The Spitzenkandidaten in European elections: In the spotlight or largely ignored?

Daniela Braun (LMU Munich) & Tobias Schwarzbözl (LMU Munich)

The nomination of lead candidates, or so-called Spitzenkandidaten, representing the biggest European political groups in the run-up to the European Parliament elections in 2014 fuelled hopes that electorates across Europe would finally show a stronger interest in European political debates and shake off the EU’s lingering democratic deficit. In the end, the Spitzenkandidaten hardly turned out to be the game-changers many hoped they would be. Instead, little interest in the candidates’ televised debate complemented voters’ general lack of knowledge about the candidates’ political profiles. In their article “Put in the spotlight or largely ignored? Emphasis on the Spitzenkandidaten by political parties in their online campaigns for European elections” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Daniela Braun and Tobias Schwarzbözl highlight that even national parties themselves were often unwilling to centre campaign efforts on their respective lead candidate. Using original data on national parties’ social media campaigns for the 2014 European Parliament elections, Daniela and Tobias show that only national parties affiliated with lead candidates generally placed a strong emphasis on the Spitzenkandidaten in their campaigns. The reluctance to put the spotlight on the Spitzenkandidaten indicates that not every national party faced sufficient incentives to rally behind their lead candidate in campaign communications. Casting doubt on hopes that lead candidates would help diminish the second-order status of EP elections, Daniela and Tobias’ analysis suggests that “the idea behind the introduction of Spitzenkandidaten to strengthen the relevance of these elections collides with most parties’ strategic considerations to make the candidates visible to voters.” Will the campaign for the upcoming 2019 elections be any different?