Running for media attention

Peter Kerkers
Peter Kerkers has finished his bachelor Economie en Bedrijfseconomie and his Master Finance. Furthermore, he is the chairman of Asset | Economics 2018-2019.

Most popular news item on Dutch television these weeks are the elections in the United States, where several candidates fight for the presidential nomination of the Republican- and Democratic Party. All right, the United States is a big country and it is one of the big trading partners of the Netherlands, but why so much attention for the elections in the United States and not for the state elections in Germany, our major trading partner?

Buying media attention

Also in elections: ‘’who pays the piper, calls the tune’’  

People have different opinions about it, but the fact is that the world has largely become a commercial place. Money plays a very important role in nowadays society. Elections are no exemption on this phenomena. With high expenditures during the electoral period candidates try to convince people to vote for them. It seems true that the one who pays the piper, calls the tune. In this case, the ones who pay seem to determine what will be in the news.

A quick look at the expenditures on elections in the United States and Germany confirms the differences in expenditures. In the previous election period in the United States Obama’s Democratic Party, the blue team in the table below, spent around one billion US dollars during his campaign.  The other party, the Republicans or the red team in the table, in the United States elections spent even more during their campaign.

campaign expenditures 2








To put these expenditures in perspective: German Chancellor Merkel spent only 20 to 30 million euros for her entire campaign in 2013. So candidates in the United States spend around forty times more than candidates in Germany. This gives a possible explanation for the difference in attention for those elections, but where do these big differences in expenditures come from?

Spend more fore bigger reach 

A first part of the explanation of the differences in expenditures can be found in simple characteristics of the countries. Nowadays, the United States have a population that is almost four times the population of Germany. Furthermore, the surface area of the United States is more than twenty-seven times the surface area of Germany. But with the technology nowadays, reaching all those people over big distances should not be such a big problem that requires so much money.


A German is not an American: the results of a different background

The key to explain the differences in expenditures stems from the different backgrounds of the two countries. The United States are much more entertainment based than Germany. People in the United States like candidates that are almost showbiz actors. Americans vote much more on a person and the way how this person behaves in the media than Germans do. So to attract voters, American candidates have to impress them with a good campaign rather than with good ideas on how to lead the country. So they spend big amounts of money on ‘entertaining’ the possible voters with for example fancy television commercials. Where Obama spent around 400 million dollars only on TV ads, every party in Germany just makes a short commercial of ninety seconds that they use during their whole campaign.

The differences in expenditures and attitude towards the media can also be explained by the history of the two countries. In Germany, memories of the both World Wars are quite vivid in people’s mind. From this collective memory, Germans do not feel comfortable about attacking and aggressive candidates. Voters will always get an uncomfortable feeling from such a candidate. One who just tries to scream loudest and just talks negative about the opponents will always lose the elections in Germany, while the American people like such a candidate. A last remark can be made on the campaign period. Where the American candidates are fighting for votes during a long time period, the campaign in Germany only lasts for six weeks.

It is the more entertainment based campaigns in the United States versus the more content and moderate campaigns in Germany that cause the big differences in expenditures. A higher level of entertainment is more interesting for outside people. Compared to the American elections, the Germany elections seem to be just too boring for us as Dutch citizens. So the Dutch news makers tend to prefer the entertainment of the United States elections to make interesting news items.

People ask for entertainment, Trump serves their needs

Interested in Trump’s economic ideas? Read it here.

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