Negative Campaigning in the U.S. Midterm Elections

Role Model or Warning for German Campaign Strategies?

Negativity has long been a part of American election campaigns, and the 2018 midterm campaign was no exception. In the lead-up to November 6, almost 70 percent of the aired ads implied an attack—sometimes direct, sometimes implicit. Candidates imitated President Trump’s “style,” calling their opponents insulting nicknames; searched for content-related discrimination ; or based their attacks on their opponent’s nationality or religion.

How does the U.S. experience in 2018 compare with the German federal election in 2017? Because Germany is a multi-party system with coalition governments, it is not that easy to attack one’s opponent while part of a “grand coalition.” German political parties prefer using more positive campaigning than negative campaigning, although they are not above implementing certain negative tactics in order to gain attention from the press or public.

Susanne Thelen, DAAD/AICGS Research Fellow and PhD candidate at the Institute of Political Science at the University of Technology Chemnitz, will contrast the strategies used in both countries and discuss whether negative campaigning in the U.S midterm elections can serve as a role model or a warning for German campaign strategies.

Susanne Thelen is a DAAD/AICGS Research Fellow from October to December 2018. Her PhD is about campaign strategies, especially negative campaigning in the 2017 German federal election. Before beginning her PhD, Ms. Thelen interned at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Washington, DC, during the 2016 presidential election. Her Master’s thesis analyzed the “Twitter attacks” by presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In 2017, she worked for the CDU Department of Campaigning & Advertisement during the German federal election to continue her research about election campaigns.

For more information, contact Elizabeth Caruth at ecaruth@aicgs.org.


This event is supported by the DAAD with funds from the Federal Foreign Office (FF).


December 6, 2018, 12:00 - 1:30 pm, AICGS, 1755 Massachusetts Ave NW