivity, she navigates her way through crises without any suggestion of knowing the way out. Voters know enough that they practice a relaxed fatalism. In Germany - as in the United States this year - the competition between parties in 2013 will have more to do with security than justice. Budgetary discipline is a top priority for voters. The election will be a struggle over the exclusive right of interpretation over the euro crisis.


Merkel's predictable formula is: "I'm taking care of our euro!" That makes Peer Steinbrück's proposal to break the power of the banks sound like the ideal platform for the vice chancellorship [Steinbrück is the opposition Social Democratic Party candidate for chancellor]. That Merkel recently declared that the euro crisis could last another five years fits into the mindset of 2012. "Four more years" - I need even more time to solve the problems - that applies there as well as here. One year for the election campaign plus a four-year legislative period add up to the five additional "Merkel years."


Like Worldmeets.US on Facebook




Le Figaro, France: G8 Summit: Obama Hollande Say What Merkel Doesn’t Want to Hear  

Die Welt, Germany: Merkel Fires Obama; Takes Hollande to Woodshed

Die Welt, Germany: Euro Crisis Turns Germany into Europe's United States

Le Figaro, France: To Save Euro, 'United States of Europe' Must Be Formed  



Feelings and emotions play a greater role in American election campaigns than in Germany. This was the case this time as well. Obama authentically imparted, "I feel your pain." No big narrative of "change" or "hope" adorned the campaign. The Democratic Party operated in a manner that was maudlin and compartmentalized in the extreme. What could be more obvious than for Merkel to put her money on the same method? As a case-by-case politician without the option of a connecting story line, her policy management has always had more of a feel-your-way style. People consider her to be a caregiver whose actions are not for effect. She is trusted when it comes to sensing how voters are doing. Although she effectively moves in the unreal world of politics, we are still left with the impression that her politics are neither removed from reality nor power-obsessed. She now leads a colorful, fragmented society. It is only during election campaigns that watered down versions of the factions are artificially brought into position to mobilize Merkel's own supporters.


Connecting the offline and online worlds


In spite of an extremely heterogeneous electorate, Obama was able to effectively garner over three million more voters than his challenger Romney. Obama gathered minorities in order to achieve a majority. This approach could translate into multi-party-coalitions in the German party race. If Merkel should be faced with six parties in the German Bundestag, she can likely be relied upon to forge an electoral coalition of almost any variety. The Christian Democratic Union [Merkel's party] has to a large extent lost its relevance, but remains attractive to the electorate, which is increasingly pragmatic as opposed to being inclined to commit to a particular party. Merkel has perfected dissent management in the current Berlin coalition. As an educational foundation, this experience could help a potential third term Merkel Cabinet depict itself as a colorful and diverse coalition.


But a transfer from the United States to Germany in terms of actual campaign techniques is problematic. The bourgeois suspicion of German voters nips in the bud any scheme that would involve voluntarily providing personal information on attitudes and reactions to parties. But we can learn by extrapolation: What does the campaign planners' image of voters look like, specifically? Despite the overall trend toward digitization, the U.S. campaign shows that there is nothing more important to voting and decision-making behavior than personal interaction. In this respect, American campaigns have retained - alongside digital modernity - a retro look. Town hall meetings were strongly pushed because voting decisions are transmitted through people of trust. If it is someone we trust, we will follow that person in their commitment to a party.

Posted by Worldmeets.US



The connection between the offline and online worlds is the key: Whom and how voters trust can now be measured with Twitter: Whether Merkel's Christian Democrats will make better use of this than others is doubtful. In any event, the party will use the high popularity numbers of its top candidate. In times of tight majorities, the value of polling rises. Those who manage to mobilize people with self-fulfilling, public-opinion research, will convince more independent, situational voters, and will win crucial gains in the home stretch.


Even with the movement in the party competition, which will continue right up until the Bundestag elections, the odds for Merkel are good. The momentum in the United States is reverberating on the German variant of the game. Chancellor/President Merkel can learn a lot from Obama.


*Karl Rudolf Korte is a professor of political science at the Universität Duisburg-Essen. He conducts research into the relationships among party strategies, the media, and voter behavior.



blog comments powered by Disqus






























[Posted by Worldmeets.US Dec. 8, 8:19pm]