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graphic showing hand marking cross on voting sheet
"Get out and vote" is the message from German celebritiesImage: DW

Celebrity vote call

August 5, 2009

German elections are less than two months away and, as the parties step up their campaigns, celebrities have been roped in to get the message across to the general public that voting is important.


A few weeks ago an independent Internet advertisement, produced by politik-digital.de, appeared, in which German celebrities, including two well-known news anchors, seemed to be telling people not to vote.

The video carried the slogan "Don’t go to the polls" and was a copy of a US video campaign that ran ahead of the 2008 elections. In the American version, a host of A-listers advise viewers not to bother to go and vote, complaining that politicians are all the same and asking why anyone should care what happens to health care, education or the environment. The video was, of course, ironic and the same stars then told the public that the only way to make a difference on issues that mattered to them, was to vote.

A year later and politik-digital.de, headed by Stefan Gehrke, has produced a similar video using German celebrities and employing the same tactic. But in the German version the clip ends with the celebrities still telling people not to vote.

Provoking the public

This change was a deliberate attempt by Gehrke to provoke the public.

"We wanted to provoke, because we know there have been a lot of campaigns against voter apathy in recent years that haven't worked. That’s why we thought we would take the risk that some people might not get the irony. We had the anchor man of the German news show, 'Tagesschau‘ and he is normally very conservative just reading the news. He says in the video, 'you may not believe me, me but I don’t vote. I think, if you think for just one second, you get that it would never be possible that this guy wouldn’t vote or would tell the people not to vote," says Gehrke.

A week later the company released a second video, which,like the US version, shows the stars abandoning all irony and telling the public to get out and vote.

Replying to accusations that the campaign may have backfired and that the original irony was lost on the German public, Gehrke says he is happy for the media attention this has brought to the problem he is actually trying to tackle, which is voter apathy.

voters going to the polls in the 2005 German elections
"This way to vote" - the hope is that more voters will heed the call in 2009Image: dpa

Since an all-time high in 1976 when 90 percent of the population cast their votes, voter turnout in Germany has been decreasing. And although the decline has been marginal – dropping from 79 percent in 1994 to 77.7 percent in 2005 – it is reason enough for the German Institute for Political Education (bpb) to want to play an active role in getting German voters back to the polling booths.

With just over fifty days to go before election day, more than 80 German celebrities and sports stars have taken part in a bpb advertising campaign that hopes to inspire people to go out and vote.

As of Wednesday morning the ads are freely available to all radio stations.

"We don’t care who you vote for, just as long as you vote!"

Thomas Krueger, president of the bpb, is running the radio ad campaign. The production of the ads is part of a service, says Krueger, to help radio stations find a way to reach the public that is not simply through the official party campaigns.

"It's not about who you vote for, or which party you choose. It's that you vote in the first place," Krueger says.

Boxing champion Wladimir klitschko of Ukraine, raising his fist
Democracy is like sport. If you don't use it you lose itImage: AP

Soccer players Philipp Lahm of Bayern Munich and Per Mertesacker of Werder Bremen, as well as boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko, are some of the sports stars taking part in the campaign, which all the celebrities have signed up for free of charge.

"We want to send out a message that federal elections are more than just an obligatory event that are more or less frustrating. They are our constitutional right and a chance for us to decide which direction Germany will take over the next four years." says Krueger.

"Democracy is like sport"

"if you don’t practise, you lose the hang of it," Wladimir Klitschko says of democracy.

Classical violin virtuoso, Anne-Sophie Mutter asks voters to imagine their neighbor deciding every day what concert – rock, pop or classical - they should listen to. Every day for four years!

All together, 160 German celebrities have taken part in the campaign, which Krüger says is about giving the public a political message from people they can actually relate to and not just politicians.

Krüger also applauds Gehrke’s efforts towards the same end, although, he says, you have to be careful to send the message in the right packaging.

"I have a lot of time for irony, but you do have to account for the fact that the German public is different to the US public. You can’t always carry concepts across borders, one has to adapt the concept to the German public. It's possible that this sort of irony isn’t part of the German psyche yet. But you have to try everything to get people’s attention," he says.

Krüger says he wants people to think again and realise that, even if they feel disillusioned or cynical, their vote is the only way to tackle the issues important to them. These ads, he says, are our way of giving democracy a boost.

Author: Tanya Wood

Editor: Susan Houlton

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