‘US elections are like TV talent shows’
America will not be choosing the next President until 8 November. Nonetheless, election fever is already running high. University lecturer and political commentator Kees Boonman explains the phenomenon and shows what Dutch politicians can learn from it.
Boonman is a lecturer in Leiden's Journalism and New Media programme. He is also a political commentator for the Dutch EenVandaag broadcasting company as well as the presenter of the political radio programme Kamerbreed. On 14 April he will discuss the American elections during the Leidschrift Symposium.
The message he wants to get across is that Dutch politicians can learn a lot from their American colleagues. 'The elections in the US often have the air of a permanent finale. There are some fascinating competitive elements, and there is a clear winner and loser. In fact, they have a lot in common with TV talent shows.'
Face of democracy
According to Boonman, American politicians do all in their power to stay in touch with the voters. 'They analyse the electorate and entire neighbourhoods are scanned for supporters and opponents. Political parties invest hugely in endless debates and adverts. Nobody - not even people in the most far-flung corners of the country - can fail to be aware that there's an election going on. For me, that's the true face of democracy.'
‘Clumsy and amateuristic’
Compared with the well-oiled machine on the other side of the Atlantic, Dutch elections are a lot calmer. Boonman describes election battles in the Netherlands as 'clumsy and amateuristic'. That mainly has to do with the way Dutch politicians believe they are reaching the voters. 'Their budgets are minimal, and they lack professionalism. Politicians take scarves, pamphlets and balloons with them when campaigning, and that's as far as they go. It's quite touching, really.'
Boonman believes that Dutch politics would benefit from adopting some of the American elements. 'That doesn't mean that we have to spend hundreds of millions of euros on campaigning, as the Americans do. Nor does it mean engaging in personal attacks and other perverse techniques. But politicians do have to get better at reaching out to the public. The whole thing could be more professional.'
Come to the debate on 14 April
Kees Boonman is one of the speakers at the Leidschrift Symposium on 14 April, on the subject of the US elections. Participation is free. Leidschrift is an independent history journal, produced by students and a lecturer at the Institute for History.