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Political communication in local elections: a comparative analysis of France and Poland

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Vol.:(0123456789)
French Politics (2022) 20:167–181
https://doi.org/10.1057/s41253-022-00170-4
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Political ...
168 A. Karwacka et al.
Introduction
Local elections are a key event for the local community, as they have a direct effect
...
169
Political communication in local elections: a comparative…
experts indicate that Poland’s 1975 reform also followed th...
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Political communication in local elections: a comparative analysis of France and Poland

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This article is the result of a research study aimed at comparing the degree of maturity
of political communication in local government elections between France and Poland. The authors’ objective is to reveal the specificity of the subsystems of electoral communication between these countries mainly by presenting the diversity of
the communication tools used and the degree of professionalisation of communication management by local government politicians. The undertaking of a comparative
analysis of these two countries was dictated by the countries’ similarities in terms of
the three-tier division of local government. In addition, it compares the experience
of France’s mature democracy and Poland’s democracy, which is in its early stages.
A survey conducted on a representative sample could be extrapolated from the entire
population studied in France and Poland. The scope of the study concerned local
government elections from 2015 in France, and 2014 and 2018 in Poland. The article
presents conclusions of the research that focus on the manner and scope of application
of political communication in the selected countries.

This article is the result of a research study aimed at comparing the degree of maturity
of political communication in local government elections between France and Poland. The authors’ objective is to reveal the specificity of the subsystems of electoral communication between these countries mainly by presenting the diversity of
the communication tools used and the degree of professionalisation of communication management by local government politicians. The undertaking of a comparative
analysis of these two countries was dictated by the countries’ similarities in terms of
the three-tier division of local government. In addition, it compares the experience
of France’s mature democracy and Poland’s democracy, which is in its early stages.
A survey conducted on a representative sample could be extrapolated from the entire
population studied in France and Poland. The scope of the study concerned local
government elections from 2015 in France, and 2014 and 2018 in Poland. The article
presents conclusions of the research that focus on the manner and scope of application
of political communication in the selected countries.

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Political communication in local elections: a comparative analysis of France and Poland

  1. 1. Vol.:(0123456789) French Politics (2022) 20:167–181 https://doi.org/10.1057/s41253-022-00170-4 ORIGINAL ARTICLE Political communication in local elections: a comparative analysis of France and Poland Anna Karwacka1 · Sławomir Gawroński2 · Dariusz Tworzydło3 Accepted: 1 February 2022 / Published online: 15 March 2022 © The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited 2022 Abstract This article is the result of a research study aimed at comparing the degree of matu- rity of political communication in local government elections between France and Poland. The authors’ objective is to reveal the specificity of the subsystems of elec- toral communication between these countries mainly by presenting the diversity of the communication tools used and the degree of professionalisation of communica- tion management by local government politicians. The undertaking of a comparative analysis of these two countries was dictated by the countries’ similarities in terms of the three-tier division of local government. In addition, it compares the experience of France’s mature democracy and Poland’s democracy, which is in its early stages. A survey conducted on a representative sample could be extrapolated from the entire population studied in France and Poland. The scope of the study concerned local government elections from 2015 in France, and 2014 and 2018 in Poland. The arti- cle presents conclusions of the research that focus on the manner and scope of appli- cation of political communication in the selected countries. Keywords Political communication · Political campaigns · Election campaigns · Political marketing · Local elections · Comparative study * Sławomir Gawroński sgawronski@wsiz.edu.pl Anna Karwacka a.karwacka@wsb.opole.pl Dariusz Tworzydło dariusz@tworzydlo.pl 1 WSB University in Wrocław, Wrocław, Poland 2 University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszów, Rzeszów, Poland 3 University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
  2. 2. 168 A. Karwacka et al. Introduction Local elections are a key event for the local community, as they have a direct effect on the lives of its citizens and can fundamentally influence changes in their immedi- ate environment for better or for worse. These elected officials decide on matters that are crucial to the local community, and govern the daily functioning of the city in all areas that fall within the commune’s jurisdiction. They monitor the maintenance and development of road infrastructure, number and condition of schools and pre- schools, and the system of organisation of public transport. Public officials can cre- ate interaction with their citizens (including electronic interaction [e-office], which is becoming increasingly common in local government) in efficient, easy and satis- factory ways. Local political leaders focus on the actions of candidates in the capital, which refers to the presidentialization of elections. In order to come to power in local government, each candidate must go through democratic electoral procedures. This process culminates in widespread voting where candidates, seeking the term of office of a mayor, use a whole range of politi- cal communication instruments aimed at victory. This article constitutes a presentation of the results of the research project carried out in 2018–2020 devoted to the current use of political communications tools in local government elections. The authors seek answers to questions about similarities and differences in how local government election campaigns are run and in local government political communication in both Poland and France. The objective of the research was to identify the similarities and differences between the use of communications tools by candidates running for the offices of mayor or commune head in Poland and of the French mayor. The authors attempted to define the differences between the functioning of the subsystems of political com- munication in Poland and in France, and to create a typology of communications activities of candidates in Polish and French local government election campaigns. The choice of Poland and France for the purpose of comparing the methods of communication between political actors and voters during local government elec- tion campaigns is not accidental. On the one hand, attention must be drawn to the similarities mentioned in the article of the division of local governments in both countries, the scope of their jurisdiction, and the relations between individual levels. On the other hand, the historical conditions and the clear inspiration of the creators of the solutions used in the Polish system of state administration with the French organisation of local government are also important. In Poland in 1975, poviats were eliminated, abandoning the extensive system of territorial local government division. The return in 1999 to a three-tier system was based in Poland, inter alia, on the experience of France, which has undoubtedly the most developed system of local government administration. Proponents of the return to the three tiers of local government in Poland claimed that “it is true that flat structures are significantly better. However, this does not include all structures. It mainly applies to industry and economic management in general—for example, large companies as well as individual administrative offices and institutions. However, no one directly trans- fers organisational analyses to the state system,” (Kieżun 1997). Interestingly, many Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
  3. 3. 169 Political communication in local elections: a comparative… experts indicate that Poland’s 1975 reform also followed the French model, refer- ring; however, mainly to the specifics of the departments. The 1970s were a period in which many Western European countries experienced a tendency towards replac- ing small and weak units with larger regions. The direction of changes in Poland was the opposite—17 old voivodships were replaced with 49 smaller units. This division was clearly modelled on French departments. In the light of more general trends, it seems true that in the seventies we imported from France not only an inefficient and outdated type of buses, but also an inefficient and outdated model of the administra- tive division of the country (Kukliński and Swianiewicz 1991). This analysis also provided an opportunity to contrast the level of engagement in political communication in countries with different communication capacities (Gawroński 2009; Dapogny and Dapogny 2013). In the 1990s, the emerging Polish democracy and Polish politicians were devoid of knowledge, skills and competences in the field of political and election communications. Concepts of public commu- nications were targeted at the functioning of a de facto single-party model under the conditions of an authoritarian political system. That is why experts, strategies and communication tools that were successful in the US and democratic countries of Western Europe enjoyed great popularity. In a relatively short period of time, Poland’s political class has made up for those several generations of backlogs and shortcomings, and the results of the presented research indicate that from a tool- based point of view, contemporary election campaigns in Poland tend to be much more modern and complex than in the West. The comparison of France and Poland reflects the current trends in political com- munications and election marketing in democratic European countries. Obviously, the research results should not be extrapolated to other countries; however, they can shed some light on the trends occurring in Western democracies in the era of the mediatisation of politics and social life. Overview of the literature Political communication is an integral part of a functioning political system in social space (Maarek 2016). It is the basic process of the influence of political representa- tives on society (McNair 2018). In democratic countries, a two-way political com- munication exists. In the case of a high level of openness in a message, the politician both sends signals into the public sphere and receives feedback from society thanks to independent media. Many political communication researchers form theories that describe this pro- cess in a more or less precise manner. Gerstlé (2008) is of the opinion that poli- tics would not be able to function without the communication process, and that society does not function without the ability to communicate. Many political and public communication theorists highlight in their works that being a politician is based first and foremost on skilful communication (Wolton 1989; Thoveron 1990; Swanson and Mancini 1996; Canel 1999; Brookes et al. 2014; Maarek 2016). Given the very fast and multipolar development of the media and the fact that Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
  4. 4. 170 A. Karwacka et al. the media are considered to be the fourth power, communication instruments are becoming an inseparable element of political life (Michalczyk 2005). One of the forms of political communication in which there is an offer, crea- tion and exchange of value between political actors is political marketing. It is understood as a collection of techniques aiming to adapt the candidate to their potential electorate, promote them to the largest-possible number of voters, thus creating a difference compared to the competition while using minimal effort to unify the majority of the undecided voters during the campaign (Bongrand 1986; Gawroński 2013). In Newman’s (1994) opinion, since the end of the twentieth century, contemporary political competition has seen the professional preparation of a campaign by independent experts oriented around voters, which has evolved into its present form from candidate-oriented campaigns (in the 1960s and 1970s) and earlier campaigns of large party machines (in the 1950s and 1960s). The election campaign is a key term of political communication; it encom- passes a wide variety of efforts by political actors to persuade voters to vote for a given person, party or political programme. The idea of a political campaign, which is a hyperonym for the election campaign, appears in political communica- tion terminology (Pinkleton et al. 1998; Dobek-Ostrowska 2007). Niffenegger (1988) discusses the political campaign in terms of the political communication techniques applied, and also includes the level of professional- isation of the campaign. In his analysis, one can see an analogy to the objec- tive approach to a political campaign by Mauser (1983) as well as Sundberg and Högnabba (1992). Basically, their scientific proposal attempts to classify politi- cal campaigns by assuming the methods of conduct as a criterion. In the objec- tive approach, there is an analysis of the political communication techniques used by political entities, in particular election marketing. In the subjective approach, the behaviours of organised entities, including political parties and groups, were taken into account. Political market orientation means that the basic tasks of politicians include defin- ing the factors that can influence the stimulation of voter support (François 2013). These factors determine the election strategy, which includes marketing research to define the views and expectations of the electorate, which can be used as a basis for creating a political product that will be distributed and promoted during the election, in an almost identical manner to distributing and promoting any product during its launch (Lilleker and Negrine 2006). In one of the fundamental works on the relationship between political marketing and democracy theories, Henneberg et al. (2009) conducted a review, verification and comparison of a wide range of theories and concepts and reached the conclu- sion that political marketing must correspond closely with theories of democracy to ensure its legitimacy. Political marketing may be conceptually neutral; however, its practical application must be saturated with a normative goal. O’Shaughnessy (1990) suggested that the rigid framework of marketing management should not be applied to the politics, due to the volatility of electoral conditions; however, the ideas of marketing and political communication proposed by Niffenegger are one of the key models of market orientation in politics to this day (Niffenegger 1989). Niffenegger’s concepts were particularly popular in the 1990s, and his achievements Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
  5. 5. 171 Political communication in local elections: a comparative… can also be found in the works of Butler and Collins (1993), Farrell and Wortmann (1987) and Newman (1994). In Trétarre’s (2012) approach, skillfully chosen communication channels are necessary in political communication, because the sharing of ideas occurs mainly between people with similar attributes, such as socioeconomic status, beliefs and education. Although one may think that all candidates strive to win elections and so would like a successful and winning campaign, the reality of how they organize their campaign is often starkly different. Not all candidates begin their campaign in the same manner. Their initial popularity and local image, warrior-like attitude, support, campaign running experience and team skills, and their availability are all factors that set candidates apart (Deporcq and Lalu 2006). The authors assume the idea of politics 2.0 formulated by Maarek (2014) as a foundation for their deliberations. According to it, contemporary election cam- paigns take place in evolutionary conditions of the flourishing of digital media as an increasingly dominant form of political communication and the depoliticisation and personalisation of politics. At the same time, political actors see “professionalisa- tion” of political communication in mastering new techniques and ways of commu- nicating with other participants of the political system. The view that a politician can be promoted and sold similarly to consumer prod- ucts using marketing strategies and techniques (Rotschild 1979) is oversimplified; however, it is not completely devoid of reason, particularly in the sphere of the use of marketing communication. An analysis of the latest election campaigns in countries with an established democracy makes one lean towards the conclusion that these activities match the concept of political marketing. There is a clear and strong role of social research aimed at acquiring knowledge on the preferences, needs and expectations of the electorate. Campaigns are strategic, thought through and implemented in a consist- ent manner. Their professionalism is also evidenced by the fact that election com- mittees are becoming increasingly more integrated—they use all available channels of communication with voters, and marketing communication is carried out on a large scale, as seen in the costs of these activities conducted in this area. Methodology As regards the choice of research materials, weighting was applied relating to the size of local government units and their geographical spread in order to obtain the most representative sample possible. Next, a sample was drawn at random to obtain a random-quota selection. In this way, a research sample was generated and repre- sentatives of the selected units were approached with a request to answer questions contained in a questionnaire. The survey return rate made it possible to obtain data that prove that the results are representative. Field research and CAWI methods were used, as well as the survey technique, and the tool was a random questionnaire with standardised questions. Survey questions can be used for descriptive, explanatory and exploratory purposes (Young 2016), which fit very well with the objectives of the research. They are Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
  6. 6. 172 A. Karwacka et al. applied mainly to research cases in which specific units are analysed (Bryman 2004). Survey research is the best available method for researchers who want to gather original data to describe a population that is too large to observe directly. Thanks to careful random selection, a group of respondents emerges about whom it can be assumed that their characteristics reflect those of the wider population, and the carefully constructed questionnaires provide data in the same form from all respondents (Groves et al. 2009). In addition, survey research is an excellent tool for measuring the attitudes and opinions of a large population (Babbie 2013). The subjective scope of this study included 256 mayors and commune heads in Poland and 314 French mayors (this role is the equivalent to Polish mayors and commune heads). The objective scope of the research covered the period of recent election campaigns in Poland in 2014 and 2018, and in France in 2015, and included: 1. A review of public relations activities implemented in the campaign strategy; 2. The use of traditional media during election campaigns; 3. The use of online marketing instruments; 4. Elements of street marketing used; 5. The spectrum of direct and event marketing activities. The research sample was random, but was limited by two conditions. The num- ber of communes in both countries varied vastly, so that randomly selecting an identical or similar percentage of entities based on the number of French com- munes would have resulted in significant numerical disproportions. In France, the structure of territorial local governments is much flatter (both in terms of size and the number of citizens) than in Poland (Kerrouche 2010). Therefore, it has been assumed that the starting point in calculating the sample size would be 10% of the local government in Poland (which gave an assumed sampling error of 5%), i.e. 256 communes. A similar number of randomly selected entities in France (taking into account only European communes), i.e. 314, resulted in a similar sampling error. Thanks to this procedure, two goals were achieved: first, both samples were similar in size, which in the course of the analyses was of great importance for the presented results, and second, both samples guaranteed exactly the same esti- mated maximum error, oscillating around 5%, assuming the level of confidence at 95% and fraction size of 0.5. Results The research tool included questions about diversified communication tools used during election campaigns, which were consistent with the breakdown suggested by Trétarre (2012). The range of proposed options was wide, and was divided into media campaigns and direct communication. The first category included public relations, media advertising, online marketing and social media, while the Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
  7. 7. 173 Political communication in local elections: a comparative… second included street marketing, as well as broadly understood direct market- ing and event marketing. The breakdown applied to the research covered the fol- lowing forms of political communications: public relations activities, advertising in the media, online marketing, social media, as well as street, direct and event marketing. An analysis of the results regarding the use of political communication tools of the seven areas highlighted above lead to, first of all, the following conclusion: the larger the number of inhabitants of a commune were, the more different the forms of communications the candidate used simultaneously were. This relationship was even more evident in France, where a significant difference could be observed compared with what was happening in Poland. Among candidates seeking the term of office of a commune head in Poland in communes up to 1000 residents, 42.9% did not use any form of communication with potential voters. It can be concluded that in the case of small local communities in which everyone knows the candidate well, the only method of disseminating information was word-of-mouth marketing. Three- quarters of mayor candidates in cities up to 200,000 residents used four forms of political communication, while the percentage of affirmative answers that confirmed the use of all forms of political communication studied in Poland was the largest for candidates from cities of 60,000–100,000 residents and constitutes 40% of the respondents who represented them. Research of French local government elections depicted a similar story—communes of 60,000–100,000 residents also showed increased activity, using five forms of political communication in their campaign activities. However, there was a difference in the stage of implementation of tools of almost all possible forms of communication. In Poland, both small communes and large cities sometimes undertook activities on this scale. In France, candidates rep- resenting 33.3% of communes with 30,000–60,000 residents declared that they used seven forms of political communication. One of the key areas of activity in terms of local government election campaigns is contemporary public relations activities. During the research, the activity of local government politicians was analysed in terms of the scale of involvement in the use of this form of political communication. Respondents could select any number of responses to the question, “Which public relations activities did you use during the election campaign?” A detailed distribution of respondents’ responses to public rela- tions activities undertaken in Poland and in France is outlined in Table 1. Almost 85% of Polish respondents highlighted public appearances as an impor- tant political PR tool. Next were interviews (49%) followed by short media speeches (44.4%). In France, 78.7% of those surveyed indicated open letters, 31.8% meet- ings with journalists, and third place went to public appearances at 28.5%. The research showed that the least popular tool in this regard in both Poland and France was sponsoring local activities. Based on quantitative data from the surveys, it is clear that in the local government election campaign run in Poland, candidates most often contribute by way of public appearances and interviews. This may suggest that candidates who chose public appearances as a form of communication used this opportunity to enhance their media image, sacrificing their valuable campaign time while not worrying about interacting with residents. French participants in the elec- tion game reached voters by publishing open letters and meeting with journalists. Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
  8. 8. 174 A. Karwacka et al. Open letters are usually (although not always) the last element of the campaign and are the most persuasive election-related material. French council candidates usually addressed them to the entire local community. Sponsoring was not overly popular in either of the countries being discussed—in Poland, 2.9% of respondents undertook these activities, while in France this number was 0.4%. Such a low percentage of sponsoring use may have resulted from the restrictive regulations in force regarding the principles of financing political parties, which not only applied to the amount of funds transferred to a candidate’s campaign, but also to the system of control and sanctions for non-compliance with the law. In terms of the scale of use of media advertising as part of local government election campaigns, the largest differences could be seen to show the specificity of French and Polish conditions. The research results showed that 39.8% of respondents in Poland used this form of advertising, while in France less than 2% of commune council candidates used this tool. Given that French communes have a dozen or so residents, it can be assumed that the regional press covers a dozen or even several dozen communes, and so promotion focussed on this form of marketing would have been quite ineffective. While discussing media advertising, it is worth addressing its selection. Candidates in Poland who decided to use advertising in their election cam- paign focussed on press advertising (46.1%) and online advertising (25.7%). Table 2 shows the detailed results of the scale of use of media advertising by candidates in Table 1  Public relations activities used during the election campaign (Poland N=239, France N=239). Source: Own work Country Response Number of responses Percentage observed (%) Poland Public appearances 202 84.5 Interviews 117 49.0 Short media speeches 106 44.4 Open letters 94 39.3 Election debates 82 34.3 Strengthening relations with representatives of associations 79 33.1 Meetings with journalists 57 23.8 Press conferences 23 9.6 Sponsoring 7 2.9 France Open letters 188 78.7 Meetings with journalists 76 31.8 Public appearances 68 28.5 Election debates 65 27.2 Strengthening relations with representatives of associations 52 21.8 Short media speeches 41 17.2 Interviews 33 13.8 Press conferences 28 11.7 Sponsoring 1 0.4 Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
  9. 9. 175 Political communication in local elections: a comparative… local government elections in Poland and in France, highlighting the huge variance in this regard between the two countries. The next form of marketing covered in the research which contributed to suc- cessful election campaigns was online marketing. The research showed that online marketing tools were used by 32% of respondents in Poland compared to 18.5% in France. The least expensive tool used as a communication channel, which at the same time gives the broadcaster full control over the content of the message, is their own website. However, in Poland only 26.6% of respondents decided to use this type of message. In France, this number was even lower at 15.6% of respondents. Sixteen per cent of respondents in Poland and only nine per cent in France com- municated with voters via chat. This was because the French preferred much more direct contact with voters, which was also reflected in the results of the research. As part of a local government election, there was a relatively low level of activity in the professionalisation of activities related to online marketing. Fewer than 6% of respondents in Poland used the website positioning services of a professional SEM company. In France, such activities were used by 6.12% of respondents. Referring to activities targeted at increasing online content viewing figures, it is worth noting the options offered by Google Ads. In Poland, only 2.94% of respondents with their own websites used this tool, while in France this number was 6.12%. While both results were quite low, there were clearly more French politicians who used instruments that increase the effectiveness of reaching voters via online channels. This is one of the indicators that confirmed the higher professionalisation of communication cam- paigns in France upheld in other studies (Warlaumont 2010). The next area of analysis was the use of social media to build image during elec- tion campaigns. The benefits derived from using the internet in political communi- cation are extensive, and contemporary election campaigns without the use of social media seem now to be ineffective (Gawroński 2007; Towner and Dulio 2011; Allard 2012). The research results show that the most-used social networking site by both Pol- ish and French respondents was Facebook. Polish respondents were more likely to use Facebook than the French; however, the scale of having a fanpage and using this key social networking site was still quite small. In Polish communes, 44.2% of Table 2  Scale of use of advertising media by respondents who use advertising (Poland N=102, France N=6). Source: Own work Country Location of broadcast Number of responses Percentage of responses given (%) Poland Press 88 46.1 Internet 49 25.7 Radio 29 15.2 TV 25 13.1 Total: 191 100 France Press 6 60 Internet 4 40 Total: 10 100 Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
  10. 10. 176 A. Karwacka et al. candidates used this tool, and in France, this number was 27.8%. The limited extent of the use of these tools in Poland was due to some extent to the insufficient skills of the candidates themselves including their lack of knowledge on how to use and take advantage of the potential of social networking sites. In France, this was also caused by the small population of communes, and the resulting lack of a need to undertake any actions other than direct and event marketing activities. In Poland, Twitter was the second choice in terms of involvement regarding the use of social media (4.4%), while in France, second place went to LinkedIn (12.4% of respondents). A fanpage is a specific type of page on the social networking site Facebook that candidates can use to build their image. It enables the candidate the quickest contact with resi- dents. It also brings together fans and followers in one place. In addition to benefits such as a large range of influence and the possibility of making updates, it should be noted that it can also be run by several people (Giansante 2014). That is why can- didates with less skills in this regard or those who lack time to get involved in these types of promotional activities use the help of people who are confident in the use of all types of social media and task them with running or co-running their profile. In terms of running social media profiles, 22.3% of Polish and 23% of French respond- ents declared that they used the help of third parties. The results of the study show that in Poland, these were mainly social activists and volunteers (29%), as well as assistants, and sometimes the candidate’s advisers. However, in France, respondents mentioned friends, expert social activists, advisers, deputy mayors (most likely in the case of candidates seeking another terms of office) and head of electoral teams. Politicians running in elections in both France and Poland focussed on dia- logue with residents; however, the involvement in direct forms of communication in both countries should be deemed insufficient. In Poland, this tool was used by 34.8% of respondents. However, in France, candidates using street marketing con- stituted 50.9% of the respondents, mainly because street marketing is an integral part of campaigns in small communes. Almost 60% of respondents in both Poland and France said that these types of events are organised without a specific occa- sion, while 10% of Polish and 5% of French respondents used local and patriotic public holidays to contact their voters. Good opportunities to mix meetings with vot- ers included city and commune days, which due to the attractions and performances always drew large numbers of people and a majority of the local community. Direct contact with residents, particularly in outdoor events, is always linked to an extensive range of election materials, such as leaflets, business cards, brochures, posters and all sorts of election gifts. In order to be able to ascertain the similarities and differences in the scale of use of these types of election materials, the respond- ents were asked about how they shared their image. Figure 1 presents the distribu- tion of answers in this respect. One of the elements of street marketing is a whole range of election billboards, both in classic and sophisticated advertising space formats. Currently, in large urban agglomerations in Poland, billboards are an indispen- sable tool that promotes the candidate, and a must-have in professional election campaigns. However, in France, since January 1990 the use of billboards during the three months before the vote is strictly forbidden and can even lead to a cancellation of the election result. This is why during local government election campaigns run Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
  11. 11. 177 Political communication in local elections: a comparative… in rural areas, one can see that billboards are not a key carrier in France. According to the survey 54.3% of Polish respondents use billboards in their election campaigns compared with 17.2% respondents in France. And in fact, this result probably illus- trates what in France is called “wild posters” (Fr. affichage sauvage), meaning post- ers illegally stuck on building walls, in roadside gardens, at entrances to provincial or national roads, etc. In Poland one in two mayor candidates declared that they used billboards. How- ever, it should be underlined that they may have had one billboard in a less-fre- quented location because they or their staff did not manage this task well by pre- booking the location early enough. In the case the staff was so efficient that they were able to arrange the booking earlier, the candidate may have had 10 billboards in the most strategic places. In terms of the organisation of events for the needs of election campaigns, French and Polish conditions were similar. Meetings organised by the election committee or political party in an auditorium or outdoors are usually targeted at a wide audience. For example, the date of the meeting must not clash with local events. Additionally, there should be no television programmes broadcast at the same time. That is why the time must be adapted to the availability of the target group, which is the public and media representatives. The research results showed that the election event most frequently chosen by both Polish (53.5%) and French (49.7%) respondents, was a meeting with residents in an urban or rural location, therefore integration with the local environment irrespective of their political views, represented industries or interests. The authors’ own experiences can confirm a number of changes that are taking place in terms of dialogue with residents. In recent years, so-called resident cafes have become increasingly popular. These cafes are a new element on the commune local government map that abounds in pro-social integration events, cultural events and political meetings. This is usu- ally establishment-managed and run by municipal councils whose members want to Fig. 1  Locations where the candidate’s election programme was presented (Poland N=241, France N=254). Source: Own work Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
  12. 12. 178 A. Karwacka et al. activate the commune’s residents to be more socially involved. A municipal catering and conference infrastructure organised in this way enables open public consulta- tions with city authorities, civic lessons for youth, press conferences, concerts, polit- ical debates, Oxford debates, chats or election meetings. Candidates or their repre- sentatives are present at election meetings although it is impossible to predict if they or possibly other local government authorities, councillors, heads of departments, social activists, and/or local leaders will actually come. The second event marketing tool that is becoming increasingly popular is partici- pation in an election debate. This channel of political communication with potential voters was used by 17.6% of Polish and 13.4% of French respondents. Conclusions An analysis of the research data supports the following conclusions related to the manner and scope of political communications in France and Poland. Firstly, the similarities and differences in how local government election campaigns are run, and in local government political communication, largely depend on the size of the commune represented by the candidates. The studies showed that in Poland, very few candidates used any of the above-mentioned forms of marketing during their election campaigns, while in France, this number was almost 23%, which means that almost one-fifth of the incumbent local politicians did not undertake any marketing activities when seeking votes. The studies showed that Polish respondents used online marketing tools to a greater extent (32%) than French respondents (18.5%). They were also more likely than the French to take advantage of the wide reach of influence of their election website, the option of introducing updates, and the ability to quickly communicate with internet users via chat. Of the candidates applying for a seat in Poland, 26.7% stated that they have their own website, compared to only 15.6% of municipal coun- cil candidates in France. Further research on the use of social media by candidates, depending on the size of the commune, shows that in the overall summary, the scale of use of social media tools in Poland is definitely larger at 38.7% of respondents, compared with only 18.2% in France. The key social platform in political com- munications, which was Facebook, was also more popular among respondents in Poland–44.3%—while in France only 27.9% of respondents had their own fan page. As can be seen from the research results presented, a rather surprising finding is that in Polish local politics, more modern communication tools are used than in the French local elections. It turns out that candidates in Poland are more aware in the field of building professional communications strategies, drawing on both the stand- ards of political communications and political marketing. Over the last 30 years, there has been a visible, significant and surprising change in this regard. In 1989, representatives of the Polish Solidarity Party used the experience and advice of Jacques Séguél, who was a type of guru, and his advice was treated as gospel. Alek- sander Kwaśniewski, who successfully competed for the office of the president of Poland, also used his and his colleagues’ services. After many years, it turns out that Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
  13. 13. 179 Political communication in local elections: a comparative… Polish politicians—including those at the local level–very competently mastered skills in this area. After conducting an analysis of the results of the study, the level of profession- alisation of local government election campaigns in Poland turned out to be com- parable to that in France. Campaigns focussed on marketing featured professional communications activities and the use of expertly prepared messages. The youngest campaign model envisaged activities based on cooperation with external agencies or independent experts in the field of election marketing, focussing on interpersonal forms of online communication and using the latest marketing techniques. The degree of use of 2.0 tools as part of online marketing was not proportional to the tools available on the market, as neither involvement in new technologies nor involvement in interactive communication with potential voters constituted a basis for candidates’ actions during their election campaigns. The research results prove that candidates seeking votes used little help from dig- ital marketing experts. In Poland, these were mainly social activists and volunteers, as well as assistants, and sometimes the candidate’s advisers. However, in France, respondents mentioned friends, expert social activists and advisers. None of the candidates collaborated with a marketing agency or expert institution in this regard. Less than 6% of respondents in both Poland and France used the website positioning services of a professional SEM company or other available intelligent tools. The use of Google AdWords by respondents with their own websites was mini- mal. The low level of digital marketing knowledge of candidates does not explain their failure to take advantage of the professional assistance of marketing agencies or independent experts. French respondents were more likely to get involved in direct, street and event marketing activities. The authors assume that the research results from France were influenced by the phenomenon of a significant fragmentation of communes and, consequently, different communication needs. The research results confirmed that the size of the settlement determined the intensity of marketing and communications activities carried out by candidates as part of election campaigns, particularly in France, where the smallest communes have barely several dozen residents. In addi- tion, voter turnout played a large role in the candidates’ choices of political com- munication. The involvement of citizens in the election influenced, not directly, but nevertheless, the scale of the campaign and the range of marketing techniques used. The higher voter turnout and election culture in France (58.8% in 2015) can result in more focus on a direct campaign. Polish politics functions against the backdrop of lower turnout (47.4% in 2014; 48.83% in 2018), in which every additional vote counts. In summarising responses to public relations activities most often used in local government election campaigns, the research results showed key differences between Poland and France. Based on quantitative data from the surveys, it is clear that in the local government election campaign run in Poland, candidates most often contrib- uted by way of public appearances and interviews. French participants in the elec- tion game reached voters by publishing open letters and meeting with journalists. The research conducted on the highest-rated and most-effective channels of communication with potential voters in Poland showed that Messenger (59.5%) is Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
  14. 14. 180 A. Karwacka et al. first in the ranking. In France, however, the main paths of election communication were Messenger and e-mail. On the other hand, in terms of street marketing, Polish respondents were much more likely than French respondents to use billboards in their election campaigns (54.3% compared to 17.2%). One in two commune head or mayor declared that they use billboards when fighting for votes. Given the opportunities provided by technological advancement, new functionali- ties and solutions for conducting marketing activities, and the increasing number of expert digital marketing institutions, the scale of online marketing tools and social media used in local government election campaigns in Poland in 2014 and 2018 and in France in 2015 remains small. Many communication channels remain untapped, some social media that require higher IT or graphic design skills are not used at all, and candidates are not using applications that have great potential for recording video coverage. A literature query referring to the verification of the current research on com- parative studies of Polish and French experience in election communication clearly shows that the study whose results were presented in the article is of a precursory nature. The interest of French researchers does not focus on comparing French elec- tion experiences with those of countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Polish lit- erature on election communication is more focussed on research on presidential and parliamentary elections. Of course, there is no lack of analyses of local government elections; however, they mainly focus on the political science and sociological per- spective, and do not refer to communication and media conditions. The obtained research results make it possible to continue them in the future, in order to search for development trends in political communication in France and Poland. The authors’ ambition is a continuous mode of research during the elec- tions, giving the opportunity to define and write the dynamics of the changes taking place. References Allard, P. 2012. Gagnez les élections avec internet. Liège: Edi.pro, Editions des CCI SA. Babbie, Earl. 2013. The practice of social research. Boston: Cengage Learning. Bongrand, M. 1986. Le marketing politique. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. Brookes, K., C. Le Gall, and R. Berton. 2014. The 2012 French electoral campaign: tools to understand cam- paign dynamics. French Politics 12 (3): 255–264. https://​doi.​org/​10.​1057/​fp.​2014.​13. Bryman, A. 2004. Social research methods, 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Butler, P., and N. Collins. 1993. Campaigns, candidates and marketing in Ireland. Politics 13 (1): 3–8. https://​ doi.​org/​10.​1111/j.​1467-​9256.​1993.​tb002​15.x. Canel, M. 1999. Comunicación política. Madrid: Tecnos. Dapogny, B., and M. Dapogny. 2013. Les élections municipales… en 100 questions. Hericy: Éditions du Puits Fleuri. Deporcq, D., and C. Lalu. 2006. Communication des collectivités locales et des candidats en période élector- ale. Paris: Librairie Générale de Droit et de Jurisprudence, E.J.A. Dobek-Ostrowska, B. 2007. Komunikowanie polityczne i publiczne. Warszawa: PWN. Farrell, D., and M. Wortmann. 1987. Parties strategies in the electoral market: political marketing in West Germany, Britain and Ireland. European Journal of Political Research 15 (3): 297–218. https://​doi.​org/​ 10.​1111/j.​1475-​6765.​1987.​tb008​79.x. François, P. 2013. Le marketing politique. Stratégies d’élection et de réélection. Paris: L’Harmattan. Gawroński, S. 2007. Marketing polityczny on-line. In Marketing polityczny–szansa czy zagrożenie dla współczesnej demokracji?, ed. P. Pawełczyk. Poznań: INPiD. Gawroński, S. 2009. Komunikacja marketingowa samorządów terytorialnych. Rzeszów: BBConsult. Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
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