Guest Post: After the bomb: what went wrong?


Este é um guest post de Carlos Ferreira (ver mais no fim) sobre os resultados eleitorais do passado dia 26 de Setembro, traçando uma comparação entre as estratégias de campanha de Angela Merkel e de Manuela Ferreira Leite.

A woman won the general election last 26th of September. She and her party ran a strong and effective (if somewhat contained) campaign. She will now form a government with the coalition party she chooses, and there are at least two to choose from. Her name is Angela Merkel, and she was the incumbent candidate to a second stint as the Chancellor of Germany.

The very same day, a woman lost a general election elsewhere in Europe; Ms Manuela Ferreira Leite was defeated by the incumbent Jose Socrates, and will not be the next Prime Minister of Portugal, to the dismay of many who thought there was no way she could lose it.

Different results, from two women with somewhat similar profiles. Both Ms Merkel and Ms Ferreira Leite are moderate social and fiscal conservatives heading right-of-center parties; both are former University lecturers (in Physics and Economics, respectively), both abhor the populist baby-kissing campaigns often excel at. That, however, is very much where the similarity ends.

Ms Merkel ran in this election as Germany’s most popular Chancellor ever. She is a star – everyone in Germany seems to like calling her “mom”, and everyone elsewhere in Europe knows her; in terms of exposure, I’d say she gets marginally more screen time than Madonna, and slightky less than Jessica Alba. Being the incumbent, she pressed home this immediate advantage of higher recognition rates. She could have simply ridden the wave of popularity and stayed out the trouble. She did, in a way; but she also held her nose and plunged into the campaign trail head-first, battling her opponents on the TV debates and having her face on lemon squeezers and Barbie dolls. It was Ms Merkel’s election to lose, and she was successful in not doing so.

Ms Ferreira Leite faced an election that was hers to lose as well. Her opponent, Prime Minister Jose Socrates, was a haunted (arguably, hunted) man at the beginning of the campaign. Years of broken promises, economic and social hardship, decline towards EU standards in all development and welfare measures didn’t help, of course but most of all it was Socrates’ supposed – and so far unproven – involvement in a spat of corruption scandals dating back that made a sitting duck out of him.

Nevertheless, Ms Ferreira Leite faced a somewhat steep uphill struggle: she’s a woman, which makes her less likely to be voted for government; she is facing the incumbent, which gives her an measurable exposure and recognition disadvantage at the onset of the campaign; she’s older and perceived as quiet, while her opponent is younger, active and perceived as bullish; Portugal is a country where left-of-center parties have a natural advantage among the middle class over right-of-center opponents; and finally, in such a serious economic downturn, voters might be somewhat afraid of change, of waiting for the newly elected government to fill the positions, catch up and set to work.

Ms Ferreira Leite needed to sell herself, and sell herself hard, in a country where votes are routinely bought with microwave ovens, refrigerators, pork chops and concert tickets. She needed to go out, put on a fighting face and climb that hill; instead, she seemed to expect being elected by default.

Her personal distaste for populism led her to declare an anti-marketing campaign, devoid of all things popular – such as parties, concerts, public speeches, baby-kissing and contact with voters. The election was perceived as clearly won from the onset – and not as one’s to lose – and exposure was restricted to TV debates and the odd reflection seminar. The battle was fought using sleazy methods – such as a reputable newspaper arguably playing the hunter against the Prime Minister. Mr Socrates, on the other hand, was out there – dully using all Marketing tools in the arsenal, and then some. That won him this election – against all odds. Anti-Marketing didn’t work. With the benefit of hindsight, it could never have worked.

It might not be to everyone’s taste, but Marketing is key nowadays – even Ms Merkel will agree with that.


The Author

Carlos Ferreira is a Social Psychologist, with an MA in Marketing and an MSc in Environmental Economics. He has worked for over two years in Marketing Research in Portugal, and is currently tackling a PhD in Economics at the University of Manchester, in the UK. While his current interests focus on the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity, he has long followed politics and international relations, with a focus on group relations.

Addicted to reading, he is a hardcore fan of Terry Pratchett’s work, and will read pretty much anything that he comes across in topics such as contemporary history and politics. He is the author of Marginal Damage, a blog on Environment, Economics, People and Stuff.


3 thoughts on “Guest Post: After the bomb: what went wrong?

  1. Pingback: Ranting about other people’s business « Marginal Damage

  2. Pingback: Guest Post: After the bomb: what went wrong? «

  3. João

    Concordo com muito do que está referido no texto, embora dizer que MFL perdeu contra todas as expectativas é ridiculo (assim com dizer que muitos esperavam a vitória dela).


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