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Personalization – yes, but… An analysis of campaign coverage in Germany and Austria (1949-2006).

Open Panel

Abstract

Personalization describes a growing importance of politicians and their personal characteristics for politics, media, and the electorate. With campaign coverage in mind, it is often assumed that personalization in Western democracies has generally increased during the last decades, although this tendency is modified by differences between national political communication systems. However, to what extent this applies still remains under-researched. Only cross-national and, at the same time, longitudinal comparisons can substantiate or refute these assumptions. Up to now, there are only few empirical tests combining both comparative perspectives – and evidence is mixed. The current study attempts to close this research gap. In a most similar systems design, it employs a quantitative content analysis of campaign coverage of seven German and Austrian national elite newspapers from 1949 to 2006. Personalization is conceptualized as a multidimensional phenomenon and therefore operationalized by a set of indicators (e.g., appearance of candidates, evaluation criteria, and illustrations). The influence of structural factors in divergent political, media, and journalistic systems, just as of short-term factors is investigated. The study finds that campaign coverage in Germany and Austria is generally characterized by a similar degree of personalization. At the same time, the results point to an increasing personalization in both countries over time – across different indicators. However, the growing personalization is not a strictly linear trend, but is rather refracted by structural as well as recurring short-term factors. Among them are the decline of consociationalism, snap elections, personalization of election campaigns, a strong market position of tabloids, and TV debates.