Středoevropské politické studie / Central European Political Studies Review
Číslo 2-3, ročník IX, jaro-léto 2007 / Part 2-3, Volume IX, spring-summer 2007 / ISSN 1212-7817
Rubrika / Section: Politický marketing / Political marketing
Ke stažení / Download: zdechovsky808.pdf
Adresa článku: http://www.cepsr.com/clanek.php?ID=302
A Short Discussion of Crisis Management – Practical Experience with the 2006 Electoral Campaign in the Czech Republic
The rival candidate – directly or through a “third person” – attacks, parodies or mocks the rival and his or her services, trying to persuade voters of the exclusivity of his or her own products. Negative campaigns fabricate situations which have not occurred, pointing out the weaknesses of the rival and trying to draw voters’ attention to them. During the Senate campaign in autumn 2006 for constituency No. 44, Chrudim, Petr Pithart had to face repeated media attacks (in Chrudimský deník) by Chrudim businessman Ivan Hoffmann. What can be learned from Pithart’s defense.
Crisis communication, Crisis factors, Electoral campaign, Media attack, Media strategy, Negative campaigns, Political crisis management, Spin doctor
In the run-up to elections, candidates and political parties are usually more intensively subjected to atypical situations, in which the public is focused not only on their political activities and behaviour, but also on their private lives. This often prompts “crisis situations” in which their image may be at stake. Not all situations of conflict are foreseeable in advance; crisis scenarios are therefore usually operatively adapted to these situations in the shortest possible timeframe as they occur. In addition to negative billboard campaigns, negative campaigning may also take the form of print advertising, television spots, or a party’s posters or billboards being covered over by advocates from the other side. The development of crises may be influenced by the preparation and implementation of strategic approaches designed to prevent or mitigate the unfavourable impact of negative events and acts on the reputation of a personality, party, movement or organization.
Political communication draws on the wealth of experience accumulated by commercial corporations, who have worked out functional schemes to anticipate, overcome and avert crises. The latest trends come from American companies, rich in knowledge acquired from the practical solution of crisis situations. The image of a political party or candidate may be compared to the value of a company’s goodwill, or that of its representatives. Therefore, political parties invest no small amount of funds into its creation and protection.
In the USA, crisis communication is a common element of presidential electoral campaigns. Efficient response to negative electoral attacks is a part of electoral tactics. Besides presenting his or her own programme, a rival candidate’s ability to ward off negative attacks is also valued (Wayne 1996). Thus during the electoral battle, methods of searching litter bins, hacking computer data or tapping phone lines are often used, with the results being subsequently published in the mass media. This leads to a loss of privacy, with no impenetrable secrets and taboos in place.
From the point of view of risk level, political parties rank high among organizations with a substantial threat for the occurrence of crisis situations and exposure thereto (Wayne 1996). The assessment of crisis risk depends upon several factors – e.g., the size of the party, the extent of its involvement in the executive, etc. Potential crisis factors may be divided into two groups – external (negative campaigning, opponent attacks, and disinformation) and internal (failure by party members, contradictory statements, controversial statements, corruption, etc.). Internal crises pose a more serious problem for political parties; their impact may be evidenced by public protests and a declining share of political preference. In 2005, the “Gross Affair” caused a steep drop in the popularity of the politician in question, as well as that of his party; there were even demonstrations and happenings organized to call for his resignation, petitions signed on the internet and billboards placed throughout the Czech Republic reading: “I am ashamed of my Prime Minister”.
Crises are often linked to lobbying and special interest groups, which may spark them in the first place and/or amplify their impact. This is achieved mainly by pressuring the media, where such groups complain to the benefit of one party or another, and lobby for a particular issue to be covered or for a minority opinion to be published. Despite media reaction to such pressure being cautious, according to Denis McQuail, evidence can be found of external actors succeeding in influencing media contents (1999: 233). McQuail further states that the success of pressure also depends on the degree of public support a given viewpoint has. In assessing the degree of support, the media most often rely on public opinion polls.
Negative campaigns and attacks in the election period
The rapid development of the electronic media in the second half of the 20th century significantly influenced the direction of political advertising and its tremendous expansion in the advertising market. Political parties thus pay more attention to preparing a suitable strategy reflecting current voter demand. Based upon the most recent trends in political marketing, it is obvious that candidates acknowledge the importance and influence of the media in electoral communication and often try to adapt to it.
We consider an analysis of voter demand and the preparation of political supply as a basis for a marketing approach in politics. The role of political marketing in electoral campaigning is to support product sales (voters’ favour) using various techniques for informing and persuading about its advantages over competing products. Just as the concept of electoral marketing has been taken over from economics, electoral attacks and negative campaigns draw their inspiration from practices in the commercial sphere. The rival candidate – directly or through a “third person” – attacks, parodies or mocks the rival and his or her services, trying to persuade voters of the exclusiveness of his or her own products. Negative campaigns fabricate situations which have not occurred, pointing out the weaknesses of the rival and trying to draw voters’ attention to them.
Therefore, the political outfitting of Western European and North American politicians includes crisis communication scenarios. As stated, the image of a political party (a candidate) is comparable to a commercial company’s goodwill value (or that of its representative). For this reason, political parties invest heavily in creating and protecting their reputation. Therefore, electoral tactics include efficiently responding to negative attacks. Most often, negative campaigns are used during the election period.
Statistics from media content analyses show that attacks on politicians and parties occur most frequently at the culmination of electoral campaigns (Mazzoleni 1998: 309-313). In some western countries, there already exist distinctive specialists for crisis communication, counselling parties how to ward off the rivals’ negative attacks. In the Czech environment, negative campaigns have been used relatively rarely so far. However, the most recent campaigns for the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate and municipal councils formed a watershed. The media spoke often of the so-called Americanization of the Czech political scene. Growing personalisation, aggression, conflict situations and maliciousness in election advertising strongly attracts the attention of the media. Exactly these factors “enliven” otherwise boring and dry electoral campaigns, which present politicians as grand personalities without blemish interested in the problems of citizens and everyday life.
1. Personal negative campaigning
One may classify as an example of a negative political campaign the acts of Secretary Marcela Urbanová, who decided to accuse the Mayor of Vsetín and her former superior, Jiří Čunek, of sexual harassment exactly five months prior to elections for the municipal councils and the Senate. Secretary Urbanová did so one year after leaving the town hall where she – with the aid of an attorney – had attempted in vain to get a raise in her merit pay. The negative campaign then grew into a series of anonymous accusations typed on the same typewriter and supported by copies of documents from the Secretariat of the Mayor of Vsetín.
2. Negative campaigning between two political parties
An example of negative presentation of the rival’s weaknesses is ČSSD’s campaign of June 2006, called ODS minus, in which the socialists rather harshly attacked socially sensitive topics in the right-wing party’s programme, such as the introduction of school fees, abolition of the minimum wage, lowering of taxes for the rich, taxation of medicine, water and transportation, immediate increases in rent and the introduction of dismissals without stating a reason. With the exception of several forceful political statements by politicians Langer, Tlustý and Topolánek, ODS was not able to respond to this campaign. Instead of a confrontation, ODS opted for silence (see App. 1).
Another type of negative advertising between two political parties is a comparative campaign, in which two political conceptual structures are presented side by side. By introduction of this element, known from German, North-American and French campaigns, ČSSD gained optically domination in the campaign. Furthermore, by placing the posters shown below on telephone booths, the campaign was brought closer to people with lower income in the Czech villages (see App. 2).
The case of the media attack on Petr Pithart
During the Senate campaign in August 2006 for constituency No. 44, Chrudim, Petr Pithart had to face repeated attacks by Chrudim businessman Ivan Hoffmann, who published ads titled “Why I will not vote for Mr. Pithart for the Senate” in the Chrudim daily. The text, in the form of a commentary, criticised the main proposals of Petr Pithart’s electoral advertising, claiming that it could name Pithart’s unfulfilled promises, but without actually listing them anywhere. Attempts to paint Pithart as someone who treated the region as his “rural parish” were already known from the previous two campaigns.
Poznámky / Notes
 Jiří Čunek – vice-premier of The Czech Republic and Chairman of Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People’s Party (KDU-ČSL).
 It is a type of personal negative campaign.
 Flinging mud at someone to highlight the greatness of another makes the reader ask a logical question, thus this does not rank among the effective forms of negative communication.
 The strongest emotional experiences are connected with motherhood and children, which association tests most often identify with purity of thinking (in the sense of directness and vulnerability). Repeated studies of response to advertising have confirmed that there is a very strong female emotional reaction to children’s motives. Therefore, aggressive negative techniques as well as a defensive strategy of crisis communication use children’s motives for toning down crisis situations – see response by Petr Pithart. E.g., Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek also used his own child in media defence, when – in reaction to continuing interest by the media in his love affair with the vice-chairman of the Chamber of Deputies, Lucie Talmanová, he stated that this news had a negative impact on his son Tomáš who was a minor.
 Personal recommendations.
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