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Cleavage Structure or Mass Media? What mobilizes the German Voter nowadays? Explaining Voter Turnout on the Basis of the German Federal Election 2009

Sabine Pokorny
Freie Universität Berlin
Sabine Pokorny
Freie Universität Berlin
Open Panel

Abstract

At the German Federal Election 2009 voter turnout was lower than ever before in the history of the German Federal Republic (GFR). Why did the parties not succeed in mobilizing the German voter? In past times, the traditional, regionally clustered German cleavage structure was very successful in both stabilizing voters’ party preferences and mobilizing. But since cleavage and regional ties have been loosening, party leaders have neglected their traditional voters relying instead on mass media campaign strategies to gain new segments of the electorate. However, the lowering turnout and the shrinking vote shares of the traditional cleavage parties indicate that the gains from this strategy might be smaller than the losses. Those voters embedded in the cleavage structure and homogenous regional contexts are more likely to perceive and to follow the mobilizing messages delivered through the mass media. Thus, media campaign strategies are no sufficient substitute, as cleavage decline and weakening regional voting traditions are attended by a decrease of the media’s impact on turnout. To examine the interrelated effects of mass media and cleavage structures on voter turnout, a multi-level design is employed combining individual-level data on media usage and turnout from the cross-section survey of the German Longitudinal Election Study (GLES) 2009 with contextual-level data about the social composition of the neighborhood. Former studies either test the effect of the cleavages or the effect of the media. By combining cleavage structures and mass media the paper seeks to fill this gap in the scientific debate.