Personalization 2.0? – Testing the personalization hypothesis in citizens’, journalists’, and politicians’ campaign Twitter communication

Lukas P. Otto 1 , Isabella Glogger 2  and Michaela Maier 3
  • 1 Amsterdam School of Communication Research ASCoR, Department of Communication Science, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 2 Institute for Communication Psychology and Media Education, University of Koblenz-Landau, Landau, Germany
  • 3 Institute for Communication Psychology and Media Education, University of Koblenz-Landau, Landau, Germany
Lukas P. Otto
  • Corresponding author
  • Amsterdam School of Communication Research ASCoR, Department of Communication Science, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Email
  • Search for other articles:
  • degruyter.comGoogle Scholar
, Isabella Glogger
  • Institute for Communication Psychology and Media Education, University of Koblenz-Landau, Landau, Germany
  • Email
  • Search for other articles:
  • degruyter.comGoogle Scholar
and Michaela Maier
  • Institute for Communication Psychology and Media Education, University of Koblenz-Landau, Landau, Germany
  • Email
  • Search for other articles:
  • degruyter.comGoogle Scholar


This paper advances the research on personalization of political communication by investigating whether this process of focusing on politicians instead of political issues plays a role on Twitter. Results of a content analysis of 5,530 tweets posted in the run-up to the German federal election provide evidence that Twitter communication refers more often to politicians than to issues. However, tweets containing personal characteristics about political leaders play only a marginal role. When distinguishing among different groups of actors on Twitter (journalists, politicians, citizens), we find that citizens focus more on candidates than do journalists or politicians. Investigating the impact of a televised debate on Twitter communication, we observe that this person-centered event puts the focus on individual politicians instead of issues.

  • Adam, S., & Maier, M. (2010). Personalization of politics: A Critical review and agenda for research. Communication Yearbook, 34, 213–257.

  • Anstead, N., & O’Loughlin, B. (2011). The emerging viewertariat and BBC Question Time television debate and real-time commenting online. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 16(4), 440–462.

  • Bachl, M., & Brettschneider, F. (2011). The German national election campaign and the mass media. German Politics, 20(1), 51–74.

  • Balmas, M., & Sheafer, T. (2013). Leaders first, countries after: Mediated political personalization in the international arena. Journal of Communication, 63(3), 454–475.

  • Benoit, W., Hansen, G., & Verser, R. (2003). A meta-analysis of the effects of viewing U.S. presidential debates. Communication Monographs, 70(4), 335–350.

  • Bentivegna, S., & Marchetti, R. (2014). Tweeting and watching television. New forms of media hybridization. Comunicazione politica, 14(1), 61–78.

  • Brettschneider, F. (2002). Kanzlerkandidaten im Fernsehen [Chancellor candidates on TV]. Media Perspektiven, 6, 263–276.

  • Brettschneider, F. (2008). Personalization of campaigning. In W. Donsbach (Ed.), The international encyclopedia of communication (pp. 3583–3585). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

  • Brettschneider, F., Neller, K., & Anderson, C. J. (2006). Candidate images in the 2005 German national election. German Politics, 15(4), 481–499.

  • Conway, B. A., Kenski, K., & Wang, D. (2015). The rise of Twitter in the political campaign: Searching for intermedia agenda-setting effects in the presidential primary. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 20(4), 363–380.

  • Donsbach, W. (2002). Sechs Gründe gegen Fernsehduelle: Zur politischen Bewertung einer medialen Inszenierung [Six reasons against televised debates: About a political evaluation of a media staging]. Die politische Meinung, 396, 19–25.

  • Donsbach, W., & Jandura, O. (2005). Urteile mit Verfallsdatum: Einflüsse auf die Wahrnehmung des ersten TV-Duells [Evaluation with expiry dates: Influences on the perception of the first televised debate]. In E. Noelle-Neumann, W. Donsbach & H. M. Kepplinger (Eds.), Wählerstimmungen in der Mediendemokratie: Analysen auf der Basis des Bundestagswahlkampfs 2002 (pp. 141–163). Freiburg: Alber.

  • Druckman, J. N. (2003). The power of television images: The first Kennedy-Nixon debate revisited. Journal of Politics, 65(2), 559–571.

  • Elter, A. (2013). Interaktion und Dialog? Eine quantitative Inhaltsanalyse der Aktivitäten deutscher Parteien bei Twitter und Facebook während der Landtagswahlkämpfe 2011 [Interaction and dialogue? A quantitative content analysis of the German parties’ activities on Twitter and Facebook in the run-up to the federal state elections 2011]. Publizistik, 58(2), 201–220.

  • GESIS (2011). GLES 2009 Codierschema: Agendafragen [Coding scheme: Agenda questions]. Retrieved on 4-23-2018 from

  • Gilens, M., Vavreck, L., & Cohen, M. (2007). The mass media and the public’s assessments of presidential candidates, 1952–2000. Journal of Politics, 69(4), 1160–1175.

  • Golbeck, J., Grimes, J. M., & Rogers, A. (2010). Twitter use by the US congress. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 61(8), 1612–1621.

  • Graham, T., Jackson, D., & Broersma, M. (2014). New platform, old habits? Candidates’ use of Twitter during the 2010 British and Dutch general election campaigns. New Media & Society. Advance online publication.

  • Hayes, D. (2009). Has television personalized voting behavior? Political Behavior, 31(2), 231–260.

  • Hayes, D., Houston, J. B., & McKinney, M. S. (2013). Live-Tweeting a presidential primary debate: Exploring new political conversations. Social Science Computer Review, 31(5), 552–562.

  • Hermans, L., & Vergeer, M. (2013). Personalization in e-campaigning: A cross-national comparison of personalization strategies used on candidate websites of 17 countries in EP elections 2009. New Media & Society, 15(1), 72–92.

  • Hodess, R., Tedesco, J. C., & Kaid, L. L. (2000). British party election broadcasts: A comparison of 1992 and 1997. The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 5(4), 55–70.

  • Holtz-Bacha, C. (2000). Wahlwerbung als politische Kultur: Parteienspots im Fernsehen 1957–1998 (1st ed.) [TV ads as political culture. Party ads on TV 1957–1998]. Wiesbaden: Westdeutscher Verlag.

  • Holtz-Bacha, C. (2004). Germany: How the private life of politicians got into the media. Parliamentary Affairs, 57(1), 41–52.

  • Holtz-Bacha, C., Langer, A. I., & Merkle, S. (2014). The personalization of politics in comparative perspective: Campaign coverage in Germany and the United Kingdom. European Journal of Communication, 29(2), 153–170.

  • Holtz-Bacha, C., Lessinger, E.-M., & Hettesheimer, M. (1998). Personalisierung als Strategie der Wahlwerbung [Personalization as election campaign stratgegy]. In K. Imhof (Ed.), Die Veröffentlichung des Privaten – die Privatisierung des Öffentlichen (pp. 240–250). Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag.

  • Johnston, A., & Kaid, L. L. (2002). Image ads and issue ads in US presidential advertising: Using videostyle to explore stylistic differences in televised political ads from 1952 to 2000. Journal of Communication, 52(2), 281–300.

  • Kaid, L. L. (2004). Measuring candidate images with semantic differentials. In K. L. Hacker (Ed.), Presidential candidate images (pp. 231–236). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

  • Kriesi, H. (2012). Personalization of national election campaigns. Party Politics, 18(6), 825–844.

  • Kruikemeier, S. (2014). How political candidates use Twitter and the impact on votes. Computers in Human Behavior, 34, 131–139.

  • Kruikemeier, S., van Noort, G., Vliegenthart, R., & de Vreese, C. H. (2013). Getting closer: The effects of personalized and interactive online political communication. European Journal of Communication, 28(1), 53–66.

  • Langer, A. I. (2007). A historical exploration of the personalisation of politics in the print media: The British Prime Ministers (1945–1999). Parliamentary Affairs, 60(3), 371–387.

  • Larsson, A. O. (2014). Everyday elites, citizens or extremists? Assessing the use and users of non-election political hashtags. MedieKultur, Journal of Media and Communication Research, 30(56).

  • Lee, E., & Oh, S. Y. (2012). To personalize or depersonalize? When and how politicians’ personalized Tweets affect the public’s reactions. Journal of Communication, 62(6), 932–949.

  • Leidecker, M., & Wilke, J. (2015). Langweilig? Wieso langweilig? Die Presseberichterstattung zur Bundestagswahl 2013 im Langzeitvergleich [Boring? Why Boring? Media coverage of the German national elections in 2013 compared over time]. In C. Holtz-Bacha (Ed.), Die Massenmedien im Wahlkampf: Die Bundestagswahl 2013 (pp. 145–172). Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

  • Magdy, W., & Elsayed, T. (2014). Adaptive method for following dynamic topics on Twitter. In Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (Ed.), Proceedings of the eighth international AAAI conference on weblogs and social media (pp. 335–345).

  • Maier, J., & Faas, T. (2011). ‘Miniature campaigns’ in comparison: The German televised debates, 2002-09. German Politics, 20(1), 75–91.

  • Maier, J., & Maier, M. (2007). Das TV-Duell 2005: Katalysator für die Personalisierung des Wahlverhaltens? [The televised debate of 2005: Catalyst for the personalization of voting behavior?]. In F. Brettschneider, O. Niedermayer & B. Wessels (Eds.), Die Bundestagswahl 2005: Analysen des Wahlkampfes und der Wahlergebnisse (vol. 12, pp. 219–232). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

  • Maier, M., Retzbach, J., Glogger, I., & Stengel, K. (2018). Nachrichtenwerttheorie [Theory of news values]. Baden-Baden: Nomos.

  • Maurer, M., & Reinemann, C. (2007). Personalisierung durch Priming: Die Wirkungen des TV-Duells auf die Urteilkriterien der Wähler [Personalization through priming: The effects of the televised debate on voters’ evaluation criteria]. In M. Maurer, C. Reinemann, J. Maier & M. Maier (Eds.), Schröder gegen Merkel: Wahrnehmung und Wirkung des TV-Duells 2005 im Ost-West-Vergleich (1st ed.). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

  • McGraw, K. M., & Dolan, T. M. (2007). Personifying the state: Consequences for attitude formation. Political Psychology, 28(3), 299–327.

  • McKinney, M. S., Houston, J. B., & Hawthorne, J. (2014). Social watching a 2012 Republican presidential primary debate. American Behavioral Scientist, 58(4), 556–573.

  • Merkle, S. (2015). Personalisierung und genderspezifische Berichterstattung im Bundestagswahlkampf 2013 – ‘Ausnahmefall’ Angela Merkel oder typisch Frau? [Personalization and gender-specific media coverage of the German national election campaign 2013 – Exceptional case Angela Merkel or typically female?] In C. Holtz-Bacha (Ed.), Die Massenmedien im Wahlkampf: Die Bundestagswahl 2013 (pp. 217–247). Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

  • Neuberger, C., Nuernbergk, C., & vom Hofe, H. (2011). Twitter und Journalismus: Der Einfluss des ‘Social Web’ auf die Nachrichten [Twitter and journalism: The influence of the social web on the news]. Düsseldorf: Landesanstalt für Medien Nordrhein-Westfalen.

  • Parmelee, J. (2013). Political journalists and Twitter: Influences on norms and practices. Journal of Media Practice, 14(4), 291–305.

  • Radunski, P. (1980). Wahlkämpfe: Moderne Wahlkampfführung als politische Kommunikation [Election campaigns: Modern election campaign strategies as political communication]. Munich: Olzog.

  • Rainie, L., Smith, A., Schlozman, K. L., Brady, H., & Verba, S. (2012). Social media and political engagement. Pew Research Center.

  • Reinemann, C. (2007). Völlig anderer Ansicht. Die Medienberichterstattung über das TV-Duell [Completely different point of view. Media coverage of the televised debate]. In M. Maurer, C. Reinemann, J. Maier, & M. Maier (Eds.), Schröder gegen Merkel: Wahrnehmung und Wirkung des TV-Duells 2005 im Ost-West-Vergleich (1st ed., pp. 167–194). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

  • Shamma, D., Kennedy, L., & Churchill, E. (2010). Conversational shadows: Describing live media events using short messages. In Proceedings of the Fourth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (pp. 331–334).

  • Sommer, D., Fretwurst, B., Sommer, K., & Gehrau, V. (2012). Nachrichtenwert und Gespräche über Medienthemen [News values and conversations about media content]. Publizistik, 57(4), 381–401.

  • Thimm, C., Anastasiadis, M., Bürger, T., & Einspänner, J. (2014). Der Bundestagswahlkampf 2013 auf Twitter [National election campaigns 2013 on Twitter]. Bonn.

  • Thimm, C., Einspänner, J., & Dang-Anh, M. (2012). Politische Deliberation online – Twitter als Element des politischen Diskurses [Political deliberation online – Twitter as element of political discourse]. In F. Krotz & A. Hepp (Eds.), Mediatisierte Welten (pp. 283–305). Wiesbaden: VS.

  • van Aelst, P., Sheafer, T., & Stanyer, J. (2012). The personalization of mediated political communication: A review of concepts, operationalizations and key findings. Journalism, 13(2), 203–220.

  • van Santen, R., & van Zoonen, L. (2010). The personal in political television biographies. Biography, 33(1), 46–67.

  • van Zoonen, L., & Holtz-Bacha, C. (2000). Personalisation in Dutch and German politics: The case of talk show. The Public, 7(2), 45–56.

  • Vergeer, M., Hermans, L., & Sams, S. (2013). Online social networks and micro-blogging in political campaigning: The exploration of a new campaign tool and a new campaign style. Party Politics, 19(3), 477–501.

  • Voss, K. (2013). Bundestagswahl 2013 im Netz [National elections 2013 online]. Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, (48–49), 34–39.

  • Weaver, D. H., & Willnat, L. (2016). Changes in U.S. journalism. Journalism Practice, 1–12.

Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.

Journal + Issues

The European Journal of Communication Research is an established forum for scholarship and academic debate in the field of communication science and research from a European perspective. Communications highlights the concerns of communication science through the publication of articles, research reports, review essays and book reviews on theoretical and methodological developments considered from a European perspective.