Rrezart Lahi*: The Effect of Modern Techniques in Electoral Campaigns

Abstract

The modernization of electoral campaigns was often investigated through political spots. This research will go deeper and will scrutinize the relation between politics and media under the light of campaign professionalization. This research also explores if the campaign techniques were more “top – bottom” or “bottom – up”. First we introduce the three phases of campaign modernization. Through seven focus groups we reveal the changes of electoral campaign in Albania in the light of professionalism. We understand that the role of the party is diminished and the campaign strategist and communication experts had the key role in most of the campaign events. Over the last decade the modernization of the Albania campaign went through key developments. The study confirms that the declining party membership brought an increase role of communication expertize. Results shows that there is a significant level of personalization and it has an increase trend compared to studies which analyzed the same element. The participants point out also the importance of focusing in target groups and online social networks.

Keywords: Personalization, politics, Americanization, Albania, 2013 Elections

 Introduction

Albania, as a post-authoritarian country had few experience in electoral campaigning. First it began with the traditional methods of meeting voters in the street and explaining the party program and asking for their support. However, the last decade, there were significant changes toward the modernization techniques of the political race. They were affected from the technology change (Raknes, 2007) (Fisher and Denver, 2008) and the “Americanization” of the electoral campaigning

For most of the parties the electoral race is the most important political activity because it serves its aim to gain power. That is why they support it with large human and financial resources. Techniques of modernization are fading out the importance of the party structure replacing it with the communication experts who place all the media attention on the candidate and his/her characteristics. The personalization of the political commercials is seen from political communication researchers as part of the “Americanization” or modernization of the electoral campaigns. This modernization comes also from a deep change in political culture, media professionalism and civil society (Doolan 2009).
Several studies analyzed the modernization of the campaign through investigating the political commercials in a quantitative perspective. However, until now the researches seemed to ignore the social perception of the professionalization of the electoral race. This study aim to study in depth the audience feedback in a qualitative analyze of the modern techniques of the campaign. Thus, we conducted seven time-sessions with focus groups where we discussed about the development of electoral campaigns in the light of modernization.
First we showed them the political commercial and later had a free discussion about what elements of modernization did the percept. Later we also asked about how they understood these techniques and what did they suggest. This study aims to contribute to the extensive literature of political communication through this qualitative analyze of the campaign modernization in Albania.

Theoretical Framework

Do campaign matter? This was the key question several decades ago when researches about electoral campaigns began (Raknes, 2007). If in the beginning it was believed that the tine of campaign is too short to change voter’s behavior, in the 80’ this skepticism began changing (Raknes, 2007). This was explained through the voter’s volatility and the increasing role of the communication experts.
The last two decades a lot of researches are focused in the modern techniques compared with the traditional ones of the campaigning (Lamprinakou, 2010). Some important studies researched why parties needed to use the “Americanization” model for their campaigns (Gibson and Rommelle, 2001)
One of the most influential researchers of political communication Pipa Norris (2002) argues that the electoral campaign developed through three stages: Pre-Modern (from half of XIX century until 1950); Modern ( from 60’ to 80’) and Post Modern (from 90’ until now). The first phase was totally focused in the interaction between the candidate and the voters without other means of communication. Everything was based through personal contact in door to door campaign. The Modern phase began when the TV was born. This technology innovation totally changed the rules of the game. The campaign was leaded now just from the party leader but from a group of important staff who organized more professional political activities. Media management became of utmost importance. The last Post Modern phase is based actually on continuous campaign which does not limit itself just in thirty days. Communication experts took had the key role.
In their study, Fisher and Denver (2008) explain that during the interviews with the communication experts they found out that the parties moved from general messages toward specific ones for target groups. In United Kingdom the labors began to call the potential voters not one month but eighteen months before the campaign of 1997. They used the call center model with a pre-organized script the party callers categorized the voters in the target groups. This is one of the elements of the campaign modernization. When the party gives to a specific voter the information or the program he needs he could be a potential voter.
 “Americanization” is often used as a question rather than an answer (Doolan, 2009). Fritz Plasser (2002) after interviewing 502 political advisers reported that 84% of them accepted that the last years their campaign techniques changed radically. On the same line Swanson and Mancini (2004) emphasize that “Americanization” is a reference point also due to the difficulties of defining it.
The adviser of a political marketing company, Mc Can-Ericsson, Alberto Conte, described the presidential elections in Panama:
“The triumph of Ernesto Perez Balldarez in presidential elections singed for the second time a victory of “Saatchi and Saatchi” (an American campaign consultancy company). They had a very disciplined client who accepted all their recommendations. It was a well-structured campaign placing a lot of attention on details. The experts did their job and “the product” followed them. (Negrine dhe Papathanassopoulos, 1996).

The techniques include personalization, catch-all policies, media centricity, professionalization and political marketing (Plasser, 2002), (Butler, Ranney (1992). Evie Watt (2010) argues that a good communicator does not have any correlation with a good governor. So according to her, the techniques of personalization made the campaigns more superficial at that point where cosmetics lay over ideology. In this study we will ask the participants of the focus groups about what is more important to them.

Methodology

Seven focus groups were conducted with Albanian citizens in the capital city of Tirana between August and September 2015. In order to select the participants we asked unknown people of different ages and genders if they were willing to be part of a focus group and to spend 2 hours discussing about the Albanian elections of 2013. The recruitment went on for a week in the center of Tirana but also in the periphery. After we selected 35 participants we divided them in seven focus groups.
The focus group took place in a meeting office in the center of Tirana where we showed by video projector all the campaign political spots. The participants were asked about their opinions. As moderators we stayed passive and we did not lead the conversation. Participants were encouraged to share their perceptions about personalized spots and how did they like it. They were notified that the conversation was being recorded on audio and was part of a research. The tracks recorded were later transcribed. The data were analyzed by qualitative software, Atlas ti. The program generated the coded section numbers. We were interested to know how the perceptions were connected between groups. In the “results” section we will provide citations from the focus groups to illustrate the main outcomes.
We conducted our focus group in the office where we observed their reactions when showing the political spots. This perception was added to the result section. We composed the focus group with different ages, genders and professions. We tried to place in each group students, middle class workers, people who lived in the center and in the periphery, poor and rich people. Specific participants category may be more critics to some video-spots rather than others. These differences might bring tough discussions which is a very good way to generate data with this method (Kitzinger & Barbour, 1999).
The groups had 56 % men and 44% women with and average age of 41 years old varying from 19 to 67 years old. We wanted to have different ages in the focus group since we predict that these group ages might have different level of interest about the political campaign and that they may react differently to changes in those political races. 20% of participants did not follow with attention the electoral campaign but just had slight information about it through friends, social media or TV zapping. 55 % had a medium level of interest in the electoral race and 25 % were very interested and checked every day the news or political websites for latest information.

Half of the participants had Albanian medium income, 250 euro monthly payment. 1 in 5 participants had high school education, 3/5 had university degree and 20% had professional degree. (...) 

More in: Revista Haemus

* European University of Tirana   

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