German Politicians Visit Ohio For Insights On Election, Campaign Tactics

Members of the SPD chat after a working dinner to discuss U.S. politics. (Tony Ganzer / ideastream)
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by Tony Ganzer, ideastream

It’s safe to say that the world is watching closely during every U.S. presidential election, but for some this election cycle in particular has drawn curiosity and confusion. 

Last night a delegation from Germany’s Social Democratic Party, SPD, arrived in Cleveland to embark on a fact-finding mission of sorts.  The SPD is part of Germany’s ruling coalition at the moment, which faces federal elections next year.

The fact-finding began with a dinner with political scientists and a couple of journalists, me included, to help explain politics in America.  The trip is being organized by the SPD-connected Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

Sebastian Ehreiser is the foundation’s congressional liaison.

EHREISER: “Ohio is the bellwether of the U.S. election, and we’ve had a lot of interest from the German side, and as you know from the international side, about the situation in the United States politically.  The transatlantic relationship, the German-American relationship specifically is one that’s deep-rooted in history.   We have a lot of interests, and we also have a lot of mutual interests.”

GANZER: “The SPD is center-left in Germany, but is your tour comprehensive of U.S. politics, or focusing on the left would you say?”

EHREISER: “Yeah we’re meeting from the far-left to the far-right in the U.S. Social Democratic Party is a big tent party in Germany.  It’s an inclusive party, and we need to understand how to bring back lost Social Democratic voters but also to find new ones.”

Ehreiser says the group will meet with Black Lives Matter activists, with Republican State Senator Frank LaRose, with advisers of Governor Kasich, and others.

But another part of this trip is to explore specific campaign strategies to reach voters effectively.

Juliane Seifert is the SPD’s federal manager, and a campaign strategist.

SEIFERT: “The parties in the United States are really professional in database campaigning, and in direct mailing and direct contacting voters.  And we in Germany actually we see that our parties have fewer members than in earlier times, and it’s even harder for us to contact directly possible voters.”

GANZER: “You’ve come here to Ohio, which is a traditional battleground state in the U.S.  We also hosted the Republican National Convention, which was a big deal.  Do you have any preconceptions about Ohio coming in here? Do you have anything you expect, or you want to learn especially?”

SEIFERT: “The political system, even the election system, in Germany and the United States are quite different.  So in Germany, for example, we don’t have battleground states.  We have to make a campaign for all over Germany.  But in Ohio we can see a really focused, and concentrated campaign.  And we can see a campaign that many people think about how to improve it, and how to make it better, and how to make it perfect.  And that’s the best reason to come here.”

The role of money and investment in campaigning is something…foreign…to many foreign observers, which can create barriers to participation for some.

Klara Geywitz is the General Secretary for the SPD in the German state of Brandenburg.

GEYWITZ: “In America you need to have much more money to run for office.  In Germany, every student can afford [it.]  When I was the first time elected to my home parliament I was 28, had no money, but that’s not imaginable here in America.”

GANZER: “Generally what’s the impression in Germany about what’s going on in America?  Is it confusion? Is it excitement? Can you describe it?”

GEYWITZ: “Both.  Of course Donald Trump is really exciting for the both, and for the bad, and Hillary Clinton is really [well] known in German politics. So I think the most German people would like to see her becoming president.”

Geywitz also says she thinks there’s some fear among Germans for the possible victory of Donald Trump, and how he may use the armed forces.

Part of this German delegation’s aim, though, is to gain a better understanding of the appeal of Donald Trump to voters, and where American politics could be headed no matter who wins.

Two of the SPD members will be speaking at 6:30 Monday for a sold-out event at Baldwin Wallace University about the foreign view of the US elections.  

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