Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 August 2018
Hitler’s rise to power amidst an unprecedented propaganda campaign initiated scholarly interest in campaign effects. To the surprise of many, empirical studies often found minimal effects. The predominant focus of early work was on U.S. elections, though. Nazi propaganda as the archetypal and, in many ways, most likely case for strong effects has rarely been studied. We collect extensive data about Hitler’s speeches and gauge their impact on voter support at five national elections preceding the dictatorship. We use a semi-parametric difference-in-differences approach to estimate effects in the face of potential confounding due to the deliberate scheduling of events. Our findings suggest that Hitler’s speeches, while rationally targeted, had a negligible impact on the Nazis’ electoral fortunes. Only the 1932 presidential runoff, an election preceded by an extraordinarily short, intense, and one-sided campaign, yielded positive effects. This study questions the importance of charismatic leaders for the success of populist movements.
We are grateful to Johannes Häussler and Sascha Göbel for their superb research assistance; Fred Hockney for his proof-reading and language editing; Birgit Jacob and Hannah Laumann for their editing; Christian Spinner, who sounded out the terrain in his Bachelor’s thesis; Jürgen W. Falter, Jonas Meßner, Dieter Ohr, and Paul Thurner, who provided their data; the participants of the research colloquium of the Graduate School of Decision Sciences at the University of Konstanz; the panel on media and politics at the EPSA Conference 2016 in Brussels; Alexander De Juan, Thomas Gschwend, Moritz Marbach, and the reviewers for valuable comments; and the responsible editor for his enduring support during a long and controversial review process. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse: https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/3KOQWQ.
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