In 2013 and for much of 2014, Bernd Lucke was very much the public face of the AfD. One of the main findings in my recent analysis of the AfD in West European Politics is that this role was reflected and strengthened by the party’s Social Media strategy: A large proportion of the posts by the party on their very popular Facebook fanpage referred to Lucke. Frauke Petry and particularly Konrad Adam, his nominally equal co-leaders, were mentioned much less frequently.
But is this still true? My original data collection ended in mid-2014, when Lucke moved to Brussels, which would make it more difficult for him to directly control the party’s media strategy. Moreover, in summer 2014 the internal strife over the future leadership structure of the party intensified.
I’m currently in the process of digging deeper into what the AfD and their supporters do on Facebook and have collected almost eleven more months of posts, so addressing the question of agenda control is relatively straightforward. Since March 2013, the AfD’s social media team have posted 2147 items on Facebook. For each month, I look at the proportion of posts that mentions Lucke, Hans-Olaf Henkel (his most prominent supporter), Alexander Gauland (a state party leader who became something of an anti-Lucke during the state election campaigns in East Germany in 2014), Markus Pretzell and Björn Höcke (two state party leaders who represent more radical forces and openly oppose Lucke’s reign), and Frauke Petry (the Saxonian state party leader who will probably mount a leadership challenge against Lucke in June). Typically, theses posts contain a soundbite by the respective politician or a short report on some political initiative.
The series are short and noisy, but the emerging picture is rather clear. Overall, Lucke’s presence is still remarkable (about one in seven posts mentions him), but after the EP election (represented by the vertical line), he was mentioned much less frequently than before for about four months that coincide with the Eastern campaigns and their aftermath. Henkel only rose to prominence a couple of months before the EP election, which makes sense: He was a late-comer to the party, who might already be on his way out. Pretzell hardly features at all, although he is leader of the single biggest state party and one of the most prominent (and controversial) characters in the party. Apparently, Lucke has managed to keep him out of the (official) Social Media spotlight. Gauland, Petry, and even Höcke all had their moments during the Eastern campaigns before they were overshadowed again by Lucke. But late in 2015, Petry – who began to play the anti-Muslim/anti-immigrant card then and also became quite cosy with Pegida – bounced back, eventually surpassing Lucke last month. I would love to know how these matters are actually decided at AfD HQ, and it will be interesting to see how the party’s media strategy plays out over the next weeks.