A few days before the next presidential election, the campaign is at its peak. Candidates promote rallies, street actions, deliver speeches. The battle for media attention and good press is ferocious.
This is, then, the perfect time to look at the various Party machines in action. Political Parties machines, that is, and its different branches, the real engines of ‘volunteer mobilization’ and responsible for the full rooms and duly completed campaign dinners, pre-fabricated for the sole purpose of television. Today electoral campaign is only this: perception. Media and 'spin' (with a little bit, message).
The Political Parties are concerned almost exclusively with the media coverage. For that, they activate their electoral machines, rent buses, distribute banners and gifts, design stages and rooms and elaborate grace and jokily slogans. The effective return on this investment is scarce, as just the already converted and Party members are moved and transported to these staged encounters, often in return for a paying visit, and with a return ticket in their pocket. The intended effect is to cause the perception of force, momentum and grow. Campaigns always grow until the final rally, in the capital or in territory politically tamed. Perception is the bet. Constructed and choreographed perception.
The political message is generally weak. Weak and uninteresting for the media - their main customers -, which reduces everything to a 'soundbite' and a 30-second ad. The rest is 'spin'. Blogs, commentators, engaged journalists, twitters and facebooks prepared to attack the opponent and to defend a certain line of discourse. It is from these sources that come the rumors and the smear campaign. But also the after-the-fact-readings, calls for attention, weighted analysis presented as neutral and informed. The 'spin' means to fix the message and promote its tiring repetition, and it allows to explore aspects and dimensions not possible for the candidates, using sometimes for that effect the dirty political artillery made at Political Parties headquarters.
The effect of 'spin' is far more effective than rallies. Hence the recent investment major Parties have placed on social networks, blogs and placement od friendly commentators. 'Spin' reaches more people, less involved in political parties and has a more prolonged effect in time, as it is easily doubled and tripled in social networks and blogs of good visibility and impact.
We had then a campaign without great content, debate or speech. We have content ourselves with getting Olympic minimums, never showing any ambition to fight for the podium, or for medals. It is, therefore, all so weak, unemotional, and with little space for creativity. Not real. Just perception.
But these are not only features of this presidential campaign in Portugal, attention. No. This is the general state of European (and global) campaigns, which is nonetheless troubling. Especially if we recall that there has been another time, and other ways of being in politics.