Tuesday, August 11, 2009

“Expectations matter”: The case of Ulla Schmidt

The unveiling of Steinmeier's SPD-”Kompetenzteam” (shadow cabinet) was overshadowed by an embarrassing episode involving Ulla Schmidt. The Federal Health Minister apparently used her staff car during vacations in Spain, where it was stolen. What was the evaluation of the public of this incident and the resulting exclusion of Ulla Schmidt from the Kompetenzteam? What were the impacts on the current polls?

The key point is not whether Schmidt was right or wrong, but the context: From the public point of view, her party has not been able to solve the most important problems (unemployment and social injustice), despite being a governing party for eleven years. Thus, SPD is not expected to solve the problems presented by the financial crisis.

It does not matter if Ulla Schmidt is actually to blame for the loss of her staff car, just as it does not matter if SPD is actually to blame for the current problems. “Expectations matter”: Schmidt's carelessness met the expectation that social democrats are not able to handle public property well.

When the institute Forsa released new poll data (08/05) indicating that the SPD will receive only 20% of the votes in the upcoming elections, a loss of 3% compared to Forsa's last poll (07/29), Ulla Schmidt was accused for the worst result in 2009. However, for a long time SPD has been judged by the press and by various polls (like DeutschlandTrend July 2009) to lack leadership and competence on issues like economy and social justice.
Despite the fact that Schmidt’s “car scandal” was rather a bagatelle, the incident has been evaluated as an affirmation of social democratic weakness and incapability. “Schmidt” fulfills topicality and fits in with present expectations.

Summing up, the current situation of SPD is problematic because every step is perceived against the background of negative expectations. It is to be seen if Steinmeier will be able to change these preconceptions during his “Sommerreise” (summer tour).

--Oskar Fischer

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