Mar 282017
 

Over at Diário de Notícias, Jose Fialho Gouveia has published another article on Germany, Schulz, and all that jazz, once more with a couple of my cents added. By the way, don’t you just love the imagery of beer jug hefting German politicians?

If you’re interested, here is the English transcript of our chat.

“We are six months away from the elections in Germany. Can Schulz really win?”

At the moment, the SPD and the CDU/CSU block are neck-on-neck. But six months away from the election, many voters are undecided or may change their mind further down the road. Historically, the SPD has only twice surpassed the Christian Democrats (in 1972 and 1998). So it is possible that SPD gets more votes than the CDU/CSU combined, but I would not bet on it. At the end of the day, the more relevant question is who will be able to form a winning coalition in parliament.

“Could it be possible a great coalition between the SPD and the CDU with the SPD as the bigger party”

If the SPD actually gets more votes than the Christian Democrats, that is entirely possible.

“The economy is doing fine, the SPD is pro-EU and also pro-refuges, so how can Schulz attack Merkel?”

In a sense, Schulz is attacking the previous (post 2002) reform policies of his own party. He also tries to benefit from the fact that Merkel has been in office for a long time, and that some voters are tired of her (not so much of her policies).

“Which one o you think will be the main issues during the campaign?”

Schulz and the SPD are focusing heavily on “justice”, in particular “social justice”. He is also attacking right-wing populism. Whether this will be enough to propel them through a six-month-long campaign is a different question.

May 242014
 

Those old enough to remember that Bill Murray had a career before Lost in Translation (or to remember Bill Murray) will instantly recognise this scene: Punxsutawney Phil is predicting six more electoral cycles of political misery for Germany’s Liberal Democrats. Granted that the animal is a bit on the small side, but first, This is not America, and second, the choice of rodent is rather apt: Aren’t we all guinea pigs when it comes to policy making?

Punxsutawney Phil predicts six more cycles of electoral Misery

Punxsutawney Phil predicting six more cycles of electoral Misery

The hopeful candidate molesting the furry bugger promises  that he will listen, not ignore (whom?). He might change his mind once the beast sinks its front teeth into that yummy finger.

May 222014
 

The Pirates are running a rather cheap electoral campaign: No faces (models or not) but only drawings in their trademark orange/blue tones. Their stinginess even extends to the meaning of their slogans. I was a bit thrown off by “Borders are so 80”, then discovered the small “er”, so borders are so 1980s, apparently. Well, yes, I get the implication for Europe. But why is there a “Herzschlag” (heartbeat? or heart attack???) between fear and courage, and why would that make me vote for the Pirates? I have a feeling that Literal Campaign Video Clips might become a thing very soon.

Pirates Posters: Say what?

Pirates Posters: Say what?

 

May 212014
 

The local Liberal Democrats never fail to amaze me. Just when I thought it could not get any better, I found another gem for my ever growing collection.

Local Campaigns: The Hour of Amateurs

Local Campaigns: The Hour of Amateurs

“Höhenflug” is the act of (figuratively) ascending to some higher plane (not an imminent danger here) but losing touch in the process. “Bodenhaftung” is literally grip (get one, please!) or traction, so best illustrated by sitting on a tractor. What better way to show that you are down to earth (pun intended) and in no way out of touch than riding this nifty little machine in your best dark suit, as any local farmer would? Bonus points for gratuitous use of “frischer Wind” (a breath of fresh air), quite possibly the most overused phrase in German politics and code for not being incumbent.

May 172014
 

There may be a European election on, but around here, the big one is the local elections. In the plural: On my last count, I will have to vote for town mayor, town council, municipal mayor, municipal council, district council and perhaps even leader of the district council, though I’m not 100 per cent sure re the last one.

Important as they may be, local elections are the domain of the amateurs, as the old saying goes amongst German Political Scientist.1 To make things slightly worse, councillors are elected under an open list system (with not threshold), so there are some incentives to cultivate a personal vote, and quite some margin for error. So far, I have spotted few real howlers but then the Liberal Democrats (FDP), wiped out in the last Bundestag election and poised to do badly in the EP2014, decided to go for this year’s Bad Pun Award.

Another Campaign Poster from Hell

Another Campaign Poster from Hell

So the guy on the poster is literally fishing (or at least holding a rod while wearing a suit) in clear water (im Klaren, which, if you push it, could be read as a pun-within-the-pun on alcohol), as opposed to fishing in murky waters (im Trüben fishen). The latter used to mean “cheating” but has also acquired connotations of being lost. Say what?

But there is more. The candidate is also “ortsnah” (local, in a technical sense that never, ever applies to persons), as opposed to “weltfremd” (unworldly, stuck inside an ivory tower). One might argue that, on some level loosely attached to logic “ortsnah” and “weltfremd” are not exactly opposites but rather awkwardly related concepts. But quite possibly someone sensed a tension between “ort” (the local place) and “welt” (world) and decided that nothing says “local guy” quite like a misguided rhetorical flourish. With PR guys like this, who needs political enemies?

Footnotes:

1

I’ve made that one up.

Aug 302013
 
fdp-punctuation

The Liberals Hired an Agency Famous For Their Ability To Split Waffle With Gratuitous Interpunctuation Marks

Responsibility. Performance. Freedom. Pointless. Full. Stops.

It is still silly campaign season in Germany, and the new exhibits just keep coming. Here is another one brought to you by the Party Formerly Known As The Guys Who Almost Stood Up Against The Bloody Spelling Reform Back In The 1990s.

Incidentally, the party also upset a lot of German teachers back in 1968 when they began styling their logo as F.D.P. (a violation of clause 102, subsection 2 of the German spelling code). They shed the dots back in 2001, when a youngish Guido Westerwelle took over and transformed the party. So possibly, just possibly, Regained. Full. Stops. Between. Buzzwords. Are. The. Message.

 

Aug 282013
 
Aug 112013
 
Trying to Rub off the Incumbency Advantage from the Old Guy

Trying to Rub off the Incumbency Advantage from the Old Guy

The local MP is stepping down after a mere 19 years, and the local mayor wants his job. The outgoing MP won his seat five times in a row on a plurality of the Erststimmen. Structural factors aside, this looks like an incumbency advantage (though the 2009 result was rather close).

Can he pass this on to the successor? In the 2010 UK General Election, party incumbency (as opposed to personal incumbency) did not make a difference for new candidates.  I’m not sure if it will play in the 2013 election over here, but I doubt that this poster will help.

Jun 072012
 

As we know from Political Communication 101, emotions rule, and help rule. Faith, hope, and charity remain essential tools for any orator worth his/her salt. Cute animals are ok, but cute children are way better. If you can use them not only to create a fuzzy feel-good factor but to deliver a substantive message, you have hit campaign gold. And by the way, this is the 21st century, so being a little subtle does not hurt either.

This short video produced for the centre-right, pro-Euro ND is therefore a little gem.
During the first few seconds, an eager pupil rattles off the name of various European countries, and a very pleased-looking teacher states the obvious: they are all in the Eurozone. Then, the adorable little girl drops a bombshell: “Why not Greece?”. Our teacher remains silent. Everyone is silent. And the girl insists: “Why, Sir?”. More silence, then cut to message: We must not gamble with the future of our children (and therefore vote ND).

Everything about this spot is done so well that one could use it in class. The kids are squarely in the right age bracket: neither scary teenagers nor dumb toddlers. Their expression is exactly in the middle between incomprehension and accusation. I love the attention that was given to details: Included in the list of future Eurozone members are Spain and Portugal. If they could make it, why couldn’t we? And the teacher’s face is priceless: pain, shame, and perhaps guilt, because he failed to do the right thing back in 2012. The most intriguing thing is that so much is communicated in a pitch-perfect way without naming names.

Rather conveniently, the spot also fails to mention that the Grand Coalition could have lasted until autumn 2013, and that Greece is now in such a pickle because ND insisted on having early elections. It makes you wonder why a country that is so good at selling politics cannot do politics.

Mar 092012
 

As any fan of Midsomer Murders can testify, the English countryside is a beautiful but terrifying place. But this post on the EPOP mailing list is not about mad members of the gentry, vicious vicars or fornicating farmers, but about a potential Parish Putin:

The case concerns a Parish Poll conducted in the Devon Town of Buckfastleigh
last week, but raises issues that could become important in future elections
at every single level.

The Parish Poll was called by residents of Buckfastleigh who are very
concerned about plans to cite an industrial waste processing facility in the
town.

In the run up to the poll, the local paper, the Mid-Devon Advertiser, ran an
online poll (which is obviously open to anyone regardless of
location) in which 728 (60.2%) votes were recorded in favour of the plans,
with 474 (39.2%) voting against. The online poll appeared to allow multiple
voting – I voted more than once from the same computer and we had an IT
expert look into the matter who said that it was relatively easy to do
multiple voting even where each vote supposedly should come from a unique IP
address. A simple re-boot of a router would allow this.

The actual result of the official Parish Poll was 95% against the plans on a
turnout of 49.76% (which is apparently very high for a Parish Poll).

I was part of the campaign against the plans and it is my view, as well as
that of quite a few others, that the online poll was rigged by the planning
applicant as it seems quite extraordinary that the two results could be so
different.

That raises a number of interesting questions. First, if this online poll was a random sample with n ~1200, what are the odds of being almost 60 percentage points off? Zilch. So, either the supporters were much more likely to vote in the online poll than to turn out in the actual Parish Poll, or the applicant has indeed rigged the online poll. But why would they do that? Three mechanisms spring to mind:

  • Bandwagon effects. But seriously, would you vote in favour of waste processing plant because the yeas have a 10 point lead, and you want to be with the winners? Would you believe that anyone does?
  • Tactical voting. A more credible motive in principle, but that would require more than two options on the ballot.
  • Paradox of voting. We all know that no one should vote anyway, but if you believe that the other side is going to win, your probability of abstention might go up even further. If the poll was rigged, that would seem to be the most plausible rationale behind such a plot.

Apparently, it did not work in Devon. But the more general question is: Can we trust those non-scientific polls, and what is their effect on voters? I think the answers are “No”, and “We don’t know”. But what is your take on the Devon incident?

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