Following the successful election of Jean-Claude Juncker in 2014, several European party families have nominated lead candidates (Spitzenkandidaten) for the 2019 election of the European Parliament (EP). Policy makers in Brussels hope that the renewed personalization of the European election campaign will increase citizens' interest in and turnout at the EP elections. However, whether or not this is the case is an open question.
This paper investigates whether pan-European candidates really matter, and we rely on experimental data in The Netherlands and Germany, collected before the final phase of the EP election campaigns (spring 2019). These countries are an excellent choice, because four of the current seven Spitzenkandidaten are Dutch and German, respectively. We investigate the effect of (non-) personalized campaign messages on turnout intention, interest in the EP election campaign, and cynicism/ populist attitudes with respect to EU politics. Furthermore, we study the moderating effects of party support and pro-EU attitudes.
In order to test our assumptions, we design fictional posters and/or election leaflets to which respondents are randomly exposed. We focus on the European Greens, which have two Spitzenkandidaten: Bas Eickhout from The Netherlands and Ska Keller from Germany. The stimulus material will vary according to five conditions per country: 1) The party only, 2) the national Spitzenkandidat, 3) the other European Spitzenkandidat, 4) another prominent Green politician from the respective country, and 5) one control group.
A power analysis determined a necessary total minimum sample size of n = 536 in each country (5 groups, 80% power, 5% α-error probability, f = .015; e.g., Otto & Maier, 2016; Kruikemeier et al., 2013). We sample 600 respondents in each country, which takes into account five covariates as well (e.g., age, gender, education level, political orientation, propensity to vote for a Green party). Additionally, we calculate sample sizes independently for each country, but consider the possibility of merging both samples in the analyses later.
The data collection begins in early April 2019 – before the poster campaigns formally start in both countries. The results will have important implications for our understanding of European Parliament election campaigns.