Many voters see Merkel as the calm, solid and competent leader steering Germany through the worst fall-out of the economic crisis. Moreover, public opinion generally credits Merkel for the good and stable economic performance. The German economy has expanded, the unemployment rate is low and Germany has a strong voice in Europe. It is therefore no coincidence that Merkel is the only major European leader to be re-elected twice since the economic and financial crisis began to hit Europe in 2008, and she is now on track to overtake Margaret Thatcher as Europe’s longest-serving female leader.
From a communicative point of view, there were striking differences between the respective party campaigns. First and foremost, the Christian Democrats fully relied on their most valuable asset: Angela Merkel herself. The chancellor was depicted in most of the election posters as the strong and responsible past and future of Germany. The conservative campaign even turned an alleged weakness of Merkel, her ‘mother image’, into a strength: the slogan ’Germany in good hands‘ referred to this image, demonstrating to the electorate that, amid the euro zone turmoil, all is well in Germany. With her down-to-earth conservative messages, Merkel and the CDU were able to broaden their support base, particularly among women, young people, workers and self-employed people.
In contrast to the Christian Democrats, who did not include any specific campaign pledges, the Social Democrats depicted their promises under the slogan ‘the us decides’. These included the abolition of precarious working conditions, the introduction of statutory minimum wages and tax hikes, all for the purposes of more equality. However, challenger Peer Steinbrück’s campaign was undermined by a number of blunders from the very beginning, with Steinbrück making one gaffe after another: he complained that the German chancellor was not paid enough, and in an interview about social security benefits he claimed that he would never buy a bottle of Pinot Grigio for less than five euros. As a result, Steinbrück was perceived as arrogant with a lack of understanding for the problems of low-income households. He was even criticised by many Social Democrats, with some grass root party members feeling inadequately represented by a chancellor candidate who did not accord with the SPD’s history as the party of the working class.
The Left Party and the Greens focused on social equality throughout their campaigns. In the case of the Greens, however, these campaign pledges, which included the abolition of income splitting and increased taxes, were deemed as threats rather than promises. According to analysts, it was the Green’s tax concept, together with their paternalistic approach that included the introduction of speed limits on German motorways and a vegetarian day in public canteens, that contributed to the party’s poor election performance.