An extensive face-to-face pre- and post-election cross-section survey of a random sample of voters (evenly split into pre- and post-election subsamples) forms the core of the study. Insofar the GLES continues the tradition of electoral research in Germany (and many other countries). To allow for in-depth analyses of how today’s individualized voters choose at elections, this survey encompass a large number of variables to account for as many potentially relevant predictors of vote choices as possible, and it will include a large number of cases to allow for meaningful analyses of even small subsections of the electorate (componente 1).
Observing Short-term Dynamics at Bundestag Elections
Several components allow for an in-depth analysis of the short-term dynamics preceding elections. GLES includes a rolling cross-section (RCS) campaign survey that allows for tracing developments of public opinion in response to parties’ campaigning and media coverage at the aggregate level on a day-to-day basis (based on a random sample of voters, and conducted by telephone). This pre-election study is complemented by a post-election panel wave to allow for the individual-level analysis of relationships between orientations held during the campaign and those held at the end of the campaign, including actual voting decisions (componente 2).
Since it is mandatory to observe effects of campaigns at the individual level in the pre-election phase, this component is complemented by a short-term campaign panel survey, which is conducted based on an online access panel (componente 3).
These two survey components (whose content matches the core parts of component 1) are accompanied by studies examining the context of voting: A campaign media content analysis (componente 4) focuses on the most important issues, candidate profiles and evaluations by the media, the parties’ reported electoral prospects and their coalition signals. Additionally, as in recent elections the parties’ leading candidates’ TV debates have quickly become the key events of election campaigns, GLES includes a detailed study of the conduct and effects of the TV debates (componente 5).
Moreover, to be able to assess the electoral effects of local district candidates’ personal electioneering, the study includes a candidate campaign survey (componente 6).
Components 4 to 6 allow to draw a comprehensive picture of the supply side of elections. Independent of the GLES project itself, but supplementing it in one important respect, also monthly online surveys during the six months preceding the 2009 election were conducted to capture important developments preceding the campaign itself (component X).
Together, the short-term components of the GLES and the additional componente X provide unprecedented insights into the pre-election dynamics of voters’ orientations, as well as into the electoral context, constituted by the parties, their candidates, and the media. They provide a detailed and fine-grained examination of individual and aggregate level changes on the part of voters as they are brought about by processing the information presented to them by parties, candidates, and mass media.
Observing Long-term Change
As opinion formation on the part of voters does not stop when a campaign is over, but carries on over the entire electoral period up until the next election, a full understanding of the electoral process requires to observe not only one election and the campaign that precedes it, but several elections in succession, using an integrated set of instruments for long-term observation. Restricting the project to only one election would preclude any meaningful analysis of the key question that poses itself with regard to the future of the electoral process in Germany, i.e., the amount of electoral change that occurs from one election to the next, its nature and causes.
A long-term panel survey, which – based on component 1 – interviews the same respondents at all three elections included in the GLES project provides deep insights into the extent and patterns of electoral change (componente 7).
A continuous long-term online tracking survey, conducted online over the entire electoral cycles, allows for the close observation of the dynamics in-between elections of voters’ perceptions and evaluations of parties and politicians, including the analysis of the impact of second-order elections (componente 8).
For a better understanding of the reasons behind these dynamics, a parallel long-term media agenda analysis (componente 9) accompanies it. By combining these two components it is possible to explain changes in the course of parties’ popularity. Taking second-order elections (at the state (Land) and European level) into account provides data allowing to analyze the impact of such elections on national elections, thereby closing a major gap in German electoral research.
In addition to regular surveys with regard to state election and because of the co-occurrence of European, several state and federal elections in 2009, an innovative panel survey was set up by GLES and financed by GESIS and the University of Frankfurt, the multi-level panel (componente Y). This three-wave panel was conducted online and interviews respondents from the five states where state elections were taking place at the time of the European, the respective state and the federal election and thus allows to analyze vote choice and political attitudes at different levels of the German political system.
Links between GLES components
All survey components are connected by a largely identical core questionnaire that is complemented by component-specific questions which are necessary to attain the particular goals of each component. Additionally, a similar time frame provides the opportunity to compare different components. The cross-section survey is at the same time the first wave of the long-term panel; its respondents will be interviewed over three subsequent elections. Parallel to survey components, the campaign media content analysis, the TV debate analysis, the candidate campaign survey and the long-term media agenda analysis provide contextual information for the explanation of individual behavior measured by the survey components.