Campaigning amid a pandemic crisis. A comparison of candidate campaign modes in the Portuguese 2021 presidential elections
Da austeridade à pandemia
The current Covid-19 pandemic crisis has had not only considerable economic and social effects, but also political impacts, namely on electoral contests. The (so far) scarce literature on the relationship between Covid-19 and elections focuses mostly on turnout, issue salience, polarization, the risks on conducting and transparency of elections and the debate on whether it is justified to postpone this democratic event. In the cases in which elections were not postponed, parties and candidates were challenged by the need to carry out campaigns in harsh and unprecedented conditions. The Portuguese presidential election of January 24th, 2021 is a clear example of this, with seven candidates campaigning amidst the third (and so far, the most violent) wave of infections and deaths by Covid-19 in the country. The goal of this paper is to describe and compare the campaign strategies adopted by the seven presidential candidates in the campaign preceding the election. The research design encompasses an explanatory descriptive approach allowing a cross-candidate comparison, shedding light for future research on the impact of the pandemic in electoral campaigning. Building on new data on campaign agendas, budgets and actual expenses, as well as automated data collection on candidate social media use and salience in the traditional media, this research contributes to understand the different ways by which unprecedented events can foster a shift from traditional political communication strategies during election campaigns.