Political Parties in a Changing Campaign Environment

David M Farrell. Handbook of Party Politics. Editor: Richard S Katz & William Crotty. Sage Publications, 2006.

Election campaigns are a central feature in the life of political parties, and certainly since the onset of representative democracy, a party’s principal raison d’être. Therefore, in a context in which election campaign styles have been changing, it is important to get some perspective on what implications this has for political parties. This chapter is arranged in four sections. We start with an overview of the campaign literature, where it interfaces with the party politics literature, and the arguments about the nature and causes of campaign change. The next two sections explore the principal features of campaign change and their impact on political parties. The chapter concludes by proposing areas for further study.

The Study of Campaigns

In the last two decades of the 20th century the study of campaigning came into its own as a significant field of research in the political science community. Two principal factors help to explain this change in emphasis: one relating to the parties literature, and another more closely associated with the electoral behavior literature. In the first case, the party literature has undergone something of a paradigm shift (Mair, 1990). The classic party studies (e.g. Duverger, 1954; Sartori, 1976) tended, on the whole, to feature a pre-eminent concern with the study of party systems. From about the 1980s onwards there was a distinct shift in focus: political scientists started looking inside the ‘black box’ of parties as entities in their own right; new studies appeared examining, in some detail, features of party organizations and their evolution or demise (e.g. Janda, 1980; Katz and Mair, 1992; Panebianco, 1986); and election campaigning emerged as a field of inquiry (e.g. Bowler and Farrell, 1992; Butler and Ranney 1992). It is obvious that the classic party literature would have had a systemic focus at a time when the party systems themselves were unchanging, making it worthwhile to explore dimensions of variation across different systems (Duverger, 1954; Sartori, 1976), and explanations for their stability (Lipset and Rokkan, 1967). With the arrival of party system de-alignment and electoral volatility, not only was there no longer much point in trying to assess (ever-changing) systems, it was also far more interesting to start examining the parties themselves, not only in terms of their reaction to the change, but also in terms of how, by their organizational evolution and new campaign styles, they may, in part, have been behind some of these developments (Mair, 1983).

First tastes of this new emphasis in the literature were provided in the 1960s by scholars such as Kirchheimer (1966) and Epstein (1967), and a lot of their ideas were further developed and elaborated in the 1980s and 1990s, for instance, in the work of Panebianco (1986) and Katz and Mair (1995). The focus of much of the discussion was on the demise of the mass party and its replacement by new models of organization, showing a shift in focus by the parties away from inward concerns with party members and activists towards more outward concerns with voters. A crucial feature to all of this was the growing attention being given by parties to campaign goals.

A second factor behind the rise of campaign research related to studies in an electoral behavior tradition: there was a growing realization, by politicians and political scientists, that election campaigns ‘matter’ (Farrell and Schmitt-Beck, 2002). In an age of electoral stability, in which voters voted on the basis of their social class locations and political predispositions, there seemed little point in trying to assess the influence of campaigns, because patently they could only have minor influence on the vote. And even if political scientists had wanted to assess election campaigns, they were constrained by the lack of appropriate research tools to deal with campaign influences on the vote. The standard methods of studying voting behavior at the time were single-shot, cross-section surveys, which were incapable of examining campaign effects.

The research agenda started changing from the 1980s onwards, with far more attention being devoted to the (national) campaigns of the parties. Obviously, one reason for this was the arrival of voter de-alignment, suggesting that, perhaps, campaigns could, indeed, matter. Concomitantly the nature of campaigning itself changed, becoming more professionally organized, and this attracted growing academic interest. And, of course, the political scientists began to deploy research methods more appropriate for the type of analysis required to measure campaign effects, such as panels, rolling cross-sectional surveys, qualitative methods, and content analysis.

In and among all of this has been a steadily growing body of research on the national campaign itself (i.e. as opposed to its effects), which has tended to come in three main forms. First, there are the historical/descriptive studies of individual campaigns, as best embodied in Britain by the Nuffield series dating back to the 1950s (e.g. Butler and Kavanagh, 1997). Also to be included here are the journalistic studies which mushroomed after Theodore White’s classic studies of US elections in the 1960s and 1970s (e.g. White, 1961). By their nature, these are inevitably single-country studies and therefore provide little scope for the cross-national study of parties and elections.

Second, there is the increasingly popular ‘political marketing’ tradition, in which, in essence, scholars have taken the logical step of applying sophisticated marketing frameworks to the study of election campaigns that themselves are becoming ever more like marketing exercises. This political marketing subdiscipline appears to be gathering steam, as witnessed, among other things, by studies that seek to apply political marketing frameworks to recent election campaigns (e.g. Foglio, 1999; Newman, 1999b); the publication of special issues of journals, and even the recent launch of a dedicated journal, The Journal of Political Marketing.

Like the historical/descriptive studies, to date the bulk of the political marketing literature has also tended to be country-based; what has been lacking is sustained cross-national research in a political marketing tradition. Furthermore, notwithstanding grandiloquent claims about the contribution of political marketing to our understanding of election campaign dynamics (e.g. Lees-Marshment, 2003), a question must be asked over the heuristic value of this approach: indeed, often the impression is given that it is more useful for assessing the strength of the marketing framework than it is for providing new insights into how elections, and the parties’ role in them, are changing (for sustained critique, see Cornelissen, 2002).

The third approach to studying campaigns, and the one deployed in this chapter, is centered more on a party literature tradition: the principal concern here is with trying to explore the role of parties in the new campaign process, as well as the role of the new campaign process in affecting the parties. The general starting point tends to be with trends in the United States. From Epstein (1967) onwards, there has been a concern with the extent to which the USA might be blazing a trail which other countries have, to varying degrees, been following. This is not the place to scrutinize US campaign styles and how they have been changing (see Chapter 13 in this volume for more detail)—nevertheless, the principal characteristics can be summarized as follows: an emphasis on the candidate and the candidate’s personal campaign organization; the prominent role of professional campaign consultants; and the need for plenty of campaign funds. Most scholars are in agreement that the changing dynamics of campaigning in the USA have contributed to the steady decline of US parties (e.g. Wattenberg, 1998), thereby begging an obvious question over whether similar campaign changes in other countries (assuming these can be shown) may have similar effects on parties.

Proponents of the view that we are witnessing a process of ‘Americanization’ in how election campaigns are fought include Mancini and Swanson (1996: 4), who suggest that ‘campaigning in democracies around the world is becoming more and more Americanized as candidates, political parties, and news media take cues from their counterparts in the United States’. They are, however, careful to point out that they use the term quite loosely, seeing it in large part as a surrogate for ‘modernization’. In similar fashion, Margaret Scammell (1997: 4) suggests that Americanization is ‘useful as a shorthand description of global trends … the U.S. is a leading exporter and role model of campaigning’. From this perspective, therefore, Americanization is seen as helping in the assessment of developments in the campaign process, not as an indicator of fundamental shifts in political practice.

It is certainly apparent that US campaign practices have had some influence on the campaign activities of parties in other countries. The overriding, and hardly controversial, assumption is that the flow of influence is predominantly from the USA: campaigners in other countries are copying (willy nilly or in some adapted form) the latest techniques and practices of their US counterparts. But actually demonstrating this has proven quite difficult. For a long time the principal problem was a shortage of cases, leading to a certain Western European bias in much of the comparative analysis of parties and elections (e.g. Bowler and Farrell, 1992); however, given the recent burgeoning of new democracies across Latin America, parts of Africa, Eastern and Central Europe, and the former Soviet Union, the comparative scholar now has a number of new clues with which to provide a rather more informed answer. Any consideration of comparative trends, therefore, needs to take account of what has been happening in the newer democracies; however, given the wealth of material on the Western European case it is useful to begin here.

Viewed through Western European lenses, there are two possible answers to the question of whether the tendencies in the US electoral process are unique: (i) yes; (ii) maybe once, but Europe is catching up. The ‘yes’ perspective is based on an appreciation of the fundamental differences between the two continents, in terms of history, culture and institutions. In particular, Western European countries have well-developed, highly cohesive political parties, based on strong ideological cleavages which formed the original party systems at the time of mass enfranchisement in the early decades of the 20th century (Lipset and Rokkan, 1967). The traditional organizational structure common to most Western European parties is the ‘mass’ party, characterized by a large and active membership, a well-resourced organizational bureaucracy, and a stress on internal democracy (Duverger, 1954). By contrast, the US party model is far more fluid: the ideological differences between Democrats and Republicans are less distinct. There is not much organizational structure, apart from the roles played by the various semi-autonomous congressional campaign committees. American parties are best described as ‘empty vessels’ (Katz and Kolodny 1994). From this perspective, therefore, there is good reason to expect significant differences in the styles of campaigning.

The second answer—that Europe has been catching up with US campaign practices -accepts the basic picture just presented, but adds an important temporal dimension, in recognition of the evident fact that the parties and party systems of Western Europe underwent significant transformation in the final quarter of the 20th century. In this respect, one could argue that, until relatively recently, Western European parties have felt somewhat constrained. Given that most of them originated (or at least passed through a phase) as ‘mass’ parties, with all the attendant features of that form, it is perhaps no surprise to find some delay in switching over to new US styles of campaigning. However, it is evident that political parties in the newly emerging democracies have not experienced the same mass party phase. This raises an intriguing question as to whether Western Europe (and the other older democracies outside the USA) might be seen as the ‘exceptional’ region in terms of party change and styles of campaigning. The last decade or so has seen the rise of a plethora of new democracies across Latin America, Eastern and Central Europe, the former Soviet Union and parts of Africa. The nature of party organization which has emerged in many of these new democracies is characterized by a far looser organization, with little emphasis on a mass membership, less attention to long-term organizational goals, and more focus on the immediacy of the election campaign (Kopecký, 1995; Lewis, 1996; Mainwaring and Scully, 1995; Mair, 1997). The fact is that the process of campaign modernization in the newer democracies has kept pace with trends in the more established democracies, and in many respects the newer democracies may be developing US-style techniques faster than in Western Europe (for more discussion, see Farrell, 1996; Farrell et al., 2001).

It is now time to become more specific about what is meant by campaign change, about how campaigns have evolved and, in particular, how this has affected political parties. In recent years, there has been a veritable growth industry in the study of campaigns and their modernization (Bowler and Farrell, 1992; Butler and Ranney 1992; Gunther and Mughan, 2000; Swanson and Mancini, 1996). Studies have shown how electioneering by parties and (especially in the USA) candidates has changed in terms of the three ‘Ts’ of technology, technicians and techniques. By the turn of the millennium the talk was of how electioneering had entered a new phase of modernization, referred to variously as the ‘telecommunications revolution’ (Farrell, 1996), the ‘digital age’ (Farrell, 2002), ‘post-Fordist’ (Denver and Hands, 2002), or even ‘post-modern’ (Norris, 2000). The implication is that the parties and candidates have moved to a stage beyond the ‘TV age’ of centralized, standardized, one-size-fits-all national campaigns; they are embracing the new media technologies—especially those centered around the World Wide Web and the Internet—and running campaigns which differ in some quite fundamental ways from those of a mere ten or twenty years before.

The three stages in the evolution of the campaign process are summarized in Table 11.1, which (following Farrell and Webb, 2000) avoids labeling them, for to call the third stage ‘post-modern’ raises wider epistemological connotations as well as questions over what we might label any future stage, while to give it a title such as the ‘telecommunications revolution’ or ‘the digital age’ would provoke obvious criticisms of being technologically deterministic. Given that the focus of this chapter is primarily on the interface between campaigns and parties, we will not spend too much time detailing the precise ways in which campaigns have been changing (for that, see, inter alia, Farrell, 1996; Norris, 2000); instead, we shall be assessing the ways in which campaign change has affected parties, and we shall arrange the discussion in terms of two main features, ‘organizational dynamics’ and ‘communications strategy’, starting with the first of these features in the next section.

The Organizational Dynamics of Changes in Campaign Styles

As indicated by the first part of Table 11.1, the period of campaign preparations has been extending, to the extent that it is now reaching a point in which a good campaign is seen as one that is in a state of perpetual readiness—the ‘permanent campaign’ of Sydney Blumenthal (1982). The concomitant is a more centrally coordinated campaign process and an emphasis on recruiting professional staff. These developments have affected parties in at least four main respects. First, there have been moves to establish appropriately staffed, full-time campaign units, dedicated to preparing for and managing the campaign process. Some indications of this are provided in the first column of Table 11.2, which shows how, without exception, the political parties in the Katz-Mair data set all saw expansions in their headquarters staff, an expansion which, with one exception (Italy, in large part due to its Tangentopoli scandal) continued through to the close of the 20th century (Webb, 2002: 443). The importance attached to creating effective campaign units has even, in some prominent cases, extended to relocating them outside party headquarters (as in the case of the British Labour Party in 1997, a move likely to be emulated by its Conservative Party counterpart in the 2005 election; and the German SPD’s Kampa in 1998).

Second, campaign specialists and agencies have been playing an ever more prominent role in election campaigns. For a long time, this trend was reined in and/or disguised in the Western European mass parties by subtle changes in their staffing policy, thereby making it possible until relatively recently (and, in many cases, still to this day) to maintain the distinction between a US ‘consultant’ and a European ‘party employee’ specializing in campaign strategy; they may well share certain commonalities in terms of their specialisms but their status and loyalties were always seen as different. Now such a distinction is increasingly difficult to maintain (as Western European campaigns have ‘caught up’ with their counterparts in newer democracies which have not been constrained by mass party traditions; see Farrell et al., 2001): more and more parties are inclined to call in external consulting expertise to supplement the work of their traditional staff (e.g. the Irish Fianna Fáil’s use of a prominent US consulting firm; or the ‘war of the US campaign consultants’ in the 1999 Israeli election); more and more parties are inclined to put campaign specialists on their payroll (perhaps on temporary contracts); in an increasing number of cases, party leaders are inclined to deploy their own personal staff specifically to promote their personal campaign image (e.g. recent French presidential campaigns; Berlusconi in Italy; Blair in Britain; Schröder in Germany; Barak in Israel) (more generally, see Farrell et al., 2001). In a growing number of countries, this has culminated in the emergence of an indigenous ‘campaign industry’, providing strong competition to US consultants in the overseas markets (Plasser and Plasser, 2002).

Third, across western Europe (to say nothing, for instance, of the presidential political systems of Latin America) there has been a distinct shift in campaign focus, with much greater attention focused on the party leader (Bowler and Farrell, 1992; Farrell, 1996; Swanson and Mancini, 1996). To a large degree this process has been fueled by television and its requirements (see the second column of Table 11.3); it is also consistent with efforts to concentrate party resources at the center, particularly around the party leadership. This trend reflects a power shift within political parties, but it also is suggestive of a change in the nature of campaign discourse, with image and style increasingly pushing policies and substance aside. Clearly, there may be a number of factors determining whether the party leader is not a dominant, but rather a major theme, not least the issue of his or her personal popularity and/or tendency to tread on banana skins. The relevant distinction for our purposes is whether the leader is merely a minor theme. Today, it is very hard to find any examples among the main parties of a national election campaign where the party leader is consigned to a minor role. In short, there is little disputing the fact that campaigns have become ‘presidentialized’ (Mughan, 2000; Donsbach and Jandura, 2003).

Table 11.1 The evolution of the campaign process
Stage I Stage II Stage III
Organizational dynamics
Preparations Finance
  • Short-term, ad hoc
  • Income: membership dues; local sources
  • Expenditure: decentralized
  • Costs: low budget
  • Long campaign
  • Income: membership dues; state funding
  • Expenditure: centralized
  • Costs: moderate
  • Permanent campaign
  • Income: state funding; external fundraising; Expenditure: targeted
  • Costs: high
Staffing and coordination
  • Decentralized
  • Staffing: party/local candidate-based, voluntary
  • Nationalization, centralization
  • Staffing: party-based, salaried professional; growth of central HQ
Nationally coordinated but decentralized operations; Staffing: party/leadership-based, professional, contract work; use of campaign HQ
Leader’s role Agencies, consultants
  • Party > leader
  • Minimal use; ‘generalist’ role
  • Party = leader
  • Growing prominence of ‘specialist’ consultants
  • Party < leader
  • Consultants as campaign personalities
Communications strategy
Targeting of voters Feedback
  • Social class support base
  • Maintain vote of specific social categories
  • Local canvassing and party meetings
  • Catch-all
  • Trying to mobilize voters across all categories
  • Occasional opinion polls
  • Market segmentation
  • Targeting of specific categories of voters
  • Regular opinion polls plus focus groups and interactive websites
Campaign events Local public meetings, whistle-stop tours News management, daily press conferences, controlled photo opportunities Extension of news management to routine politics and government
Media Partisan press, local posters and pamphlets; focus on newspaper and radio coverage Television broadcasts through main evening news Targeted use of broadcast media, direct mail, targeted ads
Orientation Propaganda orientation aimed at mobilization Selling orientation aimed at persuasion Marketing orientation aimed at ‘product placement’

Sources: adapted from Farrell, 1996; Farrell and Webb, 2000; Norris, 2000

Table 11.2 Campaign resource developments in Western European parties in the closing decades of the 20th century
Percentage increase/decrease in
Central party staff Central party income Central party campaign expenditure
Austria +36 +192 +14
Britain +18 +42 +25
Denmark +33 +66 +22
Finland +91 −13 +13
West Germany +8.6 −22 n.a.
Ireland +216 +91 +162
Netherlands +61 +90 +39
Norway +59 −16 +6
Sweden +39 −17 +18
Notes: The change refers to the difference between the position in the late 1960s or early 1970s and that in the late 1980s or early 1990s; only those parties are included where it proved possible to make a direct comparison over time. The financial data have been standardized using cost of living deflators (base year of 1987).

Sources: Farrell and Webb, 2000; Katz and Mair, 1992; International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1979; World Bank, World Tables 1992

The fourth major impact of recent campaign changes on the parties’ organizational dynamics is, inevitably, financial. As Tables 11.2 and 11.3 suggest, this has several features. In the first instance, in Table 11.2 (final column), we see how the amount that parties claim to spend on their campaigns rose in the last quarter of the 20th century. Gathering accurate information on parties’ campaign expenditure is notoriously difficult; the data used in Table 11.2 were accumulated as part of the Katz-Mair project. Based on subsequent information provided by national experts, it is possible to sketch a rough picture of how party campaign expenditure trends developed through to the end of the millennium (Farrell and Webb, 2000). Countries where campaign expenditure continued to rise included Britain, Canada, Germany, Sweden, and the USA. For the most part, these increases reflect the growing expense of the modern campaign. But in at least some cases the increase was simply due to state finance laws which have built-in inflators to take account of cost of living increases or population growth (Bowler et al., 2004). By contrast, there are a number of countries where campaign expenditure appears to have either stabilized (Australia, France, Ireland) or decreased (Belgium, Finland, Italy). The Australian and Irish trends reflect a period of retrenchment by overstretched party organizations, and also a degree of more targeted spending (e.g., Irish parties have shifted away from expensive newspaper advertising toward greater use of outdoor billboard advertising). French campaigns costs have plateaued since the 1980s when legislation was passed restricting the use of new campaign technology. In Finland, an economic crisis forced the parties to cut back on their campaign expenditures. In Italy the retrenchment was forced on the parties by reductions in access to state funding. Similarly, in Belgium (which, like Italy, went through its own party funding scandal) the expenditure reductions were the direct result of new legislation designed to force the parties to spend less. Indeed, there appears to be a trend developing in terms of efforts to limit the amount parties can spend on their campaigns (Table 11.3, column 4).

Table 11.3 The campaign ‘environment’ in OECD countries
TV spots Leaders’ ‘debates’ Restrictions on TV access Other campaign restrictions Campaign finance
Australia Yes* Yes Proportionate Yes*
Austria Yes* Yes* Proportionate Yes
Belgium No Yes Proportionate Limits on expend. No
Canada Yes Yes No Limits on expend.; 48-hour ban on polls Yes
Denmark No Yes Equal No
Finland Yes* Yes Equal No
France No* Yes Equal Limits on expend.; 7-day ban on polls Yes*
Germany Yes* Yes Proportionate Yes
Ireland No Yes* Proportionate Limits on expend.* Yes*
Italy Yes* No No 7-day ban on polls Yes*
Japan Yes* Yes Proportionate Limits on expend.; candidate restrictions∗∗ No
Netherlands Yes* Yes No No
New Zealand Yes Yes* Proportionate Limits on expend. No
Norway No Yes No No
Sweden Yes* Yes Equal No
Switzerland No No Proportionate No
UK No No Proportionate Limits on expend.* No
USA Yes Yes No Limits on Pres. expend. Yes (for Pres.)

* Indicates a change since the early 1980s.

∗∗ Most of the restrictions are focused on candidates (not parties), among them: ban on campaigning until final 15 days; no doorstep canvassing; restrictions on speech-making and on distribution of written materials.

Sources: Bowler et al., 2004; Farrell and Webb, 2000

For all the efforts of the state to limit campaign expenditure, election campaigns are still very expensive enterprises; and the indications are that the parties have been able to swell their bank balance to cover the increasing costs. As Table 11.2 (second column) shows, in Western European parties, central party income rose in most cases in the final quarter of the 20th century, and the evidence for a wider subset of OECD countries indicates that, with the exception of Italy, party income continued to rise through to the turn of the century (Webb, 2002: 443). To an extent—and consistent with the cartel party thesis—this is facilitated by access to state funding of campaigns (Table 11.3, final column) and party organizations (Bowler et al., 2004), but it also reflects growing attention by the parties to professional external fundraising operations.

Changes in Campaign Communications Strategy

Earlier we referred to how campaigns have been changing in terms of the three ‘Ts’ of technology, technicians and techniques. A fourth ‘T’ that should be added to this is terrain or campaign environment. As Table 11.3 shows (more generally, see Bowler et al., 2004), the campaign environment has altered quite dramatically in recent years, and nowhere is this more apparent than with regard to the role of the other two main sets of actors in the electoral process, the voters and the media—with significant implications for the campaign communications strategies of political parties (Schmitt-Beck and Farrell, 2002). In the first instance, as levels of partisan attachment and electoral turnout have declined (Dalton, 2000; Wattenberg, 2002), parties have to strive harder to chase elusive votes—in Norris’s (2000: 171) words, they ‘have to run up the down escalator simply to stay in place’. This is one significant factor behind an apparent shift in the nature of campaign communications, which is usefully encapsulated by the political marketing literature as a move from ‘selling’ to ‘marketing’. As the means of accumulating feedback have become more sophisticated, and the desire to test opinion more ever-present, there has been a perceptible shift in the politician’s psyche from treating politics as an art to treating it instead as a science (Rose, 1967). The initial standpoint used to be one of setting the product (usually based on some predetermined ideology) and seeking to steer public opinion in this direction. Saliency theory (Budge and Farlie, 1983) argued that certain types of parties ‘owned’ certain types of policies (e.g., defense for the right, and health policy for the left) around which they centered their campaigns. Today, political strategy increasingly appears to center on finding out what the public wants to hear—deploying all the latest methods of gathering information on voter attitudes—and marketing the product accordingly. In the context of centralized party resources that facilitate carefully coordinated campaigns, this enhances the strategic autonomy and flexibility of leaderships. Such policy movements may improve the responsiveness of parties to popular demands, but they may also render enduring policy reputations harder to identify; in the UK, for instance, the New Labour party of Tony Blair (which seems to exemplify the marketing approach) leapfrogged the Liberal Democrats in order to dominate the ideological center-ground (Budge, 1999: 5–6); similar tendencies were noted in Germany before its 1998 election. This trend seems destined to continue as the traditional party hierarchies are replaced by brash new professionals whose primary loyalty is to the leader rather than to an ideology or a party tradition.

Nevertheless, while the shift from selling to marketing may seem persuasive, and while there may be plenty of anecdotal evidence, and in some cases first-rate qualitative research (Scammell, 1995), of such tendencies in recent elections, actually trying to demonstrate this quantitatively has so far proven rather elusive. For instance, Caul and Gray (2000) employ cross-national manifesto data to examine the extent to which parties have been adopting less stable issue positions in recent years, but produce quite mixed results.

It is not only shifts in the nature of voter (non-)behavior that may explain recent changes in the nature of parties’ campaign communication strategies, as suggested above; also of relevance here are recent changes in the nature of media coverage of elections—from a predominant interest in policy issues, through a phase of focusing on strategy and the campaign ‘game’, and on to a more contemporary interest in what Esser et al. (2001: 17) refer to as ‘metacoverage’—‘self-referential reflections on the nature of the interplay between political public relations and political journalism’. As a consequence, the parties have to pay more attention to how they promote themselves in the media. This has resulted in two important developments in how parties seek to communicate with voters. First, every effort is made to maximize positive coverage in the main media outlets, both through the more effective use of news management (and here, consistent with the move toward permanent campaigning, this is no longer tied solely to the ‘campaign period’ itself) and, in the case of the broadcasting media, by seeking to usurp news executives’ intentions by using alternative means of making contact with voters (such as by appearing on early afternoon chat shows).

Second, the contemporary campaign makes much more use of direct means of targeted voter contact, via ‘paid media’ such as TV spots (see Table 11.3, column 1), and of course the increasingly ubiquitous Internet, which is becoming the major campaign tool. A quick glance at the Parties on the Web site (http://www.electionworld.org/parties.htm; see also Norris, 2001) shows how virtually all parties today have their own websites, but we have yet to see the kind of use being made of them during election campaigns that has been evident in the USA (and particularly so in the 2004 presidential campaign of Howard Dean). This can only be a matter of time. On the basis of their review of the British evidence, Gibson and Ward (1998: 33) speculate that ‘[g]iven the speed of developments during the last five years, … it is not unreasonable to assume that over the next decade party communication and campaigning on the Internet will have moved from the fringe toward the mainstream’.

Needless to say, the internet is by no means the only new campaign tool in the armory of contemporary campaigners. Focus groups abound, direct mail and telephone canvassing are becoming the norm in a range of different campaign contexts. Clintonesque ‘rapid rebuttals’ and ‘war rooms’ have also featured prominently (for British, German and Austrian examples, see respectively Butler and Kavanagh, 1997; Bergmann and Wickert, 1999; Holtz-Bacha, 2002; Strugl et al., 1999). Similarly, much like Clinton’s ‘new Democrats’, recent campaigns of Social Democratic parties in Britain, Germany and Israel all placed heavy emphasis on the image, and in two of the cases also the prefix, of ‘new’—as in ‘New Labour’, ‘new Center’ (in Germany), and ‘One Israel’.

New Campaigns Styles and the State of Parties

As was suggested above, the fact that the new campaign styles have required political parties to adapt their organizational dynamics as well as their communication strategies does not of itself imply that the parties are somehow weaker as a consequence, but what certainly cannot be disputed is that they have been forced to adapt; standing still was never an option. This chapter has reviewed the main ways in which the parties have adapted, but in a number of respects we have barely started to scratch the surface. With the exceptions of case studies of campaigns (e.g. the Nuffield series) or the groundbreaking survey work on campaign consultants by Plasser and Plasser (2002; see also Bowler and Farrell, 2000), the political science community has had very little direct access to what actually goes on behind closed doors; in many respects (and pace Gallagher and Marsh, 1988), this area of the discipline remains one of the most secret of ‘gardens’. Much more data gathering and analysis is needed, in particular in the following four areas:

  • Changes in the nature of party staffing (locations, types and permanence of staff; party line management structures) and the role of external consultants and agencies;
  • Sources and means of campaign fundraising and campaign expenditure;
  • The decision-making process in campaign organizations;
  • The emphasis placed by parties on leader image, on candidate-centered dynamics, and the implications for internal power structures.