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The follower effect in politics: How mass movements can influence election results

Demonstration for the free democratic basic order (Photo: Thomas Wolf)
Demonstration for the free democratic basic order (Photo: Thomas Wolf)

The follower effect can influence the sense of belonging. In football, we speak of success fans. The effect also comes into play in politics.

Investigation of the follower effect in politics and its impact on political elections, with an analogy to the phenomenon of successful fans in soccer. Analysis of the effect of democracy movements against right-wing extremist tendencies.

The bandwagon effect plays a decisive role in many areas of social life, but especially in politics. This phenomenon, often referred to as the bandwagon effect, describes how the popularity of an idea or movement increases the more people support it. It is similar in sport, where successful fans increasingly support teams as soon as they are on the road to success.

We want to be on the side of the winners

The follower effect is based on the social psychological theory that people tend to follow popular opinions or trends, especially when they perceive that they are gaining momentum. This tendency can often be observed in political campaigns, where the apparent popularity of a candidate or party attracts further supporters.

The bandwagon effect also exists in soccer

While the phenomenon of successful fans is widespread in soccer, studies from Oxford University show that the bond between fans and their teams is more complex. A study has discovered that intense experiences, both of important victories and painful defeats, strengthen the bond between fans and their club. These self-shaping experiences lead fans to merge their own identity with that of their club, indicating a deep emotional connection.

Another study by Oxford University looks at the stress levels of soccer fans during matches. It shows that fans who identify strongly with their team can experience intense stress reactions during the game. This strong emotional attachment is associated with increased cortisol levels and can have both positive and negative effects on the health of fans. The study emphasizes that this intense group bond goes beyond simply supporting the team and is deeply rooted in the fans' psyche.

These observations in the field of soccer may have parallels to politics, where similar mechanisms of emotional attachment and identification with political movements or parties may exist. The profound loyalty and emotional investment in a political party or movement could therefore have similar effects on the behavior and decision making of supporters as is the case with soccer fans.

AfD benefited from the follower effect

The development and rise of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) since its foundation in 2013 offers an exemplary scenario for the bandwagon effect in politics. The intensive media coverage of the party, often driven by targeted provocations and links to the PEGIDA movement, has contributed significantly to its visibility and perceived popularity. The PEGIDA movement, which was able to mobilize around 20,000 people in Dresden at its peak, provided the AfD with a platform that reinforced its messages. This coverage gave the impression that the AfD was a new, strong force in Germany, which in turn led to increased support among the population.

Now the bandwagon effect could harm the AfD

The recent mass demonstrations against right-wing extremism had a direct impact on the popularity of the AfD. An Insa survey shows a decline of 1.5 percentage points, which is the sharpest drop in almost two years. This suggests that public demonstrations can play an important role in influencing public opinion and voting behavior.

Despite the AfD's decline, the vote shares of the traffic light parties remained largely unchanged, while the other parties, including the Sahra Wagenknecht (BSW) alliance, benefited the most. This shows that the political landscape can change dynamically as a result of such movements, with smaller and new political groupings potentially gaining more attention and support.

The observations suggest that the bandwagon effect can not only cause short-term changes in voting behavior, but also long-term shifts in Germany's political landscape. While the AfD remains a significant political force, such movements and demonstrations could help to shift the political balance in favor of democratic and moderate forces.

So can the mass demonstrations help to strengthen the free democratic basic order in Germany and cause the AfD to lose support?

Mass demonstrations can send a powerful signal of support for the free democratic basic order in Germany. They highlight citizens' commitment to democratic values and resistance to extremist tendencies. This public commitment can strengthen democratic awareness and encourage broader political participation.

Large demonstrations against extremist parties such as the AfD can influence the follower effect by changing the public perception of these parties. If the public perceives that a party is increasingly rejected, this can lead to a loss of support as people tend to distance themselves from groups that are not seen as successful or popular.

Although the direct impact of demonstrations on voting decisions can vary, they help shape political culture in the long term. By emphasizing democratic values and rejecting extremism, such movements can help to strengthen the free democratic order and promote a social consensus against extremist parties such as the AfD.

This article is based on own research and was created with the help of ChatGPT. 

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