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This blog offers an international look at the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Indeed, campaigners worldwide are fascinated with American election campaigns. We observe relentless paid television advertising, straight-forward attack spots, sophisticated targeting and record-breaking fundraising. One cannot – and should not – simply copy paste American campaign techniques. However, campaigners out there in Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia can get a lot of inspiration and specific takeaways from the most professional campaign in the world. This is the purpose of this blog.

Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl: An Outstanding Campaigner

Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl died last Friday. His historic accomplishments with respect to the European Union and the German reunification have rightfully been praised in many media outlets. I would like to add that from a campaign perspective, Kohl was an extraordinary talent. To begin with, he ruled Germany for sixteen years. He led the German Christian Democratic Party CDU through five nationwide elections – coming close to the absolute majority twice. If you add to this the countless European and statewide elections, Kohl was truly a campaign machine. His biggest achievement in that respect was probably the 1994 elections. A few months before Germany went to the polls, Kohl was far behind in the surveys, but he was able to – single handedly - pull off a stunning comeback. A key moment in this comeback was Kohl’s speech at the CDU party convention, which I highly recommend reading to anyone interested in campaigns.

Realness and Authenticity Win Elections

As different as they may be, Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn and Rodrigo Duterte have one thing in common. I think that behind the camera they are more or less the same as in front of the camera. Among others, one key take-away from last year’s U.S. and Philippine presidential elections, and the UK parliamentary elections last week is that nowadays, authenticity wins elections. Even if voters don’t agree with everything a candidate says, they’re willing to forgive it in exchange of realness.

The Generation of Slim Fit Politicians

Last week, I gave a speech at the External Asset Management Day 2017, organized by Credit Suisse. Among other things, we also discussed the so-called slim fit generation consisting of young, dynamic politicians. Indeed, there are several leaders who fit that category at the moment: French President Emmanuel Macron (39), Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (45), and, former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi (42). Sebastian Kurz (30) was recently elected as the leader of the Austrian OEVP.

Louis Perron delivering a speech at the External Asset Management Day 2017,
organized by Credit Suisse

This is a phenomenon that we do not only observe in politics, but also in the private sector and the academic world: A new generation of ambitious leaders which is aggressively pursuing their careers. They are a good match for the current Zeitgeist. Nowadays, things are changing so fast that a younger leader might be more able to understand current challenges. This doesn’t mean that experience is no longer important for voters, but we are no longer in a situation where more experience is always better. I rather look at it like a threshold, meaning that a candidate needs to convince voters that he is able to do the job. Once a candidate can make that case, and pass that treshold, other criteria become more important, and a comparatively young age can even be an advantage.

This being said, young, attractive leaders in politics are nothing new in itself. I would say that it started with John F. Kennedy during the 1960is when television became important in political communication. What is noteworthy today is how young the young leaders are. This is particularly the case with 30-year-old Austrian Sebastian Kurz. French President Emmanuel Macron is also an interesting case as his rise to power went along with the total collapse of the old party system. Indeed, France used to be a political system where one had to wait in line for a long time and usually make several attempts before winning the presidency.

More about the generation of slim fit politicians in the Swiss news show 10vor10: