For nearly two years, my life was consumed by the 2016 US presidential election. I worked (and still do) as a campaign reporter in Washington, D.C. and the breakneck pace of the campaign kept me on my toes working many long nights and some weekends.
I watched an unconventional election unfold before my eyes that has altered the US style of campaigning. So I figured moving to Berlin two months before Germany’s federal election would give me a similar campaign experience.
But when I arrived in early August, there were no obvious signs that Germany was about to hold an election. Chancellor Angela Merkel was still on holiday at the time and in many ways, it felt like I hadn’t left the US. President Donald Trump and the drama surrounding White House staff departures dominated the front pages of many German newspapers.
It wasn’t until a week later that I finally noticed the first signs (literally) of the September 24th election. Walking by Mauerpark in Berlin on a balmy Sunday afternoon, I looked up to see a smiling photo of Ms. Merkel against a backdrop of a deconstructed German flag and the phrase, “For Germany in which we live well and happily.” Hundreds of campaign placards were now plastered all around the city.
US campaigns are more focused on other campaign tactics and a heavy reliance on television ads. But in Germany, posters are way for the candidates to get some face time and communicate with voters through concise phrases, pictures and graphics.
The emphasis on these campaign posters was pretty surprising to me. They leave little room to go into depth about the platforms of the different political parties, yet appear to be a major part of election season. And when they made their debut, there were many stories hyper-analyzing the placards.
US candidates also rely on similar posters, but they mainly function as lawn signs with the campaign’s logo and remind voters driving by about an upcoming election. Instead, US campaigns are more focused on other campaign tactics and a heavy reliance on television ads.
But in Germany, it appears the posters are way for the candidates to get some face time and communicate with voters through concise phrases, pictures and graphics. Most only convey simple messages like producing good jobs or improving education, while others have managed to stir controversy.
On signs that are not much larger than a sheet of paper, the AfD, which has loudly criticized Ms. Merkel for her open borders refugee policy, bluntly asks “Burkas? We like bikinis,” while another asks, “New Germans? We make them ourselves.”
Even with the overwhelming amount of campaign posters, it hasn’t really energized the slow pace of the campaign and that’s mostly thanks in part to polls showing Ms. Merkel with a steady lead over SPD chancellor candidate Martin Schulz.
The low-key nature of Germany’s campaign stands in stark contrast to the US and several European elections. One CDU campaign posters encourages voters to, “Enjoy your summer now, and make the right choice in fall.”
I guess Ms. Merkel is heeding her own advice.
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