Of all the billboards and political posters that line the streets of German cities and towns, the ones that most attracted the attention of pedestrians in the last days of summer have been traffic-light red ones.
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Using a color scheme that is often unique to the Marxist-Leninist parties of the German left, the posters surprise in more ways than one: in the center appears a bald man in a suit looking more like the little boss who is analyzing your loan application. in a regional credit society that of a left-wing agitator promising radical changes.
The “bureaucrat at the barricades” number appears to have worked. Three weeks after the Germans go to the polls on September 26, the gray man in the suit, Olaf Scholz of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), has unexpectedly taken the lead to succeed Angela. Merkel as Chancellor of Germany.
Scholz, vice chancellor of the coalition government for the last four years, is better convincing public opinion that he may be Merkel’s continuation candidate than Armin Laschet, the candidate of the chancellor’s own party.
In polls published last week, Scholz’s center-left SPD is ahead of Laschet’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), by three to five percentage points, a position that the SPD last enjoyed when he won the 2002 federal election with Gerhard Schröder.
This Tuesday, the conservative bloc has accentuated its fall in polls to below 20%, a historical record downward in terms of voting estimates. Merkel, who until a week ago has maintained a certain neutrality, has fully entered the campaign, amid the nervousness in her ranks over a possible step into the opposition.
From the Bundestag, in her last regular session before the end of the legislature, the chancellor has asked voters to endorse the option of a future government led by Laschet, whom she said represents “reliability, moderation and the center” political.
“The SPD has run the perfect campaign”
The SPD is Germany’s oldest party and, for much of the last decade, it has given the impression of being a spent force, devoid of energy by the coalitions that have committed it to Merkel’s party and without a profile of its own after move from the left to the center of the political spectrum, and back again.
But the current landscape seems to suggest that all of that can be fixed with a tight, well-managed campaign and when you’re lucky enough to face two less conspicuous competitors.
“The SPD has run the perfect campaign,” says Frank Stauss, a political communication expert whose agency has in the past advised the German Social Democrats and the Austrian conservative ÖVP. “He is 100% in tune with Scholz’s message.”
The CDU did not agree to name Laschet as Merkel’s successor until April, and his campaign, incongruous to the point of humor, does not seem far from tailor-made for the candidate. “For Germany to remain strong,” reads a CDU poster with a photo of Laschet, perceived more as a liberal dealmaker than a staunch guardian (among other things, by his last name: The ch means “languid” in German).
The party of the Greens named Annalena Baerbock as its first candidate in history to preside over the country. In May, the line-up briefly rose to the top of the polls but appears to have lost confidence after Baerbock staggered with accusations of plagiarism. Many of her posters show her in tandem with Robert Habeck, the Greens’ co-leader, or draw on photos from Photostock of young people and families riding cargo bikes.
Only the SPD campaign is completely focused on the man it wants to take to the top spot. Devised by sports marketer Raphael Brinkert (who is responsible for campaigns for footballers like Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich), it has turned Scholz’s image as a boring but competent technocrat into a virtue.
In several posters, the former mayor of Hamburg, appears leaning back with his expressionless face and a card with electoral promises is placed in front of the camera: increase in the minimum wage, stable pensions, and construction of 400,000 houses a year. The slogan is “Scholz packt das an “, which means “Scholz will fix it.”
Brinkert, who began working on the campaign in May 2020, has presented Sholz as an effective manager, not as a politician desperate to be liked. “Sometimes those who dare are lucky,” he said when asked what lessons politicians could learn from sports marketing.
But flashy posters and catchy slogans do not win elections by themselves, and even in Scholz’s party the general idea is that the SPD would have continued its decline if the CDU and Green candidates had not been so unpopular or unpopular. proven to be so prone to screw up. “You could also talk about chaos theory,” says an SPD employee to explain the rise of the center-left.
The rebirth of the posters
But if there is one country where posters can influence an election, it is Germany where print continues to play an important role. “The political cartel is undergoing a real renaissance right now,” says Stauss.
The regulation of political advertising limits the time of parties on television and, according to Stauss, there are too many channels for a party to prevail on social media. “Every year we say we want to spend less on expensive poster campaigns, and every year we find that they continue to make a difference,” he says. “Voters keep having to go out and they realize if you don’t show your face there: they think you’ve given up the fight.”
This will be an unprecedented vote in Germany, Europe’s largest economy. No previous elections have been held while the incumbent chancellor remains hugely popular even if she does not run for re-election. In this situation, small gestures can make a big difference for politicians running as continuation candidates.
In the first of three televised debates, Scholz let his rivals jump into the ring without compromising, a Merkel-like image so apt that most viewers deemed him the clear winner of the night. The chancellor herself had to intervene the next day to clarify that between her and the Social Democratic candidate there was a “huge difference for the future of Germany.”
Most likely, in the coming weeks, the 63-year-old Scholz will do more to remind voters that his status as finance minister and vice chancellor gives him the international clout that his conservative and environmental rivals lack.
During his campaign, he has received the biggest applause for mentioning the plans for the global minimum tax on companies, a plan that he rightly claims to have launched together with his French counterpart Bruno Le Maire.
Skeptics believe that the advantage of the SPD will begin to evaporate once voters have had more time to analyze the policies behind the slogans of the cartels, as happened with the Green Party and the CDU.
Conservatives have recently launched an organized campaign against the “left drift” that envisage if Scholz reaches a coalition government with the Greens and the left-wing Die Linke party, an option that the center-left has so far refused to rule out for tactical motives.
Scholz’s supporters say his opponents have already missed an opportunity to change course. As a result of the pandemic, it is expected that this year between 40% and 50% of the electorate will vote by mail and the ballots arrived at the homes of voters two weeks ago.
Translated by Francisco de Zárate