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A Journal Review of Voters in a Changing Media Environment

A Data-Based Retrospective on Consequences of Media Changein Germany Winfried Schulz, Reimar Zeh and Oliver Quiring
European Journal of Communication Copyright 2005 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) www.sagepublications.com, Vol 20(1): 5588. [10.1177/0267323105047670]

In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements in Political Science 170 Reviewed by Vivien Gay T. Gammad 07-38308 Submitted to Professor Verna Dinah Q. Viajar Department of Political Science University of the Philippines - Diliman

Introduction Political communication is a major aspect of everyday political activity. The channels of political discourse through the years have evolved as technological improvements are adapted to facilitate such activities. Alongside with developments in political communication is the purported mediatization of politics which has been a topic of more than a few research and studies during the past decade. One study made in this account is that of the Voters in a Changing Media Environment: A data-based retrospective on consequences of Media Change in Germany by Winfried Schulz et al. The study focuses on the supposed long-term consequences of media change for voters in Germany. Summary The authors focused on the selected aspects of electoral behavior with respect to the media change using the available data from past elections. The study is divided into two main parts which are the Changing election communication and the Changing voter behavior. Each comprise of subtopics where issues are discussed. The journal began with the introduction of the media setting in Germany. The colossal development in media system since the conclusion of World War II has been very much evident in Germany. The number daily newspapers and German channels have increased leading to a much vibrant media industry. In the mid-1980s, the deregulation of broadcasting as well as the implementation of new technologies advanced the development of broadcasting and led to fierce competition in the electronic media market. Changing election communication is very much interlinked with the changing media. Along with the expansion of the media industry, the various manifestations of media types and differentiation in content and genres is the change in the composition of media information especially in the aspect of political communication. The commercialization of channels led to a media system more partial to cater the public with entertainment and infotainment. As a result, the boundaries between information and entertainment became blurred, a trend observed in many European countries,and known as tabloidization. Thus, media changes are likely to result political parties campaign and the voters reaction to campaign. In lieu with the development and changes in media is an apparent transformation of campaigning. As media channels expand and proliferate, outlets of election communications in turn grow and opportunities to reach electorates increase. Political parties are able to send campaign messages to a bigger volume of people through tools of mass media like television and radio.

The authors have also recognized this commercialization has put much ground on the concept of mediatization which considered the television as the lead medium in election campaigns. Television, according to the authors has increased the degree of personalization of campaign messages. Instead of party ideology, the candidates are keener to advertise their personality and perform as a single entity. Germany, like many European countries have also professionalized their campaign management to accommodate the changes in media and campaign. Professionalization of campaigning includes, among others, adopting the methods of commercial marketing, restructuring the partys own campaign planning organization and outsourcing entire task fields to commercial agencies that specialize in advertising and public relations. As what started out as spreading out of media, soon it was able to take over elections as a primary media affair rather than a party affair. Campaign and elections began equate itself with media exposure. The media appearance of political candidates is a manifestation of increasing effect of media on campaigns, leaning away from the grasp of parties and more on media-logic. In turn, events of high degree drama and emotion and political attacking has put more appeal which increased the negativity of campaign materials. Thus, elections dont make good news, and the game schema becomes the focus of the medias campaign coverage at the expense of political substance. These observations, which were first seen in America, have led to several assumptions of European scholars of Americanization of elections. Indeed, it is said that the American model of campaigning has set worldwide standards which also leads to hybrid styles mizing American practives with countryspecific traditional campaigning styles. As the transformation of election campaigns has become more evident, striking features of media changes also became apparent and most of them are focused on its negative consequences. An argument against the supposed negative implication of media change is that the voters actually profits from more access to campaign messages which could also mobilize the societys apathetic. Dalton also argued that voters would be able to identify leaders independent of their party propaganda. Yet as the media changes and more televiewing happens, fragmentation of media publics and weakening of party identification could result. Also there could be diminished party control over campaign control over campaign messages, negative campaigning and focus on game schema and probably even political malaise. The study was exploratory rather than hypothesis testing. The results are based on empirical research drawn from the databases of surveys among German voters provided by the Central Archive for Empirical Social Research in Cologne. Content analysis findings were presented from the authors own studies of election reporting on German television. The researchers have concluded a few points with regard to the effects of media changes in voting behavior. One is that, fragmentation indeed has turned election campaigning into target group campaigning. However, as the example of the television debates in the German election of 2002 has

demonstrated, a fragmented audience does not necessarily lead to a fragmentation of the public sphere. Moreover, results on survey analyses have shown considerable effects of television and news media for voters decision making during elections. This is particularly the case for voters not identifying themselves with any of the political parties. These so-called non identifiers tend to base their voting decisions on candidate evaluations, for which the mass media provide relevant information There is a clear advantage for television to reach the apolitical voters compared with most other media. To some degree, long-term analyses of the German media show that the style of campaign reporting and of political journalism in general has changed in a way which seems to mirror the US trend. Conflict and scandal have become more prevalent in the presentation of politics. The mass media project an increasingly negative image of political actors. Yet, while there is a proliferation of American campaign practices, the particularities of political systems and media systems, as well as differences in voters mentality, political competence and orientation lead to a hybridization rather than Americanization of election campaigns (Plasser and Plasser, 2002: 34351). In this respect, our findings agree with recent arguments against the notion of Americanization (Blumler and Gurevitch, 2001; Mazzoleni and Schulz, 1999; Papathanassopoulos, 2000; Scammell, 1998; Swanson and Mancini, 1996). It was also proved that the political reality is not only more complex than the notion of Americanization implies. The recent German elections have demonstrated several noteworthy examples. The political parties, for example, gained quite a bit of attention through some spectacular posters they produced, not to be put up in streets but rather to be presented at press conferences and on the Internet (Lessinger et al., 2003). The themes shown in the posters were widely discussed in the media and, thus, received free, nationwide publicity. Accordingly, it is apparent that election campaign messages can easily overcome the genre barrier between the different kinds of media. In addition, the Internet becomes increasingly important for crossmedia strategies by not only supplying original selections of information, but also by serving as an additional distribution channel for print, radio and television. This amplifies the mediatization of election campaigns through a multiplication of messages while simultaneously blurring the borders between the channels of voter accessibility. There were also assumptions made by past election researchers which contributed to the accumulating belief the television and commercialized news items contribute to a fragmented and more ignorant electorate. These assumptions point out much amplification of the effects of the media towards voting behavior. Mass media are not really to blame on some electoral trends. Todays professional election campaign management begins with the preparations for the upcoming campaign long before the election date. In the case of some of the tasks, they even begin years in advance. Undeclared early

campaigning probably contributed to the fact that the Bundestag elections in 1990, 1994 and 1998 were decided even before the official campaign began. The effect of advertisement and exposure can only take a candidate so far but it is accompanied by extensive planning which affects more the dispositions of voter. An additional problem that deserves more attention stems from the increasing secularization and instrumentalization of election research. The observed protagonists in the election campaigns in turn observe their scientific observers and utilize or anticipate their observations. A well-known example is the publication of poll results about voter intentions. During recent Bundestag elections, the media published poll results almost daily. The extent to which this practice has led to voter reaction, to bandwagon or sympathy effects is a question researchers have only begun to analyse. Several indications speak in favor of a bandwagon effect (Schmitt-Beck, 1996). The results of election research are not only part of the voters definition of the situation. Election research is also an important component in the parties situation analysis. For campaign planning, election research today obviously plays a significant role in the development of strategies and as the supplier of arguments and slogans. The 1998 campaign provided an informative example of the interplay between the parties, the public and the academic scene. In the beginning of March following the state election in Lower Saxony (which Schroder had declared to be a plebiscite for his SPD [Social Democrats] chancellor candidacy), the news magazine Der Spiegel published a lengthy article about SPD plans for the federal election campaign, conceived as a campaign following the American pattern. CDU/CSU politicians immediately snatched up the idea of Americanization as a derogatory campaign concept in their negative campaigning and succeeded in attaching negative connotations to the term Americanization. It became a synonym for all that is for show and fake. The public discussion which followed conversely imposed the scientific analysis of election campaigning and, once again, gave reason to question the notion of Americanization. In this way, the public discussion contributed to keep the concept of Americanization as one decidedly unresolved in the academic literature. Analysis

There are many reasons why scholars in this day look into the effects of media in political communication. The commercialization of media is an undeniable reality and the different venues to which media infiltrates increases. The authors though, are right to point out that these developments only affect voting behavior to some degree. The people, as exposed to more

diverse channels of media do not necessarily result to a fragmented public sphere. Instead, diverse channels of media results more to easier access of people for information especially those which concerns elections like voting campaigns and candidate profiles. Media does not necessarily create division on the society but it is distributed into diverse kinds that cater to the interest of most people. In addition, there are still the more dominant medium which is the television. The idea of mediatization is based more on the televiewing and its trends. I think that the fast pace, speedy and entertaining coverage of television contribute to its characteristics to avoid delving into a detailed coverage. In turn, it gives the viewers only a small portion of election information. With the proliferate number of television and its ability access almost every home in Germany guarantees an effective medium for the candidates to use in order to reach out as much people at a time. Indeed, this characteristics of television led many researchers to correlate the changing trend in election campaigning from party based to a more personalized one. Assumptions are that people are more interested with a candidates profile and personal issues instead of the ideology and party platforms. The authors were not able to put much detail into this matter. Yet, they focused on another argument of mediatization which is the negativity that comes with election personalization. Voters are not anymore paying attention in the stands and beliefs of the candidates running in office because, apparently, the television puts more coverage on the personality and lifestyle of the latter. Terms, like Americanization has been correlated with the more dramatic flair of media to center stage the personal lives of the candidates themselves. I agree with the authors to rule out the overstatement of this assumption. Germany, as they say, has been manifested with negative news during election campaigns and the authors also agree that negative news against opponents is great publicity. But they also found out that the negativity and the extent of personalization do not go as far as most scholars think it did. Unlike the US, there has not been a growth in bad news coverage of the candidates in Germany. While there has been a slight increase of negative references to both the
incumbent and the challenger, we also see that good news coverage and, even more so, stories with a mixed tone have become more prevalent over time.

Furthermore, it was also argued that the media logic has reduced more comprehensive campaigns messages to smaller candidate sound bites. But as campaign messages were put in comparison, those of the German and American, they found out the German election campaigns get a much better platform than their American counterparts (see also Donsbach and Jandura, 2003). Germany has adapted more on hybridization which contradicts to a stronger supposition of Americanization. They recognized the effects of media and how it was incorporated with their own elections. But they also pointed out that

these effects did not dominate election campaigns incorporated to Germanys own culture of election. negative

but

rather

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There is also an impact on campaigners who try to cover as much to these channels to reach out to different people.

Point out target campaigning