The districts with their elected councils have always played an important role in Amsterdam politics, but since the elections of 19 March 2014 their powers have been curtailed (I’m simplifying; here’s an explanation in Dutch). One may ask what point there is in having districts if their role is largely reduced to implementing policies set by the city government. And would people still be interested in what they do?
To find out more, I looked up the names of almost 500 local politicians and counted how often they’re mentioned at the websites of the most important local media, newspaper het Parool and TV station AT5. The results are shown below:
Unsurprisingly, there were many mentions of local politicians during election month March 2014. Further, especially at AT5, there’s been a peak in mentions of district politicians in October 2010. This is probably related to their eager coverage of the so-called MuzyQ affair in the Oost district.
But the relevant question is of course: what happened after March 2014. At het Parool, mentions of district politicians declined. At AT5, the pattern is less clear-cut.
The chart below shows articles mentioning district politicians as a percentage of all articles mentioning local politicians. The graph shows the three-month moving average. This has the advantage of showing the trend more clearly, but the consequence is that there’s a lag before effects fully manifest themselves. This can be seen clearly for het Parool: in the graph, the effect of the elections extends until May, but in reality it wore off quicker (cf. the top chart).
As the chart shows, AT5’s coverage of district politics has been declining for years. It’s difficult to say whether the changes in the administrative system as of March 2014 have had a separate effect on AT5’s coverage.
At het Parool, there is a clear effect after March 2014. There are two possible interpretations:
- One could argue that there’s been a decline in mentions of district politicians after the March 2010 elections as well; perhaps journalists need some time after an election to figure out which district politicians are newsworthy. In 2010, coverage of district politics recovered pretty fast as a consequence of the MuzyQ affair refered to above.
- On the other hand, it’s been almost a year and a half now since the 2014 elections. One should expect any temporary effects to have worn off by now. All the same, mentions of district politicians have remained below twenty percent, whereas they were mostly above twenty percent before the elections.
I’m inclined to follow the second interpretation. It appears that district politics has become structurally less relevant - at least so in the eyes of the editors of het Parool.
Since I’ve been counting anyway, I can also report which politicians have been mentioned most often in het Parool. I restrict myself to council members.
There appears to be no data available on past roles of local politicians. Since I was looking for a project to learn PHP and MySQL, I decided to create one myself. Data is from a number of sources including my own News from Amsterdam website (no longer maintained). I used the search forms of the AT5 and Parool websites to look up articles containing names of local politicians (after removing accents, shortening double last names and setting to lowercase). I restricted the analysis to articles that appeared between March 2010 and July 2015 and included only those with a publication date within the period in which a politician was in office.
See the Dutch version of this article for a more elaborate discussion of how the data was collected and analysed.