"Campaigning in Germany: The Federal Election of 2021"
On the occasion of the German Federal Election of 2021, the Regional Office North America of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation brought a bi-partisan delegation of 12 U.S.-American campaign experts and political professionals to Berlin for a weeklong study tour. The objective of the tour was to foster dialogue on Germany’s election, leveraging the experience of German campaign experts and political professionals against that of the American experts through a variety of meetings and discussions. Throughout the week, participants gained a deeper understanding of the role of political parties in the German system and the differences and similarities of campaign methods and strategies between Germany and the United States.
To strengthen participants’ understanding of the political situation in Germany, the program wove together three important aspects: (1) discussions with experienced campaign managers from Germany’s political parties; (2) the observation of street campaigning and rallies during the final week before the Federal and State Elections in Berlin; and (3) tours of important historical sites in Berlin and Potsdam that provided participants with context on how political conditions in Germany after World War II developed into their current state.
Participants gained firsthand knowledge of how political campaigns in Germany are organized and how they promote and distribute their messages by observing street campaigns and rallies on the ground. Highlights included a rally by the Green Party Chancellor Candidate Annalena Baerbock in her home region of Potsdam, a flyer distribution campaign on Kurfürstendamm by a candidate for the Berlin State House, and rallies by Left Party and Free Democratic Party candidates. The participants also gained a sense of the voters that the parties attract to their events and the issues that parties use to appeal to their base. On the federal level, campaigns focused on digitalization, climate, and taxation policy. The high cost of rent and the referendum on public ownership of housing in Berlin was a prominent issue in the Berlin state election campaigns.
Through discussions with experienced campaign managers from parties from the SPD, CDU, and FDP, participants also deepened their understanding of the German political party landscape, the policy platforms of each party, and the work that coalition building requires. Furthermore, they learned from one of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s former senior advisors about why her campaigns were successful and gained insights into Chancellor Candidate Olaf Scholz’s campaign strategy from a close advisor.
Participants also had the unique chance to discuss the role of the German media in political campaigns with German journalists, an American correspondent living in Berlin, and an expert on media and disinformation.
Throughout the study tour, the participants made valuable connections with political professionals and gained exposure to the public debate in Germany. These discussions helped to foster a better understanding of Germany and the German political system.