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Haßler, Jörg ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2907-5228; Wurst, Anna-Katharina ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1371-7652 and Pohl, Katharina (2023): Politicians over issues? Visual personalization in three Instagram election campaigns. In: Information, Communication & Society, Vol. 27, No. 5: pp. 815-835

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The increased use of social media has triggered a visual shift in digital political communication. One central strategy is visual (self-) personalization and many studies have analyzed why and to what extent political communication is focused on individuals. Yet, most research has concentrated on personalization, leaving aside the question of whether it comes at the expense of policy issues or whether people are brought into focus as facilitators of such issues. We fill this research gap by analyzing how visual (self-) personalization on Instagram pages of parties and politicians during election campaigns has changed over time and whether it comes at the cost of addressing policy issues. We use data from three quantitative content analyses of Instagram posts published by parliamentary parties (n = 7) and top candidates (n = 18) in the ‘hot phases’ before three national German elections (N = 2313), covering all nationwide elections since Instagram has become a common campaign tool. It is shown that personal depictions are very common in Instagram campaigns of parties and candidates while addressing policy issues in posts varies between elections. Using a multilevel binomial regression model, we show that addressing policy issues is negatively related to personalization but further analysis shows that it is not a zero-sum game at the cost of addressing policy issues. Our results provide insights into how the presentation of politics might change when image- and video-based platforms continue to gain importance in political communication.

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