Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

A Consistent Picture? Issue‐Based Campaigning on Facebook During the 2021 German Federal Election Campaign

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Abstract:  In times of declining party identification, political parties need to persuade and mobilize their voters from election to election. Setting topics in such a way that voters are convinced to cast their vote has become an essential prerequisite for success in modern election campaigns. Social media are suitable for this, as parties can set their own topics or highlight the topics most important to the voters and communicate them to a large audience in organic posts or target specific voter groups with ads. While tendencies of issue ownership in posts on Facebook are repeatedly shown empirically, there is a lack of studies investigating which strategies parties follow in their investment decisions on Facebook ads. Based on theoretical expectations derived from the literature about digital political marketing and issue prioritization in election campaigns, this article investigates whether parties communicated consistently on Facebook with regard to the issues they set in organic posts, sponsored posts, and ads during the 2021 German federal election campaign. The results of a manual quantitative content analysis (n = 1,029 posts, n = 1,197 sponsored posts, n = 2,643 ads) show that parties focused on issue ownership in their posts. Still, their investments in sponsored posts and ads followed different strategies. Here, most parties highlighted social policy, contradicting issue ownership for some parties. The article provides novel insights into digital campaigning and discusses the extent to which parties can engage audiences beyond their organic reach within party-affiliated audiences.

Keywords:  ads; content analysis; Facebook; issue ownership; issue salience; micro‐targeting; organic posts; riding‐the‐ wave; social media; sponsored posts



© Jörg Haßler, Anna-Katharina Wurst, Katharina Pohl, Simon Kruschinski. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.