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Image Building in Austria: Candidates'' Traits & Their Impact on Campaign Coverage & Voters’ Perceptions on the Occasion of the 2008 National Election

Günther Lengauer
University of Innsbruck
Georg Winder
University of Innsbruck
Open Panel

Abstract

In recent years, political personalization and the phenomenon of personalized politics have become central concepts in political science, electoral and campaign studies. In political communications both the role top candidates are strategically given in leading “postmodern election campaigns” as well as the way of covering election campaigns by the media have been investigated repeatedly. The focus has primarily been laid on “media personalization”, i.e. media’s reporting and commentating politics by using politicians as easily portrayable pas pro toto for complex political realities. While there exists a vast body of research connecting personalized politics to news factor theory and to (often supposed) institutional changes within the political realm (i.e. “presidentialization” of politics) and the media, the question of how political parties adapt and stimulate media’s coverage of politicians and how those images affect voters’ perceptions has seldom been researched. Against this backdrop, we will look at a) Austrian top candidates’ images and traits as they were seen by political parties’ leading personnel, b) how those images were presented to the media, c) how they were reflected in media’s coverage and d) how these images affected vot-ers’ attitudes towards candidates during the 2008 national elections campaign. Methodologically, we will first look at distinct facets and their compilation to complex images. In this regard, we will check by factor analysis for “role-near, instrumental” and “role-distant, expres-sive” traits expressed in political parties’ press releases, Secondly, we will test to what extent and in which manner those facets and compilations are embraced or opposed by mass media – respectively which parts of leaders’ images are portrayed in the media. Finally, we will relate to the process of image building by looking at transformations of leaders’ images between media’s coverage and people’s perceptions. In doing so, we will empirically connect three most important areas of personalized politics.