• political communication;
  • election campaigning;
  • professionalisation;
  • political parties;
  • comparison


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Campaign Professionalism and Professionalisation
  4. Data and Method
  5. Empirical Findings
  6. Discussion
  7. References
  8. Biographies
  9. Supporting Information

In this article, we address the problem of measuring the professionalism of political campaigns in national parliamentary and European Parliamentary elections by means of a comparative analysis. We use party-level campaign data from two fairly similar EU member states, Germany and Finland, and eight elections between 2004 and 2011. The data are used to build an index of campaign professionalism which significantly improves previous measures by giving more attention to various campaign strategies instead of focusing only on material resources. Theoretically, our analysis is based on the so-called party-centred theory of professionalism. We hypothesise that in addition to an increase in party-level campaign professionalism over time and higher levels of professionalism in campaigning in national parliamentary elections, professionalism is also positively associated with a party's size and its right-wing orientation. We find support for the time effect, party size and emphasis on national-level elections. However, contrary to our theoretical reasoning, the political left turns out to harbour the most professional parties.

Faced with some fundamental changes in the socio-cultural, political and media environment, political parties have substantially altered their organisational structures and communicative strategies. There is evidence that parties have widened their focus in recent years, not only from party to media logics (Mazzoleni and Schulz, 1999; Strömbäck, 2008), but also from ‘selling’ to ‘marketing’ (Lees-Marshment et al., 2010; Strömbäck, 2007). Such transformations are repeatedly discussed under the heading of ‘professionalisation’, most often during election campaigns.

Although commonly used, the concept of professionalisation is still somewhat underdeveloped (Negrine, 2007). In addition to theoretical difficulties, the small number of empirical studies of the professionalisation of parties' political communication can be criticised on several grounds. First of all, most studies refrain from longitudinal designs which are required for testing process-related transformations such as ‘professionalisation’ (Tenscher, 2013). Second, there is a lack of comparative cross-sectional research which is needed to detect differences and/or similarities in the electoral campaigning in different countries (De Vreese, 2009; Swanson and Mancini, 1996; Tenscher and Mykkänen, 2013). Last but not least, studies that would directly compare parties' campaign engagement during elections on different levels in one country have so far never been attempted. Most of the empirical work focuses on first-order national elections (for Germany, Holtz-Bacha, 2007; Tenscher, 2005). The few studies dealing with other campaign levels are either descriptive and/or operate with analogies and indirect comparisons to the first-order level of campaigning.1

As a consequence, a direct cross-national and inter-temporal comparison of political parties' campaign professionalisation in both first- and second-order elections is missing. Such an approach would help us test three core hypotheses of contemporary political communication research: one assumption, which has yet to be tested, is that political parties undergo a process of professionalisation in the sense of becoming more professionalised from one campaign to the next. Here, examples concerning one specific campaign are often substituted for empirical evidence coming from a series of campaigns (as an exception, see Tenscher, 2013; Tenscher and Mykkänen, 2013). A second assumption is that political parties differentiate their campaigning between first- and second-order elections (Reif and Schmitt, 1980; Tenscher, 2006). With the mass media's and voters' reduced commitment to European elections in mind, this notion seems very plausible (e.g. Maier et al., 2011). However, it has never been systematically analysed. Third, it is hypothesised that there are differences between countries and political parties in the degree of campaign professionalisation (Gibson and Römmele, 2009; Tenscher and Mykkänen, 2013; Tenscher et al., 2012). However, it is unclear whether these differences are stable over time, nor which factors – country, party, election type or time – affect the degree of professionalisation.

Against this backdrop, we will look at German and Finnish parties' campaigns in all national parliamentary elections (NP) and European parliamentary elections (EP) taking place between 2004 and 2011. This design allows us to test the above-mentioned hypotheses as well as the assumption of a time lag in professionalisation between first-order and second-order election campaigns. The countries chosen are quite similar with regard to their political, media and party systems and – to some degree – even the characteristics of their political cultures. Germany and Finland belong to the so-called North/Central European or democratic corporatist model of media and politics (Hallin and Mancini, 2004, pp. 143–97) which facilitates comparisons on the meso level of the political parties. Yet the countries show some relevant differences as well, making country-level analysis also meaningful.

Before we look at the empirical findings (fourth section), we briefly substantiate the concept of professional campaigning (second section) from which a model of campaign measurement and our hypotheses are derived (third section). Finally, our findings are summarised and discussed.

Campaign Professionalism and Professionalisation

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Campaign Professionalism and Professionalisation
  4. Data and Method
  5. Empirical Findings
  6. Discussion
  7. References
  8. Biographies
  9. Supporting Information

The planning, organisation and conducting of electoral campaigns have never been static, but are rather parts of a long-lasting process of transformation. Still, regardless of their historical dimension, respective changes in campaigning have attracted special attention in the last three decades (Papathanassopoulos et al., 2007; Strömbäck, 2009, pp. 96–7). This is due to some new and highly visible features of the US presidential election campaigns which have stimulated both European campaign practice and campaign research (e.g. Xifra, 2011). The most prominent features include the set-up of ‘war rooms’, the emergence of ‘spin doctors’ and other campaign consultants, and an increase in the willingness of the political elite to externalise campaign activities and to use TV talk shows for their self-presentation (for Germany, see Holtz-Bacha, 2010, pp. 9–13; Tenscher, 2007, p. 67). Yet these are still symptoms of more deep-rooted structural and strategic transformations that parties and other political organisations have experienced, the most important ones being:

  • political parties' and elites' tendency to cater consistently to the needs of the electoral market, electoral campaign and electoral success (process of marketisation);
  • an enduring effort on the part of political parties and other political actors to adapt to journalistic expectations and to media logics (process of mediatisation); and
  • political parties' and other political actors' striving for a permanent, professional and strategically planned communication management (process of professionalisation).

These transformations point to modernisation-related adaptations of political actors facing changes in their political, socio-cultural and media environment. The impact of such transformations is not campaign related or temporary, but permanent. Furthermore, it is not restricted to political parties; all actors in the political realm are affected by respective transformations (Holtz-Bacha, 2010, pp. 13–8). This fact becomes obvious when we look at organisational structures and daily political communication practices.

The transformations outlined have repeatedly been summarised as phases which are said to be different in their communicative modes, structures and strategies and which are defined as premodern (party- and organisation-centred), modern (candidate-centred) and postmodern (message- and marketing-driven) phases (Blumler and Kavanagh, 1999; Norris, 2000, pp. 137–47; Plasser and Plasser, 2003, pp. 4–7). However, although widely used, this model may be too undifferentiated, especially when it is linked to specific time periods.

For instance, interpreted as a diffusion process (‘Americanisation’), the three-phase model could be seen as an evolving transnational pattern of uniformity. Yet such an assumption neglects the cultural and historic path dependency of modernisation processes, that is, culture and context-specific impacts on political campaigning (Plasser and Plasser, 2003, p. 17; Xifra, 2011). Furthermore, phase models usually set an endpoint: the ‘postmodern’ phase. But what happens with political communication after that? One might also question whether every country really reaches that endpoint irrespective of institutional and cultural limits which might, for example, prevent ‘permanent campaigns’ (Blumenthal, 1980; Ornstein and Mann, 2000)? Phase models usually also refer to countries or wider geographical units such as (sub)continents, but neglect intra-systemic variances, that is, differences in political campaigning on the meso level of parties. Finally, phase models rather implicitly look at national first-order parliamentary or presidential election campaigns. Although this might be the main focus of contemporary political communication research, it does not cover differences related to the type of election.

It may happen that different political parties simultaneously use ‘postmodern’, ‘modern’ and ‘premodern’ techniques, differentiate between first-order (national) and second-order (European and sub-national) campaigns by choosing different communicative tools and channels, and intentionally change their means of communication, although they formally belong to other phases. We would argue that it is exactly this mix of strategic and structural components of different phases that characterises professional campaign management (Tenscher, 2007) as flexible adaptation.

Therefore, the term ‘professionalisation’ does not stand for a specific communication phase. Rather, it indicates ‘a process of change … that … brings a better and more efficient organization of resources and skills in order to achieve desired objectives, whatever they might be’ (Papathanassopoulos et al., 2007, p. 10) in given circumstances. In this sense, campaign professionalisation should not be confused with progress towards more advanced methods of campaigning or with an improvement in campaign communication techniques. It is more apt to say that campaign professionalisation is a name given to a combination of material practices and techniques which aim at maximisation of electoral goals in a changing political and media environment (Negrine and Lilleker, 2002). Thus, if we are interested in the degree of professionalism of a party's electoral campaign, we have to examine the organisation of resources and take into account the desired opportunities and objectives. Those objectives might range – at least at first-order elections (see below) – from vote seeking to office seeking or policy seeking (Gibson and Römmele, 2001, pp. 26–7).

Obviously, such an approach to the professionalism of electoral campaigns asks for an investigation of the meso level, that is, the political parties involved. Comparing parties' campaign activities results in an investigation of the way parties adapt to modernisation-related transformations – or in an analysis of the objectives that a party strives to achieve by using specific resources and skills. In doing so, we may also detect the degree of campaign professionalism in comparison to other parties (Gibson and Römmele, 2009; Gibson et al., 2009; Strömbäck, 2009). Furthermore, longitudinal comparisons between two or more points of measurement may reveal information about the process of professionalisation, that is, about changes in the professionalism of parties' campaign management.

The differentiation between professionalism and professionalisation is important, especially since most studies measure only one specific point in time and sometimes extrapolate the results to the process of professionalisation. In our study, both perspectives are taken into account, and are extended to a cross-national comparison of parties' campaigns in two elections which a priori have a diverging relevance: national first-order elections and European second-order elections (Reif and Schmitt, 1980; Tenscher, 2006; 2013). By looking at these two campaign types we can test how political parties differentiate in spending their resources, that is, to what extent their campaign professionalism varies.

While the three-phase model predicts an ongoing process of modernisation and professionalisation of parties' campaign engagement, the second-order hypothesis suggests that professionalism is lower at second-order elections. This might be explained by the peculiarities of the political and media environment at EP election campaign times. On the one hand, citizens and voters have always been less interested in EP elections than NP elections. In addition to that, most voters have tended to frame EP elections as just another contest within the national arena (for a summary, see Tenscher, 2006, pp. 119–20). On the other hand, EP election coverage has, although slightly gaining in visibility (Schuck et al., 2010, p. 46), been rather ‘ephemeral’ compared to NP elections, and it has also been low in ‘Europeanness’. That has supported the development of Europeanised but domestically oriented campaigns, but it has not yet led to a pan-European public sphere (e.g. Pfetsch, 2008).

Both assumptions can be illustrated with the help of hypothetical vectors that indicate the degree of a party's campaign professionalism as it is manifested in two consecutive European and national parliamentary elections (Figure 1). Due to the inherent differences between parties, processes of de-professionalisation between elections of the same type are also plausible in principle: the degree of professionalism at the first measuring point (t1) would then be higher than at the following point in time (t2). Black and grey vectors represent these developments.2


Figure 1. Professionalism and (De-)Professionalisation of Election Campaigns

Source: Tenscher, 2013, p. 245.

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Data and Method

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Campaign Professionalism and Professionalisation
  4. Data and Method
  5. Empirical Findings
  6. Discussion
  7. References
  8. Biographies
  9. Supporting Information

Selection of Countries and Data Collection

We wanted to include in our comparison countries that are to some extent similar but not identical on the macro level. This decision was taken in order to reveal differences on the party level, which is our main locus of interest, but also to allow for potential country-level variation. Germany's and Finland's political, party and media systems are quite alike. They share a parliamentary political system, their party systems are pluralistic with slight variations and their media systems are democratic-corporatist (Hallin and Mancini, 2004; Table 1). The most notable differences relate to voting systems and coalition formation. The voting system encourages – in Finland fully, in Germany only partly – individual candidate campaigns. Finland has a tradition of multiparty coalition governments that may bridge the left–right cleavage, whereas Germany usually follows a block-based government model with a clear emphasis on the left–right split. The countries also differ somewhat in their relation to the European Union: Germany is an original member with the largest number of delegates in the European Parliament, whereas Finland, with a much smaller population, entered the EU in 1995. The length of membership of both countries is long enough to allow parties to develop a relatively stable manner of campaigning in the European elections. Finally, but importantly, the countries were typical in their low levels of voter turnout in the last two EP elections: neither made it over the 50 per cent mark. In addition, in both countries roughly 70 per cent of the voters cast their ballot in the last national elections.

Table 1. Country Characteristics
  1. a

    One member (from the Åland Islands) is elected with a simple majority vote at both NP and EP elections.

Political systemParliamentary democracyParliamentary democracy
Model of media and politicsDemocratic corporatistDemocratic corporatist
Party systemModerate pluralisticModerate pluralistic
NP voting systemProportional candidate/ party voting – 2 votes in 299 districts (d'Hondt)Proportional candidate/party voting – 1 vote in 15 districtsa (d'Hondt)
Turnout NP elections in 2005 (GER)/2007 (FIN) (in %)77.767.9
Turnout NP elections in 2009 (GER)/2011 (FIN) (in %)70.870.5
Number of parties in current NP69
Government formationBlockCoalition
EP voting systemProportional party voting – 1 vote in 1 district (d'Hondt)Proportional candidate/party voting – 1 vote in 1 district (d'Hondt)
Turnout EP elections in 2004 (in %)43.039.4
Turnout EP elections in 2009 (in %)43.340.3
Number of parties in current EP67
Campaign regulationModerateModerate

In pairing the countries, we also considered the legal frameworks that regulate political campaigns by setting restrictions on spending and advertising. Finland is characterised by its liberal to moderate stance. There are no spending limits for campaining activities. Television and radio advertising are allowed on commercial channels to an unlimited extent. The state-owned public broadcasting company YLE does not allow political advertising in any form. Candidates, providing that they are not YLE journalists, can appear in the company's programmes without restrictions. Unlike spending, fund-raising is regulated so that a party can accept annual donations up to €30,000 from a single source. A candidate in local elections can do the same up to €3,000. In NP elections the limit is €6,000 and in European elections it is €10,000. Parties are required to keep public accounts, and candidates must report all single donations that exceed €1,500. All donations must be traced to a named source. In advertising, the funding source must be identified. These regulations apply more effectively to individual candidates, because Finnish parties operate mostly on state subsidies.

Germany can also be classified as moderate in campaign regulations. All regulations in Germany refer to political parties and not single candidates, and there are no differences between NP and EP elections. Parties are allowed to display posters six weeks before election day (depending on community law) and to air electoral advertisments on TV and radio between the 31st and the second-to-last day before the election. Each of the two public TV broadcasters, ARD and ZDF, has to broadcast party spots free of charge and according to the principle of ‘graduated equal opportunities’. This rule guarantees SPD and CDU, the two biggest catch-all parties, eight 90-second slots on each channel, with other parties receiving fewer slots. The idea of allocating slots according to party size applies to commercial channels, too. Here parties are invited to buy slots to broadcast their commercials. Yet most of the parties have abstained from this opportunity so far due to the costs and their limited resources (Tenscher, 2011, p. 75).

Parties' finances depend on a system of mixed financing in Germany. The most important sources are: membership fees, party donations, public contributions (payment of electoral expenses) and delegate levies. There is no limit on how much a single source might donate, but all donations exceeding €10,000 must be published in a party's annual report.

From within these two countries we chose all the parties that had at least one delegate in the national or European Parliament as well as those parties that were expected to get at least one seat in the elections. In total, six German parties for each of the 2004, 2005 and 2009 elections were selected for data collection. In Finland five parties for the 2007 NP elections, six for the 2004 EP elections and eight for the 2009 EP and 2011 NP elections were included. In total, our study covers 51 different party campaigns (in Germany two elections were held in 2009). Each country team approached the parties and arranged to interview the campaign managers or their equivalents immediately after the elections. The interviews were conducted personally in Finland and in written form in Germany in the aftermath of each of the national and European parliamentary elections. The questionnaire consisted of twenty questions, covering different aspects of campaign structures and campaign strategies (see online Appendix). It was designed to be used as a thematic guide either in personal interviews or in a survey. Even though the statements of the campaign managers might have been biased in the light of the electoral outcome, this method was assumed to be the most valid way to get insights into the campaign reality (Gibson et al., 2009, p. 463).

A Model of Campaign Measurement

There are several indicators for changes of professionalisation that have become quite obvious in first-order electoral campaigns with regard to both the organisational level and the campaign strategies. While the structure (although not stable) reflects the organisational preconditions for campaigning, analogous to ‘hardware’, the strategic conducting of a campaign constitutes a party's ‘software’. Since they have been discussed intensively in campaign literature (e.g. Esser and Strömbäck, 2012; Tenscher et al., 2012), we rely on the following indicators to measure degrees of professionalism of campaign structures and campaign strategies. For campaign structures the indicators are:

  • a growing structural, financial and personal capability for cost-intensive and long-term to permanent campaigning (Blumenthal, 1980; Ornstein and Mann, 2000), which includes the centralisation of the campaign organisation (Plasser and Plasser, 2003, p. 6) and the use of telemarketing or direct mail for intra-party purposes (Gibson and Römmele, 2009, pp. 269–71). These indicators are transformed into the following items that we use for measuring the professionalism of campaign structures: (1) the size of the election campaign budget (per eligible voter), (2) the size of the campaign staff, (3) the duration of the campaign (in months), (4) the centralisation of the campaign organisation3 and (5) the differentiation of the internal communication structures (i.e. different communication techniques such as email or sms);
  • a process of professionalisation of campaign activities and actors, which includes a process of consulting, externalisation and commercialisation of specific campaign tasks (Blumler and Kavanagh, 1999; Esser and Strömbäck, 2012, p. 290). These facets of professional campaigning are transformed to one item: (6) the degree of externalisation (i.e. the number of outside agencies);
  • a change from ‘selling’ to ‘marketing’ the political product (e.g. Norris, 2000, p. 171), which includes the use of market intelligence, opposition research, feedback tools, opinion polls, etc. (Gibson and Römmele, 2001; Strömbäck, 2009, p. 103). These indicators are converted into two items: (7) the nature and degree of feedback (surveys and focus groups) and (8) the degree of opposition research (a simple dichotomy).

For campaign strategies the indicators are:

  • enduring efforts to influence media agendas and shape public images by continuous event and news management activities (‘agenda building and priming’) (Manheim, 1991). The respective item for this indicator is (9) the degree of event and news management (not at all, sporadically, frequently);
  • a focus on free media channels, particularly the broad spectrum of television formats including entertainment and talk shows (Norris, 2000, pp. 170–2; Plasser and Plasser, 2003, pp. 4–6). These facets are transformed into two items: (10) the relevance of free media (a count of different media types) and (11) the relevance of talk shows;
  • an additional use of paid media platforms such as TV or radio spots, posters, ads, etc. (De Vreese, 2009; Wring, 2001). This is measured by one item: (12) the relevance of paid media (a count of different media types);
  • a segmentation of voters into target groups who are contacted by narrowcasting and micro-targeting (e.g. direct mail, direct email, direct calling, canvassing) (Gibson and Römmele, 2001; 2009; Strömbäck, 2009, pp. 101–2). These indicators are reflected in (13) the degree of audience targeting (a count of different target groups) and (14) the degree of narrowcasting activities (again, a count of different communication techniques);
  • a strategic focus on the frontrunner who acts as principal agent of the political party (‘personalisation’) (e.g. Adam and Maier, 2010, p. 224; Blumler and Kavanagh, 1999, pp. 213–4). Therefore, another item is (15) the degree of personalisation (from issue-oriented to personalised campaign).

The elements of the model are depicted in Figure 2 (a detailed measurement scheme can be consulted in the online Appendix). We assume that the more these elements are integrated into an electoral campaign, the more ‘professional’ it becomes (Gibson and Römmele, 2009; Strömbäck, 2009; Tenscher et al., 2012). The measuring instrument should facilitate international, inter-temporal and election-type-specific comparisons. It should also adequately reflect differences between the campaign efforts of the various parties, which, in their capacity to adjust to both internal and external changes, are the primary agents of professional campaigning. Such a party-related model was introduced by Rachel Gibson and Andrea Römmele (2001; 2009) and slightly adjusted by Jesper Strömbäck (2009). Despite its general applicability, the so-called ‘CAMPROF index’ is on the one hand biased towards ‘new’ media technologies, which impedes longitudinal comparisons. For this reason, our alternative take on measuring campaign professionalism puts much less emphasis on internet-based technologies, such as Facebook or Twitter. On the other hand, the CAMPROF index looks exclusively at campaign structures (finances, personnel, infrastructure and communicative resources), thereby neglecting strategic adaptations. However, as mentioned above, party transformations take place on the organisational and the strategic level, regardless of the type (first or second order) of election.


Figure 2. The Composition of the Campaign Professionalisation Index

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The party-centred theory of professionalised campaigning was originally developed in the context of first-order elections, and therefore requires some justification before applying it in second-order electoral contexts. The question of party goals is important here; there may, indeed, be differences in campaign strategies between the types of election. Parties may not be vote maximisers in every election and may proceed at lower levels of campaign professionalism. Yet it is important to remember that the theory itself is neutral as to the electoral context, which means that campaign strategies may change from one election to the next according to party preferences. If second-order elections are not deemed vital by parties in terms of their share of the vote, it is highly probable that this preference is reflected in the way campaigns are organised. Thus, any systematic variation in campaign professionalism between election types can be explained by reference to party preferences or electoral context without changing the party-centred theory itself.

Keeping the party-centred theory as our explanatory base, we have proposed a modified and expanded index of campaign professionalism which consists of two sub-indices: campaign structures and campaign strategies (Tenscher et al., 2012). Both indices incorporate a number of components that are measured on different scales and added to those indices (see online Appendix). This means that the more extensively a campaign element is used, the higher it scores on the indices.4 The index of ‘campaign structures’ consists of the outlined items (1) to (8).5 The index of ‘campaign strategies’ consists of the outlined items (9) to (15).

Most of these items are objectively measured variables, that is, the information is publicly available. However, for the strategic side of a campaign, it is not only the objective ‘reality’ that is relevant, but also the intersubjectively shared perceptions of a party's reality (Gibson et al., 2009, pp. 460–2). Therefore we include subjectively measured variables, too, such as the relevance of free media, paid media or talk shows. Concerning those variables we turn to the evaluations of the campaign managers in charge.

All items are measured by scores, with a score of 24 representing the maximum for the campaign structure index and a score of 26 for the campaign strategy index (details can be found in the online Appendix). For the analyses, absolute scores were transformed into z-scores, which equalise differences of scales and distributions of single items. As z-scores have no easily interpreted high and low points, we decided to force both indices to a 0–100 range. The index values are therefore relative and pertain to this study only. Cronbach's alpha was calculated for both indices. In both cases it was .63. Although this value just fails to reach the .70 level commonly taken as a standard, we decided to keep the indices intact for theoretical reasons. In the end, both indices fit together, and they reflect the most prominent components of professional campaigning in both a structural and a strategic sense.


We have already indicated that campaign professionalism, or professional political communication, should not be confused with linear progress through time. Rather, the means and strategies of what we call professional campaigning should more properly be seen as adaptation to changing circumstances and available resources. The present time apparently favours the use of assets and campaign styles that our indices are intended to measure. In this limited sense, we may assume that in the short run political campaigns are becoming more professionalised. Hence, as a baseline, we hypothesise that the level of professionalism of a party's campaign is higher than its respective professionalism at the previous election of the same type (H1). We assume this to be the case both for campaign structures (H1a) and campaign strategies (H1b).

The baseline hypotheses should be qualified with contextual factors, such as the type of election and a country's political culture. The idea of first- and second-order campaigning (Cayrol, 1991; De Vreese, 2009; Tenscher, 2013) gives rise to our second hypothesis. The professionalism of a party's campaign in a first-order (NP) election is higher than its respective professionalism in the previous second-order (EP) election (H2). This assumption holds true for both campaign structures (H2a) and campaign strategies (H2b). Our earlier research indicates that there are relatively stable differences between German and Finnish parties, with the German parties' campaign structures (H3a) and strategies (H3b) being more professionalised than their Finnish equivalents (Tenscher and Mykkänen, 2013).

Finally, the parties themselves are an obvious source of variation in explaining campaign professionalism (Gibson and Römmele, 2001; Strömbäck, 2009). Big parties with ample organisational resources may be more likely to resort to professionalised campaigning than small parties with leaner capabilities (H4a). This applies particularly to campaign structures, whereas professional campaign strategies, which are less dependent on material resources, may not be linked to party size (H4b). It also seems probable that outsourcing and marketing as campaign activities are more difficult to put to use on the political left, where politicians are traditionally suspicious of all forms of commodification of politics (H5).

Empirical Findings

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Campaign Professionalism and Professionalisation
  4. Data and Method
  5. Empirical Findings
  6. Discussion
  7. References
  8. Biographies
  9. Supporting Information

If we closely examine the development of the degree of professionalism, hypothesis H1a is confirmed (Table 2): the measure of structural professionalism of all Finnish and German parties' campaigns in the last NP elections was higher than it was in the next to last national elections. The signs of all differences in index points are positive.6 The same general observation holds true for the EP elections, with larger margins. This gives us some indication of the process of campaign professionalisation which takes place not only between first-order national elections but also between second-order elections (H1). Since the change in professionalism between the 2004 and 2009 EP elections is stronger than the change between national elections in Germany and Finland, the gap between first-order and second-order professionalism concerning the political parties' ‘hardware’ has diminished, which is a sign that parties are paying more attention to European elections than before. These observations are based on average developments, which is somewhat more problematic when we look at the party level. Individual parties show a good deal of variance in their professionalism, hence the weak support of statistical tests (the German EP elections are an exception).

Table 2. Development of Parties' Campaign Structure Indices
Social Democratic Party (SDP)72.099.4+27.451.066.0+15.0
National Coalition (KOK)56.370.6+14.342.357.2+14.9
Centre Party (KESK)54.255.3+1.135.855.3+19.5
Left Alliance (VAS)53.662.8+9.230.963.3+22.4
Green Party (VIHR)45.064.9+19.927.159.5+32.4
Christian Democrats (KD) 41.8  40.2 
Swedish People's Party (RKP) 42.9 32.043.1+11.1
True Finns (PS) 22.3  0.0 
 F = 0.014, p = 0.91F = 1.520, p = 0.24
Social Democratic Party (SPD)90.398.1+7.848.764.1+15.4
Christian Democratic Party (CDU)68.7100.0+31.328.682.7+54.1
Liberal Party (FDP)49.170.0+20.927.266.9+39.7
Leftist Party (Die Linke)46.866.0+19.214.856.6+41.8
Green Party (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen)39.373.0+33.727.260.6+33.4
Christian Social Party (CSU)35.242.6+7.438.550.0+11.5
 F = 2.690, p = 0.13F = 24.506, p = ≤0.001

While the development of parties' campaign structures supports the idea of professionalisation as a process, changes in campaign strategies are more complex (Table 3). The supposed rise in professionalism in all Finnish parties has taken place between the national elections of 2007 and 2011. Changes vary between +8.1 (Centre Party) and +49.2 (Left Alliance) points. On the other hand, German parties – with the exception of the FDP – gained in professionalism only between the 2004 and 2009 EP elections. The Liberals, although structurally handicapped, had a clear lead in a strategic sense over their competitors in 2004. At that time, the FDP was the most professionalised party, showing the highest degrees of mediatisation, target-group orientation and personalisation, despite having the smallest budget of all political parties represented in the German Bundestag (Tenscher, 2006, p. 129). Correlating to that high level of professionalism, it had only minimal losses between 2004 and 2009.

Table 3. Development of Parties' Campaign Strategy Indices
Social Democratic Party (SDP)48.569.8+21.364.252.6−11.6
National Coalition (KOK)43.659.9+16.348.470.1+21.7
Centre Party (KESK)43.952.0+−2.3
Left Alliance (VAS)22.972.1+−2.1
Green Party (VIHR)36.667.4+30.840.568.0+27.5
Christian Democrats (KD) 55.5  74.7 
Swedish People's Party (RKP) 68.8 33.758.1+24.4
True Finns (PS) 14.6  21.2 
 F = 3.985, p = 0.07F = 0.610, p = 0.45
Social Democratic Party (SPD)82.887.2+
Christian Democratic Party (CDU)98.1100.0+1.942.880.2+37.4
Liberal Party (FDP)78.274.4−3.863.463.3−0.1
Leftist Party (Die Linke)87.373.6−13.721.353.9+32.6
Green Party (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen)68.976.1+7.236.354.0+17.7
Christian Social Party (CSU)81.464.0−17.441.350.0+8.7
 F = 0.310, p = 0.59F = 7.817, p ≤ 0.05

It seems that the other parties had learned from the 2004 EP campaigns, which had failed to resonate with the public. In addition, the 2009 EP campaigns took place only a couple of weeks before the campaigns for the 2009 national elections started. They ‘were all part and by-product of the campaigns for the general elections in September’ (Brunsbach et al., 2010, p. 91). This is not only reflected in a structural leap (+32.7 points between 2004 and 2009, Table 2), but in a strategic sense, too.

Thus, these two cases – the Finnish NP election campaigns and the German EP election campaigns – would support H1b. This is also confirmed by statistical tests. On the other hand, half of the German parties witnessed a decline in strategic professionalism between the last two NP elections. Since the increases of the other parties were negligible, it seems that there is a kind of ‘ceiling’ in strategic professionalism which German parties have already reached. It adds up to an average of roughly 80.0 points at national parliamentary elections. This is significantly higher than in the EP campaigns in both Germany and Finland, where half of the competing parties in 2004 had also decreased strategically by 2009. Yet the other three Finnish parties gained intensely in strategic professionalism, pushing the overall index above 50 points. In all, Hypothesis 1b can only be partly supported.

Hypothesis 2 states that the professionalism of a party's campaign in an NP election is higher than in the previous EP election. This assumption derives from the notion of first-order and second-order elections (Cayrol, 1991; Tenscher, 2013). It can also be tested by means of index point differences (Table 4). If we start with Germany, Hypothesis 2 is supported for almost all parties in both a structural and a strategic sense. The parties obviously differentiate between first-order and second-order election campaigns. There are only two exceptions to that rule: first, the CSU, which ran the last two EP election campaigns in a way that was structurally more professionalised than the NP election campaigns. Yet it has to be mentioned that the CSU is located only in the federal state of Bavaria: all election campaigns are regionally conducted, but the collaboration with its sister party, the CDU, is more elaborated – organisationally – during national elections. This might explain why the CSU's campaign ‘hardware’ is slightly more professionalised in EP campaigns. Second, the SPD ran the NP election campaign of 2009 in a way that was less professionalised than the EP campaign a few weeks earlier. It is difficult to compensate for such a strategic ‘blackout’ (on a very high level, see Table 2) at the most important election – this might explain why the Social Democrats dramatically lost votes and ended with a historically unprecedented low level of support of 23 per cent (Tenscher, 2011).

Table 4. Changes between European and National Parliamentary Campaign Indices
  1. ***p ≤ 0.001; **p ≤ 0.01; *p ≤ 0.05; p ≤ 0.10 (t-test).

FinlandDiff. 2007/ 2004***Diff. 2011/ 2009Diff. 2007/ 2004Diff. 2011/ 2009
Social Democratic Party (SDP)+21,0+33,4−15,7+17,2
National Coalition (KOK)+14,0+13,4−4,8−10,2
Centre Party (KESK)+18,4±0−12,1−1,8
Left Alliance (VAS)+22,7−0,5+3,7+55,0
Green Party (VIHR)+17,9+5,4−3,9−0,6
Christian Democrats (KD) +1,6 −19,2
Swedish People's Party (RKP) −0,2 +10,7
True Finns (PS) +22,3 −6,6
GermanyDiff. 2005/ 2004*Diff. 2009/ 2009Diff. 2005/ 2004**Diff. 2009/ 2009*
Social Democratic Party (SPD)+41,6+34,0+82,8−6,7
Christian Democratic Party (CDU)+40,1+17,3+55,3+19,8
Liberal Party (FDP)+21,9+3,1+14,8+11,1
Leftist Party (Die Linke)+32,0+9,4+66,0+19,7
Green Party (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen)+12,1+12,4+32,6+22,1
Christian Social Party (CSU)−3,3−7,4+40,1+14,0

In Finland, relationships between first-order and second-order election campaigns are a bit more complex. Only between the 2004 EP elections and the 2007 national elections did all Finnish parties arm their ‘hardware’ as expected. But only one party – the Left Alliance – improved in terms of strategy. In all, the overall strategic measure dropped 6.6 points, which means that the 2007 NP election campaigns were conducted strategically on a lower level than the 2004 EP election campaigns.

Between the 2009 and 2011 elections, all but the Centre Party, the Left Alliance and the Swedish People's Party strengthened their campaign structures. However, the Left Alliance clearly invested strategically (+55 index points), bringing them a strategic lead over all their competitors in 2011. Besides the Left Alliance, the Social Democrats and Swedish People's Party also gained strategically between 2009 and 2011; all other parties campaigned in the 2009 EP election as if it were a first-order election, at least in a strategic sense. In sum, Hypothesis 2a can be confirmed for Germany and Finland. Hypothesis 2b is supported for the German but rejected for the Finnish parties.

Hypothesis 3 states that there are relatively stable differences between the German and Finnish parties, with the German parties' campaign structures (H3a) and strategies (H3b) being more professionalised than their Finnish equivalents. As Figure 3 demonstrates, these assumptions are not confirmed. Differences between the German and Finnish parties are not stable: the difference between campaign strategies increases between the EP elections in 2004 and the following national elections in 2005 and 2007, after which it starts to disappear. Campaign structures are more similar, but the German parties' campaign structures are more professionalised only at the EP elections of 2009.


Figure 3. Changes between Finnish and German Campaign Indices

Note:Figures were calculated using only parties that were measured throughout the time period 2004-11. For this reason, three parties were excluded in the Finnish case (True Finns, Christian Democrats and Swedish People's Party).

Download figure to PowerPoint

Figure 3 almost perfectly supports the argument for a processual nature of professionalisation. The curves correspond to the theoretical assumptions (Figure 1). Finnish parties have become more professionalised both structurally and strategically between elections of the same level. That is also true for the German parties' ‘hardware’. Furthermore, the differentiation between first-order and second-order campaigning receives some empirical backing. The Finnish parties' ‘hardware’ was more professionalised at the national elections than at the previous European elections. Strategically the expected difference was observed between 2009 and 2011, but not between 2004 and 2007. The German parties campaigned on a slightly lower level of professionalism in the NP elections in 2009, which most likely was a result of both elections being scheduled for the same year. Overall, most parties campaign ‘half-heartedly’ at second-order elections, not least to save resources for the first-order election campaigns.

In a next step, we look at Hypothesis 4, which expects differences between bigger and smaller parties, with the former being more professionalised both with regard to campaign structures (H4a) and – to a lesser extent – to campaign strategies (H4b). Hypothesis 4a is clearly supported by Figure 4: at national and European election campaigns the degree of structural professionalism rises with the size of the political parties (F = 7.330; p = 0.002). Concerning campaign strategies, hypothesis H4b has to be dismissed (F = 1.165; p = 0.320). There is no clear linear association between party size and the degree of strategic professionalism. In NP elections, large parties are more professionalised than small and medium-sized parties, but they fall behind medium-sized parties in European elections. Overall, a bivariate analysis reveals that news and event management is the only strategic activity in which big parties outperform others.


Figure 4. Differences in Campaign Professionalism According to Party Size (N = 51)

Note:Based on parties' average vote shares in national parliamentary elections between 1990 and 2009/11 (<10% = small party; 10–20% = medium-sized party; >20% = large party).

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Substantially, it is interesting to look at each structural element more closely on the party level. Out of the eight items measuring structural professionalism, five vary systematically with party size in an expected manner. The bigger the party is, the more it spends money, the more numerous is its campaign staff, the more outside agencies it hires and the more it shows readiness to conduct on-the-fly surveys and focus groups as well as organise monitoring of rival parties (Table 5). Most of these activities require funds or available expertise or both, and quite understandably big parties have an advantage in this. Yet it is equally important to remember that this advantage disappears when we look at the campaign strategies which are relatively easily accessible to all parties regardless of resources. The more visible role of news and event management in the big parties' campaigns can be explained by the greater news value usually attributed to big parties, while smaller parties may not invest in an activity that is less likely to draw media attention. Otherwise, our analysis shows that, strategically speaking, parties of all sizes are quite equal.

Table 5. Party Sizea and Single Items of Campaign Professionalism (%, N = 51)
 Small parties (<10%)Medium-sized parties (10–20%)Large parties (>20%)Total
  1. **p ≤ 0.01; *p ≤ 0.05; p ≤ 0.10 (χ2).

  2. a

    Measured as average support in national parliamentary elections 1990–2009/11.

  3. b

    The category for the maximum item value.

Campaign budget (>10 cents per voter)b224410049**
Hired staff (>50)11217528*
External agencies (>2)22478849*
Feedback tools (surveys and focus groups)11477545*
Opposition research (yes)11627555*
Event and news management (frequent)22626355

Our analysis for the fifth hypothesis, which concerns parties' ideological orientation, reveals a surprise. Rather than right-wing parties, which the party-centred theory (Gibson and Römmele, 2001) would lead us to believe, it is the political left that appears to resort to more professionalised campaigning (Table 6). When we look at our data outside the comparative frame, the moderate left is equipped with the most professional campaign structures. The differences between ideological blocks are not too extensive but, still, the moderate left parties, that is, the Social Democrats in both countries and the German Greens, stand out quite clearly. The moderate right takes the leading position where campaign strategies are concerned. Here the differences are quite minor, the moderate left and right being almost even.

Table 6. Differences in Campaign Professionalism According to Parties' Ideological Orientation (N = 51)
Ideological orientationStructureStrategy
  1. **p ≤ 0.01; *p ≤ 0.05.

Far right11.217.9
Far left49.445.9

Obviously, there are numerous factors that affect the degree of professionalism. After bivariate analyses we wanted to check for the strength of the factors in multivariate, linear regression models. Besides geographic origin, election type, time, party size and ideology we added two party variables into the models as controls, that is, internal and external shock. Both variables derive from the party-centred theory (Gibson and Römmele, 2001). A party may experience an ‘internal shock’ when party leadership changes just before an election. A boost in campaign professionalism can be expected as a means to consolidate new leadership. An ‘external shock’ refers to a significant electoral defeat which a party tries to compensate for in the next election by investing in professional campaigning.

The regression models (Table 7) confirm our bivariate analyses. The degree of structural professionalism is explained quite satisfactorily by the variables included (R2 is .58). It is particularly the election year – signalling a process of continuous professionalisation – the size of the party and ideology that explain the degree of professionalism in the campaign structure. Again, left-wing orientation seems to correlate positively with professionalism. If we relax the standards of significance levels it is possible to say that election type also affects the degree of structural professionalism so that campaigns in NP elections show higher levels of structural professionalism. Thus, the assumption of a two-level process of professionalisation is correct, at least for the structural side of the campaign.

Table 7. OLS Regression Estimates for Campaign Professionalism
 Campaign structures βCampaign strategies β
  1. ***p ≤ 0.001; **p ≤ 0.01; *p ≤ 0.05; p ≤ 0.10.

  2. a

    Measured as party's vote share.

  3. b

    Measured on a 5-point scale (1 = far left > 5 = far right).

  4. c

    Change of party leadership before election (yes, no).

  5. d

    Electoral success in previous election (difference in percentage points).

Country (FIN/GER)0.180.41**
Election type (NP/EP)−0.20−0.27*
Election year0.51***0.24
Party sizea0.51***0.15
Party ideologyb−0.34**0.10
Internal shockc−0.03−0.04
External shockd−0.10−0.20
R2 (adjusted)0.580.28
N = 51  

On the other hand, campaign strategies are primarily dependent on the geographic origin of the parties – with German parties being more professionalised – and on the election type. Once again, the EP election campaigns are conducted on a lower level of professionalism than the NP election campaigns. Since election year barely survives the statistical test and party size and ideology have no proven effect at all on the degree of a campaign's ‘software’, we can assume that the process of strategic professionalisation has already halted. Notwithstanding the national specifics, this might be interpreted as a sign of an already established European-wide style of campaigning open to all parties (Plasser and Plasser, 2003; Tenscher et al., 2012), or better: two styles of European election campaigning, one first-order and one second-order style.

Finally, both models show statistically poor results for the ‘shock’ variables, which is somewhat problematic in the light of predictions derived from the party-centred theory of professionalised campaigning. Consolidating new leadership and coming back after an electoral defeat are indeed prime occasions for campaign professionalism and potential showcases for a party to set its goals high on the scale of vote maximisation. It may of course be that our observations are still too few for establishing a pattern, but nevertheless in our case no sign can be shown that would speak unambiguously in favour of the party-centred theory of professionalised campaigning. True, we were able to produce some evidence that clearly can be traced back to party as an agent of professionalism – especially a choice of not campaigning full steam in EP elections – yet the strongest evidence is related to stable party features and resources rather than context-bound strategic thinking and goal setting.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Campaign Professionalism and Professionalisation
  4. Data and Method
  5. Empirical Findings
  6. Discussion
  7. References
  8. Biographies
  9. Supporting Information

In sum, these results generally support three core assumptions of contemporary political communication research. First of all, a change towards higher degrees of professionalism has taken place in both countries between 2004 and 2009/11. Yet it is a process that occurs primarily on the structural, not the strategic level of election campaigns. Second, the process of professionalisation has taken place on two different levels, the first-order and the second-order campaign levels. First-order election campaigns are in fact more professionalised, both structurally and strategically, than second-order election campaigns. Here for the first time empirical evidence is presented for one of the oldest assumptions of political communication and election research (Reif and Schmitt, 1980), although the results were not completely uniform in support of the hypotheses. Third, variance in campaigning could be detected. The results point to country specifics in campaigning – both structural and strategic.

As we set out to test the party-centred theory in different electoral contexts, we also need to reflect on the explanatory power of the theory. Our conclusion is not uniformly encouraging. Although campaign professionalism is quite clearly more visible in NP elections, we could not find much evidence of parties reacting to changing electoral circumstances as the party-centred theory assumes. Rather, it seems that campaigning follows a stable pattern based on available resources. Big parties invest more money and people in campaign organisations than other parties. True, European elections are consistently less professionalised than NP elections,which certainly is a party choice based on evaluation of the importance of elections; yet for the theory it is not particularly enlightening if all parties are unanimous in their assessment irrespective of different party characteristics. Along with size, ideology was the only characteristic that explained party differences, but in this case the theory's prediction was turned upside down as the left-wing parties were more professionalised than right-wing parties. On second thoughts, this may point to a change in traditional left-wing attitudes that disapprove of marketing logic in politics. This observation may also be linked to the general downward shift in electoral support for European left-wing parties and therefore a sign of parties consciously professionalising their campaigns to turn the tide.

We should not, however, overlook the fact that the party-centred theory could not explain differences in the strategic side of campaign professionalism which more properly describes what parties are actually doing in their campaigns. This is partly an artefact based on the lower variance of our strategy index, but the lower variance also reflects the fact that parties have adopted the same campaign techniques in a manner that makes it harder to tell the difference between parties. Here it seems particularly interesting that electoral defeats or changes of party leadership did not affect either organisational or strategic features of the campaigns. These factors should reflect the sensitivity of party leadership to situational changes and therefore be a stronger test of the party-centred theory. As the test failed, it is doubtful whether campaign designs are as context-dependent as our theoretical understanding would have it.

In terms of methodology we have to emphasise the still exploratory nature of our study. It presents one of the first attempts to measure and quantify the degree of professionalism in political campaign activities. Quantification is needed for systematic and direct comparisons between political parties and/or countries (Gibson and Römmele, 2009; Strömbäck, 2009; Tenscher et al., 2012). However, our data analysis is nevertheless limited: we focused only on a series of six subsequent campaigns, four of them first order and two second order. That does not allow the establishment of longitudinal ‘trends’. In addition, a time span of seven years may be too narrow and six arbitrarily chosen campaigns may be too few to check for long-term transformations such as the process of professionalisation. Despite the strong empirical evidence we found, we have to be cautious. The apparent trend might rather be an exception. For example, a snap election was held in Germany in 2005 and another NP election right after the EP elections had taken place, and these might have distorted our findings. Hence, further longitudinal comparisons are needed.

In addition to this, our data analysis is based on a selection of indicators which have to be scrutinised for their relative weight in the measurement scales. The combination of the campaign managers' answers (subjective dimension) and the measurement of some objective information seem to be an appropriate way in which to investigate the phenomenon of campaign professionalism. However, despite the satisfying consistencies of the two indices, the indicators still have to be controlled for their validity. We have to leave it open for future longitudinal and cross-national analyses to deal with more cases and countries (Tenscher et al., 2012). In that sense our study is a point of reference for further comparative analyses which will also have to consider this methodological approach. Besides validity, we furthermore have to question the reliability of our findings since some of the indicators (reasonably) reflect the campaign managers' subjective evaluations. Inherently, such an approach reduces data quality. That makes it necessary to check both objectively and subjectively gathered information in future analyses.

Last but not least, future analyses regarding Finland, Germany or other (European) countries have to look not only at campaign efficiency but also at the impact of specific campaign features. Such studies have to control for the primary objectives of the political parties – and they might even reflect campaign content and its ‘tonality’. A campaign's ‘success’ might pertain, for example, to high levels of media output, maximising votes, positive evaluations of campaign pundits or financial donations. Ideally, all of these aims would have to be quantified, and they would have to be put in a causal relationship with specific campaign structures or strategies. That, however, remains an impossible task for the moment. Nevertheless, it is in the interest of political communication research to follow that route since it is a promising way to approach campaign ‘reality’, its causes and consequences.

  1. 1

    For European elections see Bicchi et al., 2003; De Vreese, 2009; Gagatek, 2010; Maier and Tenscher, 2006.

  2. 2

    Due to diverging objectives and resources there might be variations in the degree of professionalisation or de-professionalisation of a political party's campaign efforts. That would be represented by different angles in Figure 1. For reasons of clarity, Figure 1 only shows one political party (or the aggregate of all political parties).

  3. 3

    Although Europarties have become more important in coordinating EP election campaigns in recent years, there have been no pan-European campaigns yet (Poguntke and Pütz, 2006). National parties are still in the lead when it comes to planning, organising and conducting EP campaigns. Therefore, ‘centralisation’ belongs to the national level of politics.

  4. 4

    Theoretically and empirically it is unclear whether an additive index adequately reflects degrees of professional campaigning. It may be that single components have to be weighted accordingly – or perhaps sometimes intentional withdrawing of components might be a better indicator for professional campaigning than adding elements up. As long as these questions of external validity remain open, we will stay with an additive but standardised index.

  5. 5

    Unlike the CAMPROF index, the setting up of an outside campaign headquarters is not included, notwithstanding its symbolic (but not inherently functional) role.

  6. 6

    A breakdown of both indices to the original indicators can be found in the online Appendix.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Campaign Professionalism and Professionalisation
  4. Data and Method
  5. Empirical Findings
  6. Discussion
  7. References
  8. Biographies
  9. Supporting Information
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  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Campaign Professionalism and Professionalisation
  4. Data and Method
  5. Empirical Findings
  6. Discussion
  7. References
  8. Biographies
  9. Supporting Information
  • Jens Tenscher is a senior scientist at the Institute for Comparative Media and Communication Studies of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Alpen-Adria-University of Klagenfurt. He co-chairs the Political Communications Section of the German Political Science Association. His research agenda covers various aspects of political communications research, studies on political leadership, parliamentarianism, electoral campaigning and voting behaviour, as well as political culture research. Jens Tenscher, Institute for Comparative Media and Communication Studies, Austrian Academy of Sciences and Alpen-Adria University of Klagenfurt, Postgasse 7/4/1, Vienna A-1010, Austria; email:

  • Juri Mykkänen holds the position of University Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Helsinki. His current research interests are in the field of political communication and political campaign culture as well as in studies of media representations and cognitive theory. He leads a Helsinki-based research group studying public images of economy in various media formats. Juri Mykkänen, Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland; email:

Supporting Information

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Campaign Professionalism and Professionalisation
  4. Data and Method
  5. Empirical Findings
  6. Discussion
  7. References
  8. Biographies
  9. Supporting Information

Appendix S1: Professionalisation indices.

Please note: Wiley Blackwell is not responsible for the content or functionality of any supporting information supplied by the authors. Any queries (other than missing content) should be directed to the corresponding author for the article.