Gimmicks out to grab voter attention

Swiss political parties are turning to quirky gimmicks to grab voters' attention

Political parties are turning to plucked chickens, toothbrushes and beach balls to grab voters’ attention in the run-up to October’s parliamentary elections.

This content was published on September 9, 2003 minutes

With less than six weeks to go before voters go to the polls, experts say Swiss politicians are becoming increasingly media savvy in running their campaigns.

“The campaigns have become [media] events,” admits the Social Democrats’ Jean-Philippe Jeannerat, “but they would be nothing without content.”

Otfried Jarren, professor in media studies at Zurich University, says political parties - like other organisations - have been forced to adapt to reach their audience.

“Like all institutions that are losing ground, getting their message across is becoming ever more important,” he said.

Switzerland’s political parties have responded to the challenge with innovative poster campaigns and quirky gimmicks.

Poster campaigns

After coming under fire over a proposed election poster depicting the Swiss as "Negroes”, the rightwing Swiss People’s Party is now vying for votes with a poster featuring a plucked chicken.

“It’s all thanks to the other parties,” reads the headline, implying that the Swiss pay too much and get too little in return.

“Every year we have to pay more than SFr2 billion to finance other people abusing our asylum policy,” it continues.

The Christian Democrats’ latest election gimmick is a toothbrush, in the party colour orange, which is sent to voters’ homes or distributed in the streets.

Voter attention

Roger Blum, a media expert from Bern, believes that provocative campaigning is crucial for attracting voter attention.

“Of course, provocative campaigning is not a Swiss invention. In Germany it has been done for quite some time and even if the campaign is withdrawn, people will talk about it,” he said.

“We experience almost everything through the media,” he added.

The Social Democrats’ Jean-Philippe Jeannerat adds that parties have recognised that good public relations work is vital.

“It is essential that the political parties campaign all through the year and not only at election times,” he said.

swissinfo and Martin R. Schütz (sda)

Key facts

Parliamentary elections take place every four years and are usually held on the penultimate Sunday in October.
On October 19, 200 seats are to be elected in the House of Representatives and 40 of the 46 seats in the Senate.
2,835 candidates are standing for election.
Switzerland uses a combination of proportional representation and the first-past-the-post system.

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