12 Jul, 2021

On the campaign trail during pandemic – a perspective from the Netherlands

Campaigning is hard and campaigning during a global pandemic is even harder! ALDE Party member D66 from the Netherlands ran in the country’s parliamentary elections this March and, despite the extraordinary circumstances, secured a historic result. In this op-ed, the party’s campaign team sheds light on their strategy in the months running up to the election day.

This op-ed was originally published in the ALDE Party Liberal Bulletin in June 2021.

This spring’s parliamentary elections in the Netherlands were historic. The eyes of the citizens have probably never before been so fixed on The Hague, the capital of Dutch politics, given the COVID-19 measures and the issues faced by the sitting government. For D66, the election result was a historic achievement as well, as we captured 24 out of the 150 seats in the Second Chamber. Equaling our previous record from 1994, the limitless enthusiasm of our members, steered forward by our leader Sigrid Kaag, proved to be a successful recipe in surmounting the challenges of campaigning during a global pandemic.

Where we would normally travel across cities and towns to spread flyers and information about our programme and goals, this time our volunteer pairs went – following the COVID-19 measures – past house doors and instead filled as many mailboxes as possible. In The Hague, parliamentary candidates like Steven van Weyenberg and party legends like Laurens Jan Brinkhorst coupled with volunteers, making our campaign, regardless of the circumstances, once again a platform for cooperation between volunteers and (former) candidates. Moreover, the campaign’s social media team proved to be instrumental in contributing to our electoral success, with volunteers answering a great number of direct messages and comments across platforms. This was combined with the narrative of nobody being left behind, with effective social media adverts and with a perspective-offering television commercial – all instrumental components of our campaign success.

Under the title ‘nieuw leiderschap’ (new leadership), we set out to counter the status quo and populism by emphasising the need for a new, value-based leadership to emerge from the ongoing crisis. By focusing on community rather than division, Sigrid Kaag embodied our narrative and was a strong alternative, particularly during the election debates. Moreover, as the largest progressive party in the Netherlands, with this narrative we offered a new solution to problems highlighted by the pandemic, with inequality of opportunity, the climate and education issues being top priorities for us.

European cooperation was ‘the elephant in the room’ in these elections. With key themes focused on the pandemic, the national housing crisis and climate change, the narrative around the European Union was focused on the EU being either the cause or the solution to problems. We did not steer away from this discussion and managed to maintain our reputation as a reliable, pro-European party – and now we also have company, as the newcomer party Volt that is also outspokenly pro-European gained three parliamentary seats. We also congratulate the VVD on their victory, which shows that liberalism is a strong force in the Dutch politics for years to come.

Despite the challenges and extraordinary circumstances, this year’s elections have been an unforgettable experience for D66. While the polls in early January predicted a much lower number of parliamentary seats for us, we continued consistently campaign for what we stand for, never giving up. The end result is something we are extremely proud of.

You can follow D66 on Twitter here

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