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Why Digital-Era Political Marketing is Not the Death Knell for Democracy: On the Importance of Placing Political Microtargeting in the Context of Party Competition

Pascal D. König


Political microtargeting has been depicted as a severe danger for democratic representation. It is said to fragment the electorate, help manipulate voters, and make politics overall less responsive and inclusive. However, the present paper aims to show why these are not general consequences to be expected from political microtargeting. It argues that a greater consideration needs to be given to context for a more differentiated understanding of microtargeting. The paper adds to existing research by situating political microtargeting within research on party politics. First, it shows that based on core assumptions about party competition and the strategic incentives it involves, one would not expect that microtargeting practices undermine democratic representation. Major constraints resulting from party competition hardly allow parties to be less responsive and inclusive when employing microtargeting. Second, the presence of such constraints furthermore depends on the larger political and institutional context that shapes the intensity of competition.

Corresponding author: Dr. Pascal D. König, Department of Social Sciences, TU Kaiserslautern, Erwin-Schrödinger-Straße, Building 57, 67653 Kaiserslautern, Germany


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Published Online: 2020-04-22
Published in Print: 2020-06-25

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