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Personalization online - Why research needs to adequately reflect the phenomenons'' transformation in political practice

Open Panel

Abstract

A great deal of attention has been given to personalization in political communication research, but one should not jump to the conclusion that no further research is needed. There are three arguments indicating quite the contrary: First, research to date has brought up inconsistent findings, which can be traced back mainly to heterogenous study designs. On this basis, general conclusions cannot be drawn. Second, in democracy theory personalization is predominantly considered as having a negative impact on communicating politics. However, clear empirical evidence is missing up to now. Third, due to profound changes within political communication, there is a shifting of weight regarding personalization in political practice. With the emergence of additional communication channels, traditional mass media have lost their quasi-monopoly position in communicating politics. The internet enables political actors to address voters directly and rather uncontrolled by using a broad range of self-presentational strategies. For this reason, personalization in political practice gains in importance, since it is no longer filtered by the media and, thereby, limited to certain periods (elections) and certain groups of people (elites). This alteration needs to be considered in research by no longer focusing mainly on personalization in media coverage, but also on personalization by individual and collective political actors. In the theoretical part of the project, the concept of personalization is reconsidered and redefined by taking into account its multidisciplinary understandings. The empirical part of the project addresses the following research questions: - How do politicians present themselves on the internet? - In what forms and to what extent is the content personalized? - Do politicians create an image of themselves as lone fighters or as part of a collective (party members)? A quantitative content analysis of politicians'' homepages (Switzerland and Germany) was conducted in early 2011 of which first results will be presented.