January 23, 2009

Marcel Reichart argues that Germany's political parties must learn the lessons from Barack Obama's campaign, so that they, too, can use the Internet to get ordinary people involved.  It looks like they're well on their way to doing just that.

It is a safe bet that the German parties were among those watching closely as Barack Obama achieved nothing less than a political miracle. In the national election year 2009, the German parties and their candidates will definitely not be able to do without the Internet. An opinion survey about the changes in the information and communication culture carried out by the Allensbach Institute shows that the Internet has become the number one source of information. 59% of all 14 to 64 year olds go online several times a day to keep abreast of current events. It is particularly the social networks like Facebook, MySpace, StudiVZ and YouTube that are gaining in importance.

The social becomes political - this was true for the election campaign in the United States and will also be relevant for the German parties. But how are the German parties represented in the leading social communities and which parties have their own communities?

With a social network of more than 30,000 members, the Liberal Party (FDP) is the front-runner among German parties as regards activities on the Social Web. The Social Democrats (SPD) are also present with a community called meineSPD.net. This platform brings together over 20,000 followers. The Christian Democrats' network, CDUnet, is only open to party members. The Greens' website does not offer any community functions, though there is a forum for discussions.

But at least all parties have their own video channel on YouTube: They are called CDU-TV, SPD VISION, KANAL GRÜN, TV LIBERAL and DIE LINKE IM BUNDESTAG. The FDP offering is the most successful with 449,672 page impressions (as of January 2009), followed by SPD and the Left Party (Die Linke) with 136,071 and 125,721 page impressions respectively. As regards the number of videos posted, the Green Party with 179 videos tops the list while the Christian Democrats (CDU) rank last with only 47 videos. But compared to the page impressions of the most successful offering on YouTube in the German-speaking countries-FC Bayern TV-the party channels are still in their beta stage: FCB-TV on YouTube has almost 1.9 million page impressions and about 4,000 subscribers.

Success breeds imitation.   When Obama (presumably) runs for re-election in 2012, his Republican rivals will be using the techniques he pioneered against him, adding their own innovations.  To keep up, Team Obama will have to keep coming up with fresh ideas, too.

Similarly, politicians in other countries will take plays from Obama's book and modify them to suit their own domestic situation.   It wouldn't surprise me if the Germans and the Brits and the Indians come up with some new tricks of their own — which Obama will then steal for his next campaign.


James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.  

RELATED CONTENT