Digital election campaign: When parties go online

Status: 06.09.2021 1:36 p.m.

Election campaigns – that no longer just means posters, information stands and talk shows, but also Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. How are the parties positioned in the social networks?

By Lena Klimpel,

In the election campaign, the parties want to “go where the people are”. Information booths and door-to-door calls are no longer enough – voters are spending more and more time on the Internet: Germans were online an average of 326 minutes a day in 2020, according to the “Digital 2021 Global Overview Report”. More than five and a half hours in which parties have the chance to draw attention to themselves.

An indication of the importance that social media have for the parties is given by their online budgets for the federal election campaign. Upon request from only gave information from the Greens and the Left. The Greens are investing around 2.5 million euros, which is 20 percent of the election campaign budget. According to a spokeswoman, the left has 500,000 euros available. The FDP only speaks of a “considerable share” that flows into “digital formats”.

There are plenty of ways to spend this money: The most important platforms for election campaigners are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube – all parties are represented there, usually with several accounts.

Increasing professionalization

All major parties have recognized the need to conduct election campaigns digitally since the mid-2000s and are continuously expanding their online presence – the corona pandemic has only continued this trend. Political advisor Martin Fuchs speaks of an “enormous surge in professionalism in recent years”.

One measure of success on social media is the number of followers. A look at the main accounts of the parties shows that the AfD is at the top on Facebook and YouTube. Opposite to she is also the only one to commit to her online focus: Facebook is the most important platform.

Fuchs explains this with the formation of the party: “The AfD has built itself completely on the infrastructure of Facebook. Everyone who wanted to find out more about the party, but also those who wanted to become something in the AfD, had to go to Facebook and get in touch organize there in the AfD groups. ” In addition, the party knows how to use emotions, acts in a populist manner and thus crosses borders – “something the other parties are not ready for,” said Fuchs.


The Greens have the most followers on Twitter and Instagram. While Twitter is dominated by media professionals, Instagram is used a lot by younger people. They tend to be more green, interested in climate protection, anti-racism or feminism, for example. Young politicians like Aminata Touré combine green messages on Instagram with personal information and a look behind the scenes of politics. In this way, they reach people who would not necessarily follow the main account of the Greens.

Even TikTok, the youngest platform, is only suitable for party communication from above to a limited extent. Personalities are successful on the video app, which is why individual members of all parties and ages can be found there who produce political content – as authentically and self-deprecatingly as possible, such as the 72-year-old FDP member of the Bundestag Thomas Sattelberger or Lilly Blaudszun, who are 20 year-old social media expert of the SPD.

Smaller parties have an advantage online

The current governing parties CDU and SPD are not ahead in terms of follower numbers on any platform. Their membership structure is older – and the level of online organization is correspondingly lower. In addition, their comparatively large group of voters is not very easy to use on the Internet. Political advisor Fuchs sees others at an advantage there: “Smaller parties have it easier in the digital election campaign because they can communicate differently. The FDP, for example, can sharpen issues because it has a much smaller base of people that it can mobilize at all.”

The Left Party is also well positioned here and has built up a community over the years, especially on Facebook. “She sees her Facebook page not only as a sending station for topics, but also tries to involve people in her communication,” said Fuchs.

Closed digital spaces are becoming more important

The parties are also trying to involve voters directly by conquering digital spaces that were only recently reserved for private communication: messenger services. Almost all parties now use Telegram.

The AfD in particular has recognized the potential of the service: It is represented there with various channels that broadcast statements and videos every few hours – always prepared in such a way that they are easy to share. The AfD will also be able to connect to other scenes on Telegram, such as corona skeptics, says political advisor Fuchs. The party could connect with them and thus tap new groups of voters.

The SPD relies on its own Telegram bot, which supplies interested parties with party content. Recently there has also been an election campaign group, the virtual “Sozenbande”. There, motivated people get to see exclusive content and can campaign for the SPD in joint network campaigns decentralized from the sofa – this lowers the inhibition threshold for political activity. Younger people in particular could try their hand at politics in the protected room of the messenger service, says Fuchs.

Digital “fails” with range

The CDU was still a pioneer in modern election campaign communication in 2017 – for example with its “CDUconnect” app, which was used to organize parts of the election campaign. This year, however, the software developer Lilith Wittmann discovered a security gap. For this she received a criminal complaint from the CDU, which triggered a lot of criticism. Despite our apologies, it was a data protection embarrassment for the party – and a real disadvantage in the current election campaign planning.

The CDU was also seriously damaged by the inappropriate laugh of its top candidate in the flood area, which was trending on Twitter under the hashtag #Laschetlacht.

Most recently, the CDU caught up with a social media debacle from two years ago: At that time, YouTuber Rezo published a video in which he settled accounts with the party under the title “The destruction of the CDU”. The reacted unscrupulously. Rezo has now published a new edition in two parts: The first video had around three million views within the first week. In the second part of the new edition, Rezo focuses on the climate crisis – and above all blames the CDU for many of the political failures in the fight against climate change. This video received more than two million views within 24 hours. The CDU’s strategy so far: Ignore.

The Greens also have problems: After the initial euphoria about top candidate Annalena Baerbock had vanished, mistakes lined up in the election campaign. In addition, core issues of the Greens such as climate change and environmental protection are very complex. Generating reach on social media with this is difficult. When the party then tries to compensate for this with election advertising such as “A beautiful country”, which rewraps a folk song, it is felt by many on the internet as old-fashioned and embarrassing.

SPD appears quietly, but not on anyone’s feet

So far, the SPD has come through this election campaign relatively flawlessly. Her digital strategy has not been conspicuous so far, but that currently seems to be of more use to her. If the only thing you get ridiculed for online are hastily published election posters that still contain dummy text instead of political statements, you are probably doing a lot right on the Internet – even if that only means offering little target.

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