Americanization of the German election process

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2010 22 Pages

Communications - Intercultural Communication


Table of Contents

List of abbreviations

List of figures

1. Introduction

2. Americanization as a cultural transfer process

3. Characteristics of Americanization in the political communication
3.1 The Americanization thesis
3.2 Personalization
3.3 Professionalization of the campaign organization
3.4 Election campaign strategies - negative campaigning
3.3 Americanization or modernization?
3.4 Interim conclusion

4. The history of television debates
4.1 Television debates in the USA
4.2 Television debates in Germany
4.3 Americanization of television debates in Germany

5. Concluding remarks


List of abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

List of figures

Fig. 1: Election campaign poster of the "Bundestagswahlkampf" 1998

Fig. 2: Election campaign poster “FDP”

Fig. 3: Election campaign poster “SPD”

1. Introduction

„Zum Regieren brauche ich nur Bild, Bams und Glotze“

Bundeskanzler a.D. Gerhard Schröder

The elections to the German Bundestag in the last years seemed to have shown one thing clearly: the election campaigns are increasingly changing. Personalization and professionalization are just two of the keywords who dominate the campaigns not at least since the “Media Chancellor” Gerhard Schröder won the election in 1998. Like no chancellor before him, he relied on his impact of the media and his own popularity, which was always well ahead compared to his party.

With the introduction of the first TV duels between the two top-candidates in German history of television in 2002, many observers came to the conclusion that there is a transformation of “national elections” to “chancellor elections”. The reasons for many analysts seem to be obvious. One of the much-discussed is the spill-over of Americanization from German society to the politics. But what means the Americanization of German election campaigns and which characteristics can be found? Or have these developments rather to be seen as a modernization-process that has occurred at first in the United States?

The goal of the following work is to discuss and debate these questions, and subsequently to analyze the level of Americanization on the basis of the developments in television-debates ahead the German Bundestag elections.

To reach this, the paper starts with an overview of Americanization as a cultural transfer process followed by a discussion of the characteristics of Americanization in the political communication. Thereafter the question of modernization or Americanization is reviewed. The second chapter examines the history of television debates in the USA and Germany followed by an analysis. Finally, the concluding remarks will complete the work.

2. Americanization as a cultural transfer process

The Idea of “Americanization” meant for the American journalist William T. Stead, who coined this concept at the beginning of the 20th century, a certain cultural practice, which transformed the variety of social and ethnic backgrounds in the United States into a unified nation. At that time he already saw in this homogenizing dynamics a tendency that would not only be limited to one society. He rather supposed a development perspective that would potentially cover the whole world (Lüdtke (1996), p.9).

In a current understanding “Americanization” describes a process of cultural transfer, a transfer of goods, institutions, norms, values and behaviors. Important for the predominantly negative connotation of this term is the one-sidedness in which this transfer is apparently performed. That is from USA to Europe, or to other regions of the world, not in an interrelation. Due to the political and economic commitment in the ruins of Europe after the second world war and the industrial and economic expansive force of the United States an appreciation or sometimes also in some cases a resistance of American export hits was noticeable. The American way of life entered not only adolescent submilieus but also the whole everyday culture. Jeans, bubblegums, Coca-Cola, Rock ‘n’ Roll or Comics are just a few examples.

In the 80s and 90s arose with the thesis of “McDonaldization” the question of a global accelerated influence of American consumer goods. This means a new form of consumption, which includes shopping malls, superstores, home shopping television networks, infomercial, and many more. For this reason “McDonaldization” is an important process that persists in growing exponentially and in extending its reach in various domains of the social world as well as geographic areas throughout the globe.

Also on the internet or in the development, dissemination and use of modern information and communication technologies take the United States globally a dominant position. That means the emergence of a worldwide global culture which is mainly inspired by America and the relevant models and materials (Kamps (2000), p.13-15).

3. Characteristics of Americanization in the political communication

During the last years the keyword “Americanization” took a real renaissance in the political science literature, mainly in conjunction with the thesis that there is a certain kind of Americanization of German political campaigns. Furthermore it characterizes a change in election campaign management and communications according to the American model (Schulz (1998), p.378). But what is meant by this “American Model”?

3.1 The Americanization thesis

Although there is no uniform definition in the literature it seems to be unanimously agreed that there are some essential characteristic features which define the “Americanization” of German election campaigns (Donges (2000), p.27). This model includes the following features:

- Personalization of campaigning. An indication for personalization is an increased significance of the top-candidate, who moves to the spotlight. Concurrently parties and party platforms play a minor role. It connotes a certain separation of candidate and party, and a concentration of the campaign on one person.
- Professionalization of the campaign organization. It indicates a high level of specialization and externalization and furthermore the concentration on the mass medias like television, and in the last years also on the internet.
- Adaption of American election campaign strategies like negative campaigning, orientation on opinion surveys, mediazation or de- ideologization (Donges (2000), p.27-28).

The Americanization-thesis assumes that these characteristics are adopted as an import article from the United States and transferred to the German election campaign. There happens no exchange between the two countries but only a one- sided directional transfer. The starting point of the innovation is the U.S. and the takeover takes place by the imitation of the American methods (Kamps (2000), p.17). The approach of this thesis can therefore be seen as a unilateral process of convergence between the election campaign practices in the United States and another country. The central modes of action during the campaign become similar in both countries, regardless of the institutional constraints in the country (Plasser (2000) p.50).

3.2 Personalization

Since the “Bundestagswahlkampf” of 1998 intensive controversies about personalizing in the politics were sparked. Personalization in this context, however, is not really a new strategy. Policy and policy placement has always been connected with people, and political ideas were always identified with individual politicians. (Holtz-Bacha (2006) p.13).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 1: Election campaign poster of the "Bundestagswahlkampf" 1998 http://www.dhm.de/ausstellungen/erf/raum/baustelle/bild71.htm, last access: 20.10.2010

But personalization rather means here, that the candidate plays a significantly elevated role in the media reporting and the real political questions queue behind. For the visual presentation of policy, personalities are much more appropriate than political acting or political ideologies. The candidate is consequently more important than the party and inextricably linked with the political message, and thus the candidate embodies himself the message (Falter/Römmele (2002), p. 51). The Job or the function of personalization in the election campaign is to be suggestive of competence, authenticity and reliability. Especially reliability is important here, because with a good mutual trust the party takes a solid place in the voter’s orientation. With the aid of a person it is much easier to communicate these values in a tangible and understandable way in spite of an abstract manifesto, which cannot build a strong emotional band to the voter (Kießling/Zolleis (2005) p.53). While in the U.S. in the 1980s at the time of Ronald Reagan’s election campaign the major focus was already put on the interaction of candidate and the media, was such a tailored campaign in Germany not until 1998 and Gerhard Schröder recognizable. The tendency of personalization in Germany finally advanced in the 2002 election campaign especially with the TV “duels”. The election was so stylized to an election of a person. The discussions centered thenceforward on the personal characteristics of the candidates and their appearance.

3.3 Professionalization of the campaign organization

In addition to the feature of personalization another feature of Americanization is the professionalization of the campaign organization. The modern, professional election campaign is controlled by specialized external professionals and methods of the market- and opinion research which were transferred to the campaigns ( Holtz-Bacha (2002) p.23).

Professionalization means in this context that the tasks of dedicated party activists are assumed by external experts for diagnosis and control of the public opinion like pollsters, media consultants, advertising and public relation agencies (Schulz (1998) p.379).



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
750 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
http://www.uni-jena.de/ – IWK
election americanization culture USA political communication personalization professionalization campaign modernization television debat negative campaigning



Title: Americanization of the German election process