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January 29, 2009 |  4 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Marcel Reichart

German Political Parties Must Inspire Grassroots Online

Marcel Reichart: German political parties were no doubt transfixed by the campaign revolution executed by Obama via the internet. To stay abreast of changing social dynamics, German political parties must harness creativity and expertise, inspiring the internet savvy to political participation.

Barack Obama has just been inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States, and has already achieved something extraordinary: like no other President before him, he has managed to mobilize and inspire the American people to get involved in politics. With his team of young and competent supporters, he has redefined the way an election campaign is run: Never before has the Internet exerted such a dominating and crucial influence and spurred so much creative activity.

It is a safe bet that the German parties were among those watching closely as Barack Obama achieved nothing less than a political miracle. In the national election year 2009, the German parties and their candidates will definitely not be able to do without the Internet. An opinion survey about the changes in the information and communication culture carried out by the Allensbach Institute shows that the Internet has become the number one source of information. 59% of all 14 to 64 year olds go online several times a day to keep abreast of current events. It is particularly the social networks like Facebook, MySpace, StudiVZ and YouTube that are gaining in importance.

The social becomes political - this was true for the election campaign in the United States and will also be relevant for the German parties. But how are the German parties represented in the leading social communities and which parties have their own communities?

With a social network of more than 30,000 members, the Liberal Party (FDP) is the front-runner among German parties as regards activities on the Social Web. The Social Democrats (SPD) are also present with a community called meineSPD.net. This platform brings together over 20,000 followers. The Christian Democrats' network, CDUnet, is only open to party members. The Greens' website does not offer any community functions, though there is a forum for discussions.

But at least all parties have their own video channel on YouTube: They are called CDU-TV, SPD VISION, KANAL GRÜN, TV LIBERAL and DIE LINKE IM BUNDESTAG. The FDP offering is the most successful with 449,672 page impressions (as of January 2009), followed by SPD and the Left Party (Die Linke) with 136,071 and 125,721 page impressions respectively. As regards the number of videos posted, the Green Party with 179 videos tops the list while the Christian Democrats (CDU) rank last with only 47 videos. But compared to the page impressions of the most successful offering on YouTube in the German-speaking countries-FC Bayern TV-the party channels are still in their beta stage: FCB-TV on YouTube has almost 1.9 million page impressions and about 4,000 subscribers.

The situation on Facebook turns out to be very similar: While all parties do have a profile, there is still a lot of potential to tap when it comes to the number of group members. Top of the list is the Social Democratic Party with 734 group members, followed by the Green Party and the Left Party with 671 and 454 members respectively. The front-runners of the three biggest parties-Angela Merkel (CDU), Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) and Guido Westerwelle (FDP) also have a presence on the platform. Angela Merkel has a following of 4,298 while Frank-Walter Steinmeier has 846 and Guido Westerwelle 173 supporters. In comparison: In early January, Barack Obama had more than 3.7 million fans on Facebook.

As a comparison of the American and the German participation ladder shows, it would be an illusion to expect in Germany a grassroots movement comparable to that of Barack Obama's election campaign. Nevertheless, the fact should not be overlooked that younger target groups in particular make intensive use of the Internet. Moreover, an analysis of the German blogosphere has shown that a significant share of the debate actually centers on political issues.

So to become proficient in online campaigning and in making best use of the Internet users' high potential of political activities, the German parties will have to try to draw on people's creativity and expertise, to reach the Internet-savvy target groups, to motivate them beyond being a card-carrying member of a certain party, to communicate topical information on multiple channels and to give voters a feeling of authenticity. Millions of the (mostly young) Obama backers received a personalized email informing them about his choice for a running mate, Joe Bidden-at the same time as the word was spread to the press. Nevertheless, the content itself remains crucial also on the Internet. "People have to be inspired by the message. Technology alone cannot do that," says Thomas Gensemer, who developed the successful website www.mybarackobama.com together with Macon Phillips. Obama, on the other hand, managed to do just that.

Dr. Marcel Reichart is the Head of Research and Development at Hubert Burda Media and a co-founder of the international digital conference DLD

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Tags: | Obama | internet | SPD | CDU | CSU | FDP | Germany | campaign |
 
Comments
Michael  Schuster

January 23, 2009

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You write "it would be an illusion to expect in Germany a grassroots movement comparable to that of Barack Obama's election campaign."

I don't think so. Millions of Germans have "Ehrenämter" and are very active in their neighborhoods and in NGOs. Voluntary work as a strong tradition in Germany.

I totally agree with you that the German parties need to inspire the citizens to propose solutions. They also have to respond to these comments from citizens.

Citizens will only contribute if they get good feedback.

 
Bernhard  Lucke

January 24, 2009

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I'd say what is missing in Germany is the strong feeling that "change" is needed, or at least strong focal points like the persons of Bush and Obama, who seem to represent two different political concepts and cultures. Very unfortunately, there are not many people in Germany who are willing to develop and live for ideas and ideals. Perhaps this is due to the bad historical experiences, or perhaps they are swallowed by the party system.

Many people (including me) feel that it does not really matter who rules, since the real masters are the "necessities" ("Sachzwänge"), which all parties follow. So, apart from some minor differences, it seems pretty much the same which party governs. Also it seems useless to read the programs of the parties, because we know that their content consists of colorful pages, but which count nothing when it comes to sharing power or facing a "necessity".

Politics in Germany mostly re-act: politicians always follow the strongest pressure, whether it comes from lobbies or the street. But as soon as political figure emerges who has a vision, is willing to lead, and remains credible, things might start moving, and then the internet will become a very important tool. It would be worth thinking why such persons are missing, so that we beg 90-years old statesmen like former chancellor Helmut Schmidt for leadership.

Just to give an example: The SPD (social party) intends according to its program to become independent from fossil resources as soon as possible. However, in Realpolitik, the SPD-governed state of Brandenburg just decided to extend lignite mining until at least 2090 and to build new coal power plants. If pressure from the street (a referendum) in Brandenburg will not succeed, there will probably be no change towards regenerative energies in Brandenburg during the 21st century, which is a pretty long time.

At the same time, the SPD in the state of Hessen just lost an electoral campaign in which it wanted to exit fossil energies now, and to close down coal power plants. How does this fit together? Of course, it seems not really credible to exit fossil energies now, because there is no replacement technology available in sufficient capacity. But it seems: as long as you are not in power, you can demand anything which sounds nice.

On the other hand, when in power, you do anything to appease big corporations in order to save some jobs, even if this costs the long-term modernisation which the country would need so urgently. In the case of Brandenburg, the new coal power plants shall use ccs-technology to store carbon dioxide, but nobody knows whether this will work or where to store the CO2. Fact is that new power plants, which are designed for exports to the European energy market, need a long time until the invested capital pays off, which makes it necessary to ensure the respective lignite resources. And it means that parallel investments in regenerative energies would make no economic sense.

I would say, if more responsible leaders were in place, we would burn coal in the old plants only as long as we really need them - but invest mainly in regenerative energies in order to change as soon as possible. Hopefully Americans under Obama will take the lead in this respect - and perhaps Germans will follow once they see how much money can be made with regenerative technologies. Germany needs its Obama, too.
 
Florian  Kuhne

January 27, 2009

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I deeply recommend the article "Tut bitte nicht so" by Evelyn Roll of the Süddeutsche Zeitung from January, 3rd, 2009. Its about the "new" culture of candidate-duelling in TV or elsewhere and takes up the attempt by Hubertus Heil at the last party convention of the SPD.
 
Markus  Drake

February 5, 2009

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The "my" in my.barackobama.com is not only about following a candidate, about centralization, as so many seem to see it here. Why would it be relevant that it is a strong or glowing personality that stands for the rest of the website address, when what the "my" offers is participation?

This is a chance for politicians to establish new and more direct ways of communicating with and being influenced by their supporters. It is also a chance for those politicians to tap in to a resource for producing qualitative positions, doing research and sounding out the atmosphere and attitude in the general public. At the moment, even parliamentarians with a few assistants, not to forget a staff of hard working and underpaid interns, feel overchallenged with the demands placed on them for producing qualitative and argued positions above and beyond what their party programs can offer.

This is where the lobbyists usually step in. Friendly, reasonable and well-dressed, they offer themselves as editing resources, as providers of 3- or 5- or 10-point argument aides, ready-made soundbites and the chance for a politician to seem prepared even when not.

And the lobbyists take over the content of politics.

This is the area where the "my" can compete. No German politician can, due to structural reasons, be as free-seeming and "changeful" as Obama. But that does not mean they can't learn to listen to their most immediate and direct supporters, and to benefit from their help.
 

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