Bengaluru: Across the world, public speeches delivered by charismatic leaders are widely perceived to be a critical element of successful election campaigns. However, in reality, these speeches probably have very little effect on electoral outcomes.

A recent American Political Science Review paper by Peter Selb of the University of Konstanz and Simon Munzert of the Hertie School of Governance demonstrates this by analysing the impact of Hitler’s campaign speeches before his rise to power.

Historians consider Hitler one of history’s most charismatic leaders who used campaigns and propaganda to devastating effect. To measure the impact of Hitler’s speeches on election outcomes, the authors examined Hitler’s public appearances between 1927 and 1933.

During these six years, Hitler made 455 public appearances that were attended by at least 4.5 million people as part of campaigns for five national parliamentary elections and a two-round presidential election.

The authors find that Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party focused on electoral districts where the stakes of winning additional seats and losing seats won in previous elections were high. But these speeches had a negligible impact on electoral outcomes. However, this does not mean the speeches were completely ineffective.

Hitler’s campaign activities helped achieve other goals of his party such as fundraising, canvassing for new members, or simply enhancing an energetic party image.

More generally, the findings support other studies which have shown that charismatic leaders and campaign speeches are relatively unimportant factors in winning elections. Rather, the more important factors are structural issues such as unemployment, economic despair and weak institutions. For Indian politicians heading into next year’s general election, these findings could provide useful insights into their campaign preparations.

ALSO READ: Examining a most likely case for strong campaign effects: Hitler’s speeches and the rise of the Nazi Party, 1927-1933

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