In anticipation of the next European elections in 2024, EU member states and European political parties certainly must give due consideration to all the noteworthy developments that have unfolded over the past four years. Europe has witnessed significant developments that have shaped its political landscape and created new challenges for the region and its political actors. These include the war in Ukraine, the Covid-19 pandemic and other relevant developments.
All these factors influence the mood of EU citizens and voters in relation to the upcoming European election. What they all have in common are security concerns: securing peace, securing borders, energy security, digital security, economic security, securing the EU’s geopolitical influence… We have seen in the past, that if voters do not feel safe and secure, fear becomes the predominant emotion in any campaign and offering solutions for protection becomes the trump card political actors will use to dominate discourse.
Approaching the above-mentioned policy areas and relevant contexts, that will probably dominate the pre-election debates, parties can prepare better for their key-messages and priorities. By addressing these issues proactively and offering innovative and inclusive solutions, parties can potentially strengthen the European project and secure public trust in the European Union. However, the assessment of the policy priority landscape is only amongst the first steps to be taken.
As European politics continues to evolve, political parties face the ongoing challenge of adapting to changing voter dynamics, technological advancements, and pressing societal issues. With the upcoming European elections on the horizon, it becomes increasingly crucial for political parties to reflect on past experiences and embrace valuable lessons that can shape their strategies and improve their chances of success.
By taking stock of the evolving political landscape and drawing from experiences across the continent, European political parties can refine their approaches and address the needs and aspirations of an increasingly diverse electorate. In this article, we explore seven essential lessons that European political parties should consider as they prepare for the upcoming European elections and for navigating the complex terrain of European politics.
1. Talk about EU!
The understanding of the EU can be complicated for EU citizens due to factors such as the complex structure of the EU institutions, intricate decision-making processes, limited awareness of the EU’s policies and initiatives, and the focus on domestic issues during national elections. All of which creates a sense of detachment from EU institutions, since the EU’s structure, decision-making processes, and policies can often seem distant and convoluted to potential voters. This is one of the reasons contributing to the fact that the voter turnout is lower on EU elections compared to national elections in many member states. However, despite the complexity, it is crucial for citizens to care about European elections and who represents them in EU institutions. These representatives have a direct impact on their daily lives, shaping legislation, regulations, and policies that affect them directly. If European political parties aim to achieve the desired results in European elections, they should also have the responsibility in making voters care about who represents them in EU institutions.
2. Get out the vote!
Additionally, the absence of strong transnational political campaigns and limited media coverage of European election campaigns often result in reduced voter engagement and lower turnout. And it is the responsibility of the European political parties to make the voters care more about European elections. A year before the election is enough to put EU elections on the national political agendas of member states and ensure a larger voter turnout of your target constituencies. There is a possibility that the current geopolitical context might contribute to the interest of EU citizens in the 2024 European elections. So, parties have to start working on promoting themselves as soon as possible.
3. Coordinate with your European family
There is not such a thing as a European election. There are instead national elections to get nationally elected people to the European parliament. This means you are responsible for getting your campaign tailored to your national audience and selecting messages that resonate only with your voters. This does not mean that your European political family does not have a role in supporting your national campaign. On the contrary, they are crucial for you to do things for your party which might be hard for you: carrying ground research on voter attitudes, facilitating message alignment with neighbouring country parties of your same family (especially when targeting voting national minorities), coordinating best practice sharing with sister parties, assisting you with European speakers that can mobilise your voters in an event, or enabling GOTV efforts across Europe to mobilise voting diasporas. Ultimately, your party can also do this on your own, but if you are a member of any political families, remember they are there to support you. It is in their interest that you do well in your campaign!
4. Do not be afraid to use new campaign methods to engage new or disengaged voters.
Every election year, the communication managers of political parties gather to discuss how to engage with new audiences and what tools are the best to engage with new voters. Still, most European parties from all ideologies rely on social media ads, traditional media appearances and public forums to reach new voters. Old methods are suitable to keep loyal voters engaged or to get voters from other parties to vote for yours. However, new audiences will not engage with social media campaigns knowing that the algorithm won’t be pushing your message, the contemporary audience is purposely avoiding media, and they will cross the street when they see your stand full of traditionally looking politicians. In 2019, a record of voting in the European Parliament elections was possible due to many political parties using micro-targeting on social media. Four years after, parties need to go the extra mile to reach new audiences, as social platforms will limit more and more outreach. The Parties to win in 2024 are the ones that are now gathering data on new voters, asking them to support initiatives that those disengaged people care about. They must build trust with social engagement tools and apps to work their way to June 9th. You and your party cannot only rely on the excellent campaign message in the months coming to the campaign. Time to make an effort to get new voters voting for you by understanding that new campaign methods are a mixture of data harvesting field work and effective community engagement.
Stay tuned for Part II, where we delve deeper into the lessons and key factors that political parties should take into account to maximise their impact and engage voters in the 2024 European election