Oceans apart: a comparative analysis of election campaign practices in Norway and the U.S.
Are election campaigns all over the world growing increasingly similar? Several comparative studies have suggested that election campaigns in industrialized democracies are becoming more professionalized, personalized, media-centered and negative. In the literature, this process is often referred to as Americanization because campaign practices first seen in the U.S. are gradually implemented in other countries. However, a major problem with many of the earlier comparative studies of election campaigns is that they do not support their conclusions with cross-national survey data and common operationalizations of central concepts such as personalization, professionalization and negativity. This thesis critically examines the hypothesis of election campaign convergence through a comparative survey of 77 Norwegian campaign workers and 134 American political consultants. The survey detects two diametrically opposed campaigning styles. Norwegian election campaigns are media-driven, issue-oriented and party-controlled while American elections are money-driven, advertising-centered and consultant-controlled. American elections are also much more professionalized, personalized and negative than Norwegian elections. Consequently, Norwegian and American elections share few central characteristics. Both literally and figuratively they are oceans apart. The reason for these results can be found in the in the strong institutional differences between the two countries. The media system, the electoral system, campaign finance laws and cultural differences all have a tremendous influence in shaping divergent campaign environments. Our results also reinvigorate the debate on U.S. exceptionalism. With extremely weak parties, astronomical levels of campaign spending and an electoral process that is outsourced to political consultants, the U.S. represents a highly deviant framework in the world of political campaigning. Thus, it is not given that the U.S. will set the trend for others.
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