REFORMY (178) Party for Sale? (in the CR) II.

26. červenec 2015 | 08.43 |

Party for Sale? Political Marketing in the Czech Republic in the context of Election to the Chamber of Deputies in 2013 - Part II

Aleš Drahokoupil

One of the best Diploma´s Thesis defended this academic year belongs to Aleš Drahokoupil. The Thesis was elaborated within the project Specific Research at University of Finance and Administration. It describes very well the social context of "pro-communication” reforms in terms of political marketing tools. Due to the fact, that the work is written in English, it is also available to international readers. I publish several sequels of selected passages within series of reforms.

Jedna z nejlepších diplomových prací obhájená v letošním roce patří Aleši Drahokoupilovi. Byla zpracována v rámci projektu SVV na VŠFS. Velmi dobře popisuje společenský kontext "prokomunikování" reforem z hlediska nástrojů politického marketingu. Vzhledem k tomu, že je v angličtině, je dostupná i zahraničním čtenářům. Uveřejňuji na několik pokračování vybrané pasáže v rámci seriálu o reformách. Dnes uveřejňuji úvod práce.


The goal of this thesis is examination and evaluation of the use of political marketing in the Czech Republic in the context of election to the Chamber of Deputies in 2013. This election was exceptional in many aspects. It was not the first election in which parties used sophisticated political marketing methods, but it was the first time for many people to realize, on the success of party ANO 2011, huge potential of political marketing.

Main hypothesis of this paper is that Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO 2011) was the only truly market oriented party (as defined by the theory) competing in the election to the Chamber of Deputies in 2013. In other words, the goal of this work is to verify hypothesis that the political marketing strategies and marketing approach were effective and integral part of ANO's election campaign.

Surprising success of ANO in Czech parliamentary elections in 2013 was definitely highlight of those elections. Even though ANO finished second behind Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) it was still rated by many experts as the winner. The question is how important was the role of political marketing in ANO's success. Some observers believe that skillful execution of political marketing strategies was the key, while others contribute ANO's success purely to the biggest advertisement budget and political circumstances.      

In this election, ČSSD received the highest number of votes (20.45 per cent), but considering expected results, real winners were arguably two new anti-establishment parties that got to the parliament: Tomio Okamura's Dawn of Direct Democracy, which polled 6.88 per cent, and ANO of the agro-food billionaire Andrej Babiš. ANO's 18.65 per cent share of the vote – the highest number for any new party in the 20 year history of the Czech Republic – propelled it from an extra-parliamentary obscurity to the second place.

Both new parties/movements are essentially populist creations which make what Slovak political scientist Peter Účen (cited in Hanley, 2013) terms a ‘centrist populist' appeal lambasting established elites as corrupt and ineffective and promising to remake the political system.  Their stances on economic and cultural issues are devoid of the ideological radicalism of far-right or far-left populism.

Political marketing is used, in some degree, by almost all political parties around the world. Despite its proliferation, there is still a lot of confusion about its role and effect on society. Proliferation of political marketing is natural result of weakening role of political parties and ‘consumerization' of politics. Issues related to political marketing often stir controversy, confusion and criticism. Sometimes political marketing is perceived as a mere election campaigning tool with very little impact on election results beside its advertising function. The opposite extreme is when it is perceived as a cause of all negative aspects of current politics. Sometimes political marketing is even suspected of corrupting democratic processes through the usage of propaganda tactics and manipulations. Such simplified views are misleading. The complementary goal of this work is to clear out some of these misconceptions.

Election campaign is fascinated dynamic process. It starts with market research analysis of the market, strategy preparation and implementation of that strategy. It also includes writing of election program, preparation and organization of election rallies, selection and preparation of candidates. Then there is fierce contest with competition over each undecided voter. Contemporary campaigns often include combination of highly sophisticated empirical methods which are trying directly affect voters and their emotions.

This topic was chosen because political marketing influence all of us through the choice of our elected officials. Political marketing as a discipline is still not widely known and understood in the Czech Republic. It is a peculiar discipline which has been finding its way into Czech politics since first democratic elections in 1990s. Many people perceive political marketing merely as advertising, but its role is more complex. In the current environment the importance of political marketing is increasing in the same time as the importance of traditional political parties and their ideologies is decreasing.

It is important to perceive political marketing in broader context. It is not just about "selling” politicians or programs using political advertising. It would also be simplification to say that it reduces politics as public service merely to a creation of a likeable offer and hence that it supports populism. This conception is fuelled by theories that the process of political marketing is same as selling any other product (Kotler, 1999; Newman, 1994). These ideas are not very helpful. It is important to note that values, principles and attitudes play important role in politics. At least in theory, political marketing should not be so much about selling as it should be about creating long-term mutually beneficial relationship between a politician and a voter.

Political marketing is sometimes blamed for increasing financial investment to the campaigns, manipulation with voters or for the use of negative marketing. Political campaigns and activities related to political marketing are sometimes perceived too narrowly, only as the use of communication and media. This approach actually ignores the whole concept and theory of political market and marketing aspects. This issue is also often simplified by assertion that the use of political marketing is related to increased overall global consumption where politics is just another product. If this assertion was true, all parties would be using political marketing. However, the reality is different, the extent by which parties use political marketing varies widely. Application of political marketing depends on party's resources, political system and also on understanding of its capabilities.        

This work consists of two main parts: Theoretical and Practical. These parts are further divided into chapters. Theoretical part explains main terms and current trends in political marketing research including its history, development, concepts and methods.

Practical part describes Czech political market and issues related to parliamentary elections to the Chamber of Deputies in 2013. Analysis of all parties/movements which received more than 5 % of votes are included (ČSSD, ANO 2011, KSČM, TOP 09, ODS, KDU-ČSL AND ÚSVIT). Theory of market oriented party (based on Lees-Marshment and Newman model) is than applied on those parties to determine their orientation and strategy. This method is also used to test the main hypothesis. Practical part includes also overall election overview together with explanation of general political circumstances in that time because there is no doubt that political circumstances played to the cards of the new protest parties (ANO 2011 and ÚSVIT).     

Although in 2013 election political marketing methods were not used for the first time in the Czech Republic, it still presented some new concepts which have never been used before.  One of those new concepts was permanent campaigning when ANO started new campaign already one month after the election.

Practical part includes overview of the development of political campaigns in recent years in the Czech Republic and abroad. In particular, it tries to introduce the concept of postmodern campaign and the role of political marketing.

Postmodern campaign is the last phase of political campaign development and also phenomena which reflects change of social reality. Postmodern campaign involves professional consultants, advertisements, opinion polls, marketing methods, electronic media etc. On the other hand, it also strengthens the role of politicians as campaign coordinators on local level. Also the government plays important role as a subject of permanent campaign. In the same time, the process of modernization has an impact on voters' behavior. With increasing media independence and their broader scope of activity, party's bonds with voters are loosening, changeability of voters' behavior is increasing and political engagement decreasing. One of the ways the low engagement is demonstrated is through low voter turnout. Increasing influence of political marketing is response to this decreased voter's engagement. Detailed long term planning includes all parts of the political competition, from the candidates, throughout primary election, program, presentation in media, up to the campaign itself. One of the important aspects of postmodern campaign is the increased role of electronic media, especially the Internet. Social networks were not used by Czech political parties in 2013 for the first time, but their application has never been so widespread. It is likely that the Internet's influence on structure of political parties will increase in similar way as it happened with television.

Andrej Babiš invested considerable financial resources in the campaign, hired best experts in the profession including reputable American agency PSB and surrounded himself with many celebrities. ANO's program was centralist with the goal to attract voters from both sides of the political spectrum. In the campaign, ANO was distinguishing itself from existing political elites, which were described as lazy, incompetent and corrupt.

Modern political parties/projects are finishing historical evolution of political party secularization (process of diminishing ideologies). These parties are no longer asking: "how will we sell our ideas to public?”, because they do not have their own ideas or ideology. Before entering politics, market oriented party runs political market research and finds out what people want (e.g. "get politicians out”) and then it offers them relevant offer. "Left” or "right” increasingly play a role of mere emotional product sticker (Mlejnek, 2014). As the focus of voter behavior research shifts towards impact of emotions like fear, anxiety, hope, social identity on voters' decision making, rational choice theory is increasingly questionable. These tendencies undermine the idea that voters so predominantly reason in their decision making.

Conclusion summarizes and interprets findings which are most relevant to the testing of hypothesis and to other complementary goals. Hopefully this work broadens and stimulates further discussion about political marketing.

(to be continued)

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