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Campaign Effects on Voter Choice in the German Election of 1990

  • Steven E. Finkel and Peter R. Schrott
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Using national survey panel data collected in Germany during the 1990 Bundestag election campaign, we develop a model to assess the effect of the campaign on individual votes and the election outcome. We find that the dominant effects of the campaign on German voters, as in the Lazarsfeld et al. studies from the 1940s and in more recent US research, were the ‘reinforcement’ of earlier preferences and the ‘activation’ of latent vote dispositions based on fundamental individual attitudes such as party affiliation and left-right ideology. At the same time, the analysis shows that the number of campaign ‘converts’ (those who vote against their dispositions and prior preferences) was approximately 14 per cent of the electorate. The vote division among these individuals was overwhelmingly pro-government, suggesting that the 1990 German campaign altered a sufficient number of votes to turn what was an even contest, based on the electorate's initial political dispositions, into a solid government coalition victory.

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1 Converse, Philip E., ‘Information Flow and the Stability of Partisan Attitudes’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 26 (1962), 578–99; Converse, Philip E., ‘The Concept of a Normal Vote’, in Campbell, Angus, Converse, Philip E., Miller, Warren E. and Stokes, Donald, Elections and the Political Order (New York: Wiley, 1966), pp. 939; Falter, Jürgen W. and Rattinger, Hans, ‘Parties, Candidates and Issues in the German Federal Election of 1980: An Application of Normal Vote Analysis’, Electoral Studies, I (1982), 6594; Zaller, John R., The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

2 See, for example, Alger, Dean E., The Media and Politics (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1989); Patterson, Thomas E., ‘The Press and Its Missed Assignment’, in Nelson, Michael, ed., The Elections of 1988 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1989), pp. 93110.

3 Popkin, Samuel, The Reasoning Voter: Communication and Persuasion in Presidential Campaigns (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992); McCubbins, Mathew D., ‘Party Decline and Presidential Campaigns in the Television Age’, in McCubbins, Mathew D., ed., Under the Watchful Eye (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1992), pp. 958.

4 Lazarsfeld, Paul, Berelson, Bernard and Gaudet, Hazel, The People's Choice (New York: Columbia University Press, 1944); Berelson, Bernard R., Lazarsfeld, Paul F. and McPhee, William N., Voting (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954); Mendelsohn, Harold and O'Keefe, Garrett J., The People Choose a President (New York: Praeger, 1976); Patterson, Thomas E. and McClure, Robert D., The Unseeing Eye (New York: Putnam, 1976); Patterson, Thomas E., The Mass Media Election (New York: Praeger, 1980).

5 See the reviews in Graber, Doris, ‘Media and Politics’, in Crotty, William, ed., Political Science: Looking to the Future, Volume 3 (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1991), pp. 91124; Graber, Doris, ‘Political Communication: Scope, Progress, Promise’, in Finifter, Ada W., ed., Political Science: The State of the Discipline II (Washington, DC: American Political Science Association, 1993), pp. 305–32; also Bartels, Larry M., ‘Messages Received: The Political Impact of Media Exposure’, American Political Science Review, 87 (1993), 267–85; Farah, Barbara G. and Klein, Ethel, ‘Public Opinion Trends’, in Pomper, Gerald, ed., The Election of 1988: Reports and Interpretations (Chatham, NJ: Chatham House, 1989), pp. 103–28; Frankovic, Kathleen, ‘Public Opinion in the 1992 Campaign’, in Pomper, Gerald, ed., The Election of 1992 (Chatham, NJ: Chatham House, 1993), pp. 110–31; Granberg, Donald and Holmberg, Soeren, The Political System Matters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); Markus, Gregory B. and Converse, Philip E., ‘A Dynamic Simultaneous Equation Model of Electoral Choice’, American Political Science Review, 73 (1979), 1055–70; Markus, Gregory B., ‘Political Attitudes During an Election Year: A Report on the 1980 NES Panel Study’, American Political Science Review, 76 (1982), 538–60; Schrott, Peter R., ‘Electoral Consequences of “Winning” Televised Campaign Debates’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 54 (1990), 567–85.

6 Finkel, Steven E., ‘Reexamining the “Minimal Effects” Model in Recent Presidential Campaigns’, Journal of Politics, 55 (1993), 121; Lazarsfeld, , Berelson, , and Gaudet, , The People's Choice, pp. 73104; Berelson, , Lazarsfeld, and McPhee, , Voting, pp. 280–96.

7 Lazersfeld, , Berelson, and Gaudet, , The People's Choice, pp. 83–4.

8 Gelman, Andrew and King, Gary, ‘Why Are American Campaign Polls So Variable When Votes Are So Predictable?British Journal of Political Science, 23 (1993), 409–31, p. 433.

9 Schönbach, Klaus, ‘Mass Media in German Election Campaigns’, in Fletcher, Frederick J., ed., Media, Elections and Democracy (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1991), pp. 6386.

10 Conradt, David P., ‘The Christian Democrats in 1990: Saved by Unification?’ in Dalton, Russell J., ed., The New Germany Votes (Providence, RI: Berg, 1993), pp. 5976; Hancock, M. Donald, ‘The SPD Seeks a New Identity: Party Modernization and the Prospects in the 1990s’, in Dalton, , ed., The New Germany Votes, pp. 7798; Kuechler, Manfred, ‘Framing Unification: Issue Salience and Mass Sentiment 1989–1991’, in Dalton, , ed., The New Germany Votes, pp. 2955; Norpoth, Helmut and Roth, Dieter, ‘Unification and Electoral Choice’, in Dalton, , ed., The New Germany Votes, pp. 209–30; Semetko, Holli and Schönbach, Klaus, ‘Media Use and Electors' Opinions in the German 1990 National Elections’ (paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, 1991).

11 Kaase, Max, ‘The Election to the German Bundestag of December 1990’, in Kaltenhaler, Karl Christian and Luthardt, Wolfgang, eds, The Politics of German Unification (forthcoming); Kuechler, Manfred, ‘Anschluss Ueber Alles? What Did the Voter Decide in the 1990 German Elections?’ (paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, Ill., 1991).

12 Schönbach, , ‘Mass Media in German Election Campaigns’, p. 69.

13 Kaase, Max, ‘Massenkommunikation und politischer Prozess’, in Kaase, Max, ed., Politische Wissenschaft und Politische Ordnung (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1986), pp. 357–74; Schönbach, , ‘Mass Media in German Election Campaigns’.

14 Schönbach, , ‘Mass Media in German Election Campaigns’, p. 77. On the role of candidate images, see Kepplinger, Hans Mathias, Dahlem, Stefan and Brosius, Hans-Bernd, ‘Helmut Kohl und Oskar Lafontaine im Fernsehen: Ein Experiment mil Teilnehmern in den alten und neuen Bundesländern’, in Holtz-Bacha, Christina and Kaid, Lynda Lee, eds. Die Massenmedien im Wahlkampf: Untersuchungen aus dem Wahljahr 1990 (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1992), pp. 144–84; Schrott, Peter R., ‘Wahlkampfdebatten im Fernsehen von 1972 bis 1987; Politikerstrategien und Wählerreaktion’, in Kaase, Max and Klingemann, Hans-Dieter, eds, Wahlen und Wähler: Analysen aus Anlass der Bundestagswahl 1987 (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1990), pp. 647–74; Schulz, Winfried and Kindelmann, Klaus, ‘Die Entwicklung der Images von Kohl und Lafontaine im Wahljahr: Ein Vergleich der Waehlerurteile mit den Urteilen ausgewaehlter Leitmedien’, in Holtz-Bacha, and Kaid, , eds, Die Massenmedien im Wahlkampf, pp. 1045. On the role of issue awareness and changes in the public's issue agenda, see Kepplinger, Hans Mathias and Brosius, Hans-Bernd, ‘Der Einfluss der Parteibindung und der Fernsehberichterstattung auf die Wahlabsichten der Bevölkerung’, in Kaase, and Klingemann, , eds, Wahlen und Wähler 1987, pp. 675–86; Semetko, Holli A. and Schönbach, Klaus, Germany's ‘Unity Election’: Voters and the Media (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton, 1994). On the influence of a campaign's opinion climate, see, e.g., Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth, ‘Massenmedien und Meinungsklima im Wahlkampf’, in Schulz, Winfried and Schönbach, Klaus, eds, Massenmedien und Wahlen (Munich: Oelschlaeger, 1983), pp. 337405.

15 Two panel studies from the 1990 campaign do analyse short-term changes in voter evaluations and preferences at the individual level. See Semetko, and Schönbach, , Germany's ‘Unity’ Election: Voters and the Media, and Schmitt-Beck, Rüdiger and Schrott, Peter R., ‘Dealignment durch Massenmedien? Zur These der Abschwächung von Parteibindungen als Folge der Medienexpansion’, in Klingemann, Hans-Dieter and Kaase, Max, eds, Wahlen und Wähler: Analysen aus Anlass der Bundestagaswahl 1990 (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1994), pp. 543–72. Neither study, however, analyses the overall effect of the campaign on voter choice.

16 Gibowski, Wolfgang G. and Kaase, Max, ‘Auf dem Weg zum politischen Alltag: Eine Analyse der ersten gesamtdeutschen Bundestagswahl 1990’, Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, 11–12 (1991), 320; Abramson, Paul R., Aldrich, John and Rhode, David, Change and Continuity in the 1988 Elections (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1990). Our empirical analyses also confirm that such traditionally important demographic factors as religion, church attendance, age and education are statistically insignificant predictors of the 1990 German vote, once the political attitudes described below are entered in the model.

17 Campbell, Angus, Converse, Philip E., Miller, Warren E. and Stokes, Donald, The American Voter (New York: Wiley, 1960).

18 Falter, and Rattinger, , ‘Parties, Candidates and Issues in the German Federal Election of 1980’, p. 68. See also Baker, Kendall L., Dalton, Russell J. and Hildebrandt, Kai, Germany Transformed: Political Culture and the New Politics (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981); Norpoth, Helmut, ‘Party Identification in West Germany: Tracing an Elusive Concept’, Comparative Political Studies, II (1978), 3661.

19 Dalton, Russell, ‘The German Voter’, in Smith, Gordon, Paterson, William E., and Merkl, Peter H., eds. Developments in West German Politics (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1989), pp. 99121; Klingemann, and Wattenberg, , ‘Decaying Versus Developing Party Systems: Comparison of Party Images in the United States and West Germany’, British Journal of Political Science, 22 (1992), 131–49; Richardson, Bradley, ‘European Party Loyalties Revisited’, American Political Science Review, 85 (1991), 751–75.

20 Fuchs, Dieter and Kühnel, Steffen M., ‘Die evaluative Bedeutung ideologischer Selbstidentifikation’, in Kaase and Klingemann, eds, Wahlen und Wähler, 1987, pp. 217–53; Fuchs, Dieter and Kühnel, Steffen M., ‘Wählen als rationales Handeln: Anmergungen zum Nutzen des Rational-Choice-Ansatzes in der empirischen Wahlforschung’, in Klingemann, and Kaase, , eds, Wahlen und Wähler, 1990, pp. 305–63.

21 Fiorina, Morris, Retrospective Voting in American National Elections (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1981); Fuchs, and Kühnel, , ‘Wählen als rationales Handeln’; Kirchgässner, Gebhard, ‘Der Einfluss wirtschaftlicher Variabler auf die Popularität der Parteien’, in Falter, Jürgen W., Rattinger, Hans and Troitzsch, Klaus G., eds, Wahlen und politische Einstellungen in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Frankfurt: Verlag Peter Lang, 1989); Norpoth, Helmut and Yantek, Thorn, ‘Von Adenauer bis Schmidt: Wirtschaftslage und Kanzlerpopularität’, in Kaase, Max und Klingemann, Hans-Dieter, eds, Wahlen und politisches System: Analysen aus Anlass der Bundestagswahl 1980 (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1983).

22 Finkel, , ‘Reexamining the “Minimal Effects” Model in Recent Presidential Campaigns’; Gelman, and King, , ‘Why Are American Campaign Polls So Variable When Votes Are So Predictable?’; Lewis-Beck, Michael S., Economics and Elections (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989); Markus, Gregory B., ‘The Impact of Personal and National Economic Conditions on the Presidential Vote: A Pooled Cross-Sectional Analysis’, American Journal of Political Science, 32 (1988), 137–54.

23 Klingemann, and Wattenberg, , ‘Decaying Versus Developing Party Systems’; Falter, and Rattinger, , ‘Parties, Candidates and Issues in the German Federal Election of 1980’.

24 Radunski, Peter, Wahlkämpfe: Moderne Wahlkampfführung als Politische Kommunikation (Munich: Olzog, 1980); Schulz, and Kindelmann, , ‘Die Entwicklung der Images von Kohl und Lafontaine im Wahljahr: Ein Vergleich der Wählerurteile mit den Urteilen ausgewählter Leitmedien’; Semetko, and Schönbach, , Germany's Unity Election.

25 Strictly speaking, the CDU and CSU are separate parties, but it is customary to treat them as one, since the CDU does not compete in the state of Bavaria and the CSU does not compete in the rest of the country.

26 Dalton, , ‘The German Voter’; Salmore, Barbara G. and Salmore, Stephen A., Candidates, Parties, and Campaigns (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1989).

27 Finkel, , ‘Reexamining the “Minimal Effects” Model in Recent Presidential Campaigns’; Lazarsfeld, , Berelson, and Gaudet, , The People's Choice; Berelson, , Lazarsfeld, and McPhee, , Voting.

28 Berelson, , Lazarsfeld, and McPhee, , Voting, p. 282.

29 Lazarsfeld, , Berelson, and Gaudet, , The People's Choice, p. 69; Converse, , ‘Information Flow and the Stability of Partisan Attitudes’; Norpoth, Helmut and Baker, Kendall L., ‘Mass Media Use and Electoral Choice in West Germany’, Comparative Politics, 13 (1980), 114; Zaller, , The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion.

30 Zaller, , The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion; Zaller, John R., ‘Bringing Converse Back In: Information Flow in Political Campaigns’, Political Analysis, I (1989), 181234.

31 Zaller, , The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion, pp. 250–1; see also Hypothesis 2 above.

32 Norpoth, and Baker, , ‘Mass Media Use and Electoral Choice in West Germany’, confirm the ‘floating voter’ hypothesis in German elections by showing that lower levels of media exposure are associated with changes in individual vote choice between elections. Our analysis examines similar processes within campaigns.

33 This study was conducted by the Forschungsgruppe Wahlen, together with Max Kaase (Mannheim), Hans Dieter Klingemann (Berlin), Manfred Kuechler (New York), Franz Urban Pappi (Mannheim) and Holli Semetko (Michigan). The data were prepared and made publicly available by the Zentralachriv für Empirische Sozialforschung at the Universität zu Köln.

34 Kuechler, , ‘Anschluss Ueber Alles?’, pp. 31–6.

35 The official vote returns for both West and East Gennany may be found in Forschungsgruppe Wahlen, Bundestagswahl 1990: Eine Analyse der ersten gesamtdeutschen Bundestagswahl am 2. Dezember 1990 (Mannheim: Berichte der Forschungsgruppe Wahlen e.V., No. 61, 1990), p. 8.

36 This result for the Greens meant that, according to the rules of the German electoral system, they did not clear the requisite 5 per cent hurdle to win seats in the Bundestag.

37 Aldrich, John and Nelson, Forrest, Linear Probability, Logit and Probit Models (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1984).

38 Achen, Christopher, Interpreting and Using Regression (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1982), pp. 71–3; Denk, Charles E. and Finkel, Steven E., ‘The Aggregate Impact of Explanatory Variables in Logit and Linear Probability Models’, American Journal of Political Science, 36 (1992), 785804. As in Finkel's previous article, these ‘impact analyses’ produce the net effect of the independent variables on the level of the dependent variable compared to a hypothetical ‘neutral’ electorate; i.e., if all individuals were at ‘0’ on the particular independent variable. In the case of the change scores, this means that the ‘impact’ of the variables is how much the actual change exhibited over time in the sample contributed to the net aggregate outcome, in comparison to a hypothetical electorate which would have shown no campaign period changes whatsoever. See Finkel, , ‘Reexamining the “Minimal Effects” Model in Recent Presidential Campaigns’, pp. 912.

39 Kuechler, , ‘Framing Unification’; Norpoth, and Roth, , ‘Unification and Electoral Choice’; Schulz, and Kindelman, , ‘Die Entwicklung der Images von Kohl und Lafontaine im Wahljahr: Ein Vergleich der Wählerurteile mit den Urteilen ausgewählter Leitmedien’.

40 Kuechler, , ‘Framing Unification’, pp. 46–7.

41 Kitschelt, Herbert, ‘The 1990 German Federal Election and the National Unification’, West European Politics, 14 (1991), 121–48, p. 131; on the relative campaign efforts of the contending parties, see also Conradt, , ‘The Christian Democrats in 1990’; and Hancock, , ‘The SPD Seeks a New Identity’. See Norpoth, and Roth, , ‘Unification and Electoral Choice’, for an analysis of the ‘rally effect’ in public opinion as a result of Kohl's successful unification policies.

42 This procedure actually generates a predicted vote probability for each individual, and those with scores greater than 0.5 were predicted to vote for the government coalition, and those with scores less than 0.5 were predicted to vote for the opposition.

43 Finkel, , ‘Reexamining the “Minimal Effects” Model in Recent Presidential Campaigns’, p. 11.

44 A predicted vote probability was calculated for each individual from the full equation of Table 1, including all change-score variables. The correlation between the pre- and post-campaign probability estimates was 0.93.

45 Interestingly, further analyses suggests that there may be interaction effects between the media variables and June levels of party identification, ideology and candidate evaluations, such that the June variables influence attitude change to a greater extent among highly attentive than among inattentive respondents. This pattern would confirm the findings of greater polarization of partisan attitudes among more aware individuals during US campaigns in Zaller, The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. Unfortunately, the high multicollinearity between the interaction terms necessary to test these hypotheses leads to difficulties in the estimation of the model and some uninterpretable results.

46 Finkel, , ‘Reexamining the “Minimal Effects” Model’, p. 11; Zaller, , The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion.

47 The full model's GLS coefficients produce an estimated vote for the government parties of 52.7 per cent, of which 2.2 percentage points are directly attributable to campaign-period attitudinal changes. The actual vote for the government parties was 54.3 per cent, and thus it is possible that the 1.6 percentage point difference between the predicted and actual votes is also the result of unspecified campaign factors, bringing the total ‘campaign effect’ to 3.8 per cent. It is also possible, however, that the difference arises from the weighting process associated with GLS estimation, which may induce some slight mathematical discrepancies in accounting for the mean of the dependent variable from the levels of the independent variable multiplied by their respective unstandardized coefficients, i.e., in the equation .

48 Kaase, , ‘The Election to the German Bundestag of December 1990’; Kuechler, Manfred, ‘Politische Streitfragen und Wahlentscheidung: Veriningung als “neue” Frage?’ in Klingemann, and Kaase, (eds), Wahlen und Wähler 1990, pp. 422–51.

49 Granberg, and Holmberg, , The Political System Matters, chap. 8.

50 Finkel, , ‘Reexamining the “Minimal Effects” Model’, p. 15.

51 The ‘strength of initial dispositions’ variable was created by folding the June predicted probability of voting for the incumbent coalition around 0.5, so that values that were either very large (i.e., pro-government) or very small (i.e., pro-opposition) become large values on the strength variable, and values close to 0.5 on either side become small values on the strength variable.

52 Lazarsfeld, , Berelson, and Gaudet, , The People's Choice; Berelson, , Lazarsfeld, and McPhee, , Voting; Zaller, , The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion.

* Department of Government and Foreign Affairs, University of Virginia; and Zentrum für Umfragen, Methoden und Analysen (ZUMA), Mannheim, Germany, respectively. This is a revised version of a paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, 1993. We thank Michael Meffert and Annette Hanisch for skilful research assistance; and Alice Holmes Cooper, Carol Mershon and Janet E. Steele for helpful comments on previous drafts of the manuscript.

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