Political whores can be profiled


Bernd Schüler

To person

M. A., political scientist and sociologist, freelance journalist, born in 1969; Mittenwalder Str. 47, 10961 Berlin.
Email: [email protected]

We open up the world of the political through colors. Red, black, yellow, green are elementary patterns of orientation for the political public, as they organize the party-political spectrum.


Colors convey politics. When the first colored bars shoot up on the television screens on election evening, we are informed in seconds - about the future balance of power in parliament. When a politician appears in a yellow tank top, the audience understands the political commitment - personal identification with the FDP. And when an SPD general secretary claims in the election campaign that black and yellow are mixed to gray, everyone understands his message: the competitors supposedly can't.

We open up the world of the political through colors. Red, black, yellow and green are elementary patterns of orientation for Germany's political public. They organize the party-political spectrum and mark ideological positions. Under the conditions of media democracy, colors are used to visualize a lot that is outside of our everyday sphere of experience. As a slice with different colored pieces of cake, the result of the election is clear. Framed in a colorful ambience with a typical key color, abstract structures such as party organizations can not only be (re) recognized quickly, but also be differentiated from one another.

The situation of democratic competition drives the actors to work again and again on their appearance: Outwardly they try to generate attention and approval with their own color design. It is about positioning yourself visually as an actor and thus being unmistakable in the midst of a variety of other offers. This happens not only through the design of publicly relevant backdrops, but also through clothing: Anyone wearing a tie of the appropriate color, such as that sold by political parties as an accessory, signals belonging. Inwardly, colors act as a binding agent: colored lanyards, for example, which are distributed at party congresses, make the status of a political community visible to one another - without having to discuss programmatic content. "Black is beautiful", a slogan of the Junge Union, or "Red is love", a slogan by the Young Socialists, also affirm that it is about establishing identity - a form of affirmative self-assurance.

So colors reduce the complexity of political practice. This can also be seen in the language of colors: Journalists like to use formulaic color images to comment on party political events and developments: "Matt green - saturated yellow", for example, was the headline of "Die Zeit", while reading in the "Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung" was: "The yellows see green."

In the language of colors, changes in the party system are also discussed and criticized at the same time: the political theory of colors is no longer coherent, according to the corresponding tenor, because the assumed unity of ideology and party is falling apart. "The reds are only reddish, the eco-party barely any more greenish," wrote "Die Welt".

The result is an ambivalent picture: On the one hand, colors are still used as a basic orientation pattern in political space. On the other hand, common color assignments as symbols of political positions of individual parties are loosening. In the words of an observer of the 2005 election campaign: "The political theory of colors (seems) to have played out, just like the old division into right and left." [1] An opaque situation has arisen, which the parties and their marketing strategists partly answer with this (and reinforce) that they present themselves publicly with new, complementary key colors. The less you commit yourself to a color, the more you can rewrite a calculation behind it, the more promising it is to reach and win over the growing circle of politically undefined groups of voters.

As a look back at history shows, the use of individual colors has always been diverse and their meaning has never been clearly defined. Contrary political attitudes have been associated with one and the same color over time. Their use is mostly explained by a mixture of practical, accidental circumstances, tradition and calculation. That is at least shown by the political careers of individual colors, which are to be outlined in this article. Before doing this, however, we shall outline some broad lines that describe the change in the role of colors in political history.