UMass Amherst Professor Emeritus Served as Observer During Recent German Elections

AMHERST, Mass. - The Sept. 27 election of Gerhard Schroeder as the German chancellor-elect was marked by an Americanization of the German election process, according to Gerard Braunthal, a retired University of Massachusetts political science professor. The election was reminiscent of the slick, media-driven campaigns that brought President Bill Clinton to office in the U.S. and made Tony Blair prime minister in Great Britain, says Braunthal.

The style and feel of the election were new to Germany, according to Braunthal. "There was a definite Americanization of the campaign," he says. "In Dortmund, Schroeder spoke in a huge hall full of supporters. There was loud music and two huge television screens on either side of the podium." When Schroeder entered the hall, he walked down the center of the room, through the crowd, more like a show business personality than a candidate, Braunthal says.

Braunthal toured Germany during the last 10 days of the campaign as an observer and says the election that ousted conservative incumbent Chancellor Helmut Kohl after 16 years marks a major philosophical change for that country. It is the first time in the post-World War II era that voters in Germany elected a left-of-center majority in parliament, Braunthal says. That new majority in the Bundestag (the lower house of parliament) is expected to approve Schroeder as the new chancellor tomorrow.

Kohl also adopted the new style of campaigning, Braunthal says, but his message didn’t resonate as well as Schroeder’s call for a vaguely defined "New Middle" for German politics. He says all the major German parties now use live bands to warm up audiences at rallies and have adopted slick campaign posters and advertisements that focus on the candidates rather than on the issues.

Debate centered on domestic politics, with Schroeder calling for a phase-out of nuclear power, liberalized citizenship laws, some higher taxes on gasoline and other fuels, and jobs and apprenticeship programs for young people.

Braunthal traveled throughout western Germany and attended two rallies in eastern Germany during his tour, which was sponsored by Inter Nationes and the Press and Information Office of the Federal Government of Germany.