“First Lady, First Lady!” chanted the crowd in the Headquarters of the recently elected President of Poland, Andrzej Duda. Agata Kornhauser-Duda thanked everyone for the support given to her husband and said she would do every effort to be a good First Lady. The arrival of this couple to the Belvedere Palace can seem incredible, as only six months ago the candidate Duda was given 16% of vote intention against 60% for the outgoing president, Bronisław Komorowski. However in only some months, Duda was able to reverse this trend. And although many reasons can be found to explain this victory, Duda partially aced his opponent thanks to the public support of his family.
The women of his life
In the last months of the campaign, Andrzej Duda was always publicly accompanied by two persons: his wife and his daughter, “women of his life” as he liked to describe them during electoral meetings. Physically resembling to each other, they used to wear clothes in the same color, as if they wanted to stress the unity and solidity of the family. In the beginning 19-year-old daughter Kinga stole all of the attention, as the press, avid of new faces and new celebrities, started to ask: Is she the next First Daughter of our country? However, as time went by, Duda’s wife stopped being a smiling statue and spoke out for her husband.
Campaigning in the American style
The public presence of the family is typical in American politics. Since the Kennedy’s who understood that private IS public, relatives are supposed to soften the image of the candidate by describing him emotionally and by softening his image. The aim of all that is to humanize the politician and thus make him closer to the electorate.
For many years Polish politics have been applying the codes of American political marketing. In 1995 Aleksander Kwaśniewski publicly presented his wife. In 2005 billboards around the country portrayed the happy family of Lech Kaczyński, conservative politician who eventually won the elections. Today, Duda has moved forward and adopted the American convention of winning by durably engaging his family in his grassroots campaign, electoral spots as well as by using the interest regarding his family to enhance his social media communication.
Benefits of taking the family out of the closet
In the final count, Duda’s decision to show his family was positive for him. Firstly, he enjoyed a stronger interest from media which translated into a more extensive and less aggressive coverage. Secondly, his wife and daughter helped him to build up a warmer image what can be of crucial importance for a politician coming from a very polarizing party like the conservative PiS is in Poland. It seems that Komorowski noticed those advantages and learnt this lesson too late. After the first round, media started to write about Duda’s family as his assets and to ask themselves where Komorowski’s children were. Ultimately, the children of the outgoing president made on their own initiative a video movie calling for a vote for his father. Nevertheless, it did not really work as it was only an ephemeral act of presence and they did not reach to strongly impact their father’s public image.
Agata Kornhauser-Duda did however more than just improving the public image of her husband. When Komorowski in his campaign spots suggested that Duda was manipulated and was only a puppet in the hands of Jarosław Kaczyński, the chief of the conservative party, PiS and one of the most controversial, yet emblematic politicians in Poland, Kornhauser-Duda stood publicly in defense of her spouse by saying:
“There are two people who stand behind my husband, my daughter and myself”.
Some days later, she continued with the topic when in the middle of a meeting in the presence of the conservatives’ leader, she publicly said: “I don’t know why our opponents are so fearful. With all the respect, Mr. President (of the Party), I am not afraid of you”.
In her short speech after the announcement of the elections’ results she said: “We will try to keep all the promises my husband made during the campaign”. The use of plural in this sentence can be analyzed as a promise of a strong implication of the First Lady in her husband’s tenure. Only one sad tone tarnishes this otherwise perfect image. Because of the election, Agata Kornhauser-Duda will be obliged to leave her beloved job as a high-school teacher of German. Polish presidency is no longer a one-man show and the new First Lady has apparently understood that she would have to continue to be on the public stage. It is however unknown whether she will remain in the shadow of the Presidential Palace or she will try to empower her function.