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III. Applications and Empirical Evidence
A. Level of Campaign
B. Differences in Gender
C. Campaign Advertising
D. Fund-Raising and Compliance
E. Campaign Effects
IV. Policy Implications
V. Future Directions
Political campaigns represent the core of representative democracy. To win an election, a candidate must earn the support of the general public. The quality of a democratic society can be easily linked to the quality of its election campaigns. Vigorously contested elections and widespread voter participation are two of the hallmarks of a strong democratic nation. Scholarship into campaigns therefore has significant implications for the quality of democracy.
As parties weakened from the beginning of the 20th century, candidates (and therefore campaigns) became much more important. Candidates have taken on the responsibility of organizing and funding their contests after more than a century of partisan control over campaign administration. In the intervening century, campaigns have become more varied in their approaches, structures, and strategies. The continuing evolution of campaigns and campaigning has created a rich area for academics to study.
However, campaigns have been the subject of serious scholarly attention for only the last 20 years. The bulk of academic work in election campaigns has focused on the resulting voting and citizen participation in those campaigns. The campaigns themselves—the organized efforts to motivate voters to support a particular candidate—had been largely ignored until the 1980s. Over the last 20- plus years, though, campaign scholarship has developed significantly.
One of the great difficulties in studying campaigns is the diversity of styles that exist at different levels of election. For instance, a contest for the U.S. Senate will be almost unrecognizable from the nationwide spread and focus of a presidential contest. A city commission election, which is tiny in comparison to either the senatorial or presidential level, will barely be noticeable in campaign activity compared with either of the other contests. Just because there is a contest for political office does not mean that all campaigns are the same. Some campaign elements, such as strategy, will be universal. But in almost every way, campaigns are beholden to the level of office sought. The diversity of levels and styles means that general theory building is much more difficult in the area of campaigns.
Scholarship of campaigns can be organized according to six distinct areas of the campaign: (1) level of the campaign, (2) organization and professionalism, (3) differences between genders in campaign style, (4) campaign advertising, (5) fund-raising and fund-raising-law compliance, and (6) campaign effects. Although some areas overlap, the field of campaign scholarship has focused on those six areas primarily.
The level at which the campaign is conducted makes a significant difference in how a campaign is administered. A presidential campaign, with hundreds of staff, hundreds of millions of dollars to spend, and a 50-state approach, will be naturally rich in resources and highly competitive. As the size of the constituency decreases, so will most or all of the campaign elements such as money and professionalism. Campaign scholarship is therefore first and foremost subdivided by office sought.
The area that will likely show the greatest diversity of approach is in the organization and professionalism of a campaign. Some campaigns will be run by the candidate with the help of a select group of volunteers. As the campaign level gets higher, the professionalism level will as well. Campaigns will increase in both number of staff and the likelihood that the staff will be paid.
Questions persist as to the representativeness of candidates for office. Campaigns for office have been largely the province of men, but women have a different style of campaigning, and the presence of a female candidate significantly changes the dynamics of a campaign. As a result, there is a growing scholarship on the role of women in campaigns.
Campaign advertising has been studied extensively, from the effectiveness of televised ads to the reach of direct-mail advertising. As perhaps the most visible part of high-level campaigns, campaign advertising is perhaps the most studied element of a campaign.
Fund-raising is the most easily quantifiable element of a campaign and thus another area of intense scholarship. Campaign money has to be separated into two areas: the money taken in and the reporting to relevant compliance authorities. Campaigners have to raise money, and how they do their fund-raising has become an area of significant academic attention. The limits and disclosure requirements attached to campaign finance by both the states and the federal government are also areas of great interest to scholars in the field.
Finally, there is the question of whether campaigns actually affect the voting population at which they are targeted. A campaign is assumed to be the mechanism through which voters make their decisions on whom to vote for. However, if campaigns leave no measurable effect on the voters, then their value is in question.
III. Applications and Empirical Evidence
A. Level of Campaign
The presidential election is unique in American politics, the producer of constant campaign material for 18 months and longer. Sidney Blumenthal first termed the presidential contest the permanent campaign in 1982. Ornstein and Mann (2000) critique the constant campaigning, pointing out that once elected, political figures cannot disconnect from campaign mode and that policy is made more for the purposes of re-election than solving collective problems.
Presidential primaries are a unique entity in and of themselves and subject to their own scholarship. The primaries are held early in an election year, but in fact the process of campaigning begins more than 20 years earlier. In presidential primaries, one significant question relates to representativeness of voters. If a presidential primary features low and unrepresentative turnout, then the implications for a democratic society are dire. Unrepresentative party nominees who are less appealing to the general election electorate can mean lower voter turnout and dissatisfaction with government. Barbara Norrander (2000) finds that presidential primary voters are representative of the larger electorate; however, Norrander finds that presidential primary election campaigns are essentially strategic contests and that the number of candidates in the primary is a result of strategic analysis. Candidates decide to abandon their presidential nomination campaigns based on the gap in poll numbers between them and the front-runner. Momentum is vital in a presidential nomination campaign, and if a challenger for the nomination sees that another candidate is building momentum toward nomination, their candidacy is under serious threat. Norrander’s findings are consistent with the idea that presidential candidates are strategic actors who pay close attention to their standings in the polls.
The timing of the 50 primary contests is also important to nomination hopefuls. Mayer and Busch (2004) point to the increasing compaction of the primary calendar as driving up costs, limiting information available to voters, and making it more difficult to campaign for candidates. The main point is a problem of federalism: The national parties have very few rules that prevent front-loading, and states seek to advantage themselves by moving earlier in the calendar to be more important to the nomination process and therefore get more resources and attention from the campaigns. The parties are the solution, according to Mayer and Busch, and they recommend a significant overhaul of the primary process that is led by the national parties themselves.
The strategy of a presidential campaign is largely dictated by polls, as Sigelman and Buell (2003) found. Using the presidential campaigns from 1960 to 2000, the authors found that campaigns chose to use an attack strategy when they were behind in the polls. When one ticket had a significant lead over the other, the trailing campaign was always likely to attack. When the campaign in question held the lead in polls, any attacking was led by the vice-presidential nominee. Closely contested races, however, left strategic uncertainty for the campaigns with a resulting absence of any pattern. Sigelman and Buell take the fact that both parties’ nominees focus on the same issues to develop an alternative theory of presidential issue campaigning, one of issue convergence. Between 1960 and 2000, the authors show a striking unanimity in the issue appeals by candidates of both parties. Sigelman and Buell point out that democratic dialog is lost when campaigns take such a homogenous view of issue positions.
Presidential campaigns must choose their issues and positions strategically as well. John Petrocik, William Benoit, and Glenn Hansen (2003) have developed the idea of issue ownership in campaigns: that one party has a reputation as being more trustworthy on an issue than the other, giving that party’s nominee an advantage. Generally, Petrocik and his colleagues find that Republican-owned issues such as defense and taxes get significant attention from both Democrats and Republicans, which in turn provided Republican candidates for office an advantage in campaigning between 1952 and 2000.
Presidential campaigns constantly provide new content for the media and voters to consume. A presidential campaign is omnipresent during a campaign season, but lower level races display different characteristics. For instance, elections for the U.S. Senate vary greatly between state and cycle. Some campaigns may be as intense as a presidential campaign, with the candidates close in polls and daily messages coming from each candidate’s camp. Others may have much less content communicated to voters and less apparent competitiveness. A 1997 study showed that intense campaigns—close contests with regular activity—encouraged voters to think more of their own ideology and the policy implications of electing either candidate. Voters still used traditional cues like political party affiliation and perceived presidential performance on the economy (Kahn & Kenney, 1997). In other words, close contests with lots of activity leads to voters deciding on their votes with more sophistication.
In campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives, the barriers to entry are often more important than the campaign itself. District partisanship and incumbency can have a suppressive effect on potential candidates. Strategically minded candidates survey the political landscape before entering a contest, and a strong incumbent or a district where the party identification of voters may make their campaign tougher may become the reason a strong contender does not enter the race (Stone, Maisel, & Maestas, 2004).
Furthermore, congressional races are beholden to the top-of-the-ticket contests. Scholars have long established that public approval of the president matters to the electoral fortunes of congressional candidates, but the real determinant of congressional success in light of their presidential support is their own voting record. Even more than partisanship, a candidate’s public support for the president is the main determinant of public attitudes toward the congressional candidate’s presidential support. In effect, a member of Congress’s vote relative to the president’s position is key in garnering support of the constituents in their district (Gronke, Koch, & Wilson, 2003).
The literature on state-level campaigns is sparser than research on federal-level campaigns. State legislative campaigns are less competitive than higher level races, with more uncontested races and larger margins of victory than federal contests. The length of a state legislator’s term—full-time or professional legislatures—and having a traditional single-member district substantially increases advantages for incumbents (Carey, Niemi, & Powell, 2000).
Findings on state legislative races indicate district characteristics are strong predictors of challenger emergence against an incumbent lawmaker. Incumbents can prevent strong challengers through constituent responsiveness on the job, but responsiveness has only a minor impact on the vote (Hogan, 2004).
One significant area of note regarding state legislative races is the idea of those contests as a stepping-stone to higher office. Strategic ambition by state legislators drives them to pay more attention and be more responsive to constituent concerns (Maestas, 2003).
The strategic context of any campaign is driven primarily by the level at which the candidate is competing. So is the level of professionalism and use of advanced techniques. Early political campaigns at all levels were amateur-driven affairs. Even presidential campaigns featured a largely amateur staff. However, as candidates emerged as the primary organizing force in campaigns, professionalism followed.
Image consultants and media designers gradually became part of the campaign process. The presidential-level campaign saw the greatest reliance on professionals, but by the 1970s, senatorial races were commonly run by professionals. Paul Herrnson (1992) began chronicling the level of professionalism in congressional campaigns through a regular survey of candidates in the 1990s. In the decade-plus since, Herrnson’s research has shown that congressional races are highly professional. Campaign managers are more experienced, more likely to be hired consultants or professional staff, and a greater number of campaign roles are filled by paid professionals instead of volunteers.
Organizing a professional campaign for Congress paid off in a variety of ways, most especially in the area of fund-raising. Herrnson (1992) showed in other work that a professionally managed campaign led to more fundraising success for the candidate. Indeed, professionalism is one of the aspects of campaigning that has led to the increased spending associated with election contests. Professionals by their nature expect pay for their services, and staff salaries increase the need to fund-raise for campaigns. Professional staff in a campaign also know how to conduct fund-raising programs, so the more professional a campaign, the more likely that organization will bring more money in. Professionalism and fundraising can be seen as a set piece, two campaign elements that go hand in hand.
The expansion of political consultants into the variety of campaign roles was chronicled by Herrnson’s (1986, 1988, 1992) research. Herrnson points to an expanding slate of campaign roles, including professional fund-raisers, media consultants, and strategists. Campaigns, especially at the congressional level and above, are now highly professional exercises. Burton and Shea (2003) show that not only have roles become professionalized, but also campaigns themselves follow a more established pattern as experienced campaign hands develop playbooks of methods and strategies that campaigns follow.
Professionalism in campaigns has its consequences, and one of those is a greater tendency toward attacks on the opposing candidate. Professional campaign consultants are commonly thought to move campaigns toward a more negative orientation. Other literature exists showing the incentive for a campaign to attack, especially being behind in the polls. An environment with polls and ample fund-raising is necessary to strategically determine the need to attack, and that means having political consultants. In other words, more professionalism means more strategy, and the strategic imperative is much more likely to lead to attacking campaign tactics than in nonprofessional campaigns.
The strategic and professional development of congressional campaigns has led to a new theoretical approach to campaigns. Burton and Shea’s (2003) conception couples a desire to win with a commitment to understand everything possible about the voters of a given district, campaign laws, folkways, and issues. A successful and strategic campaigner, in Burton and Shea’s view, works backward through a plan. Campaign planning is one of the vital parts of any electoral contest, including understanding past voting patterns, budgeting and media planning, potential opposition strategies, and issues to address. Professional campaigns are often characterized by the presence of a well-written and carefully constructed campaign plan.
One important driver in the increasing professionalization of congressional campaigns has been the resurgence of political parties. Herrnson (1986) countered theories of partisan decline by pointing out that national political party organizations were heavily involved in the administration of congressional races. In areas that require technical expertise and research, such as voter targeting, fund-raising, polling, and campaign finance law compliance, Herrnson found that political parties were highly involved in competitive campaigns. Most important, Herrnson points out that the parties are highly selective in which races they choose to devote resources to. The process of targeting helps political parties maximize the number of party members they have in Congress. By choosing races that are competitive, with the best chances of their party to win, the party committees like the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ensure they have the best chance of earning a majority of seats in the legislature. The parties look for a number of important factors, such as the candidate’s early fund-raising success, their name recognition among people in the district, and their experience campaigning. The parties then devote significant resources including independent ads, campaign schools, advice on consultants to hire, and fund-raising assistance (Herrnson, 1988).
Herrnson’s work is core in the area of campaign scholarship because of his understanding of the role of political parties. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, party scholarship focused on the shrinking identification with parties in the electorate. However, through the 1980s and beyond, a cadre of scholars, including Herrnson, pointed to efforts by the party organizations that transformed how political campaigns were conducted. Campaigns, under the aegis of ambitious and organized political party campaign committees, became more structured and professional.
Parties helped make races more competitive by recruiting the best possible candidates they could. The political party organizations developed recruitment coordinators, usually elected members of the chamber, who networked with party leaders throughout the country to identify potential candidates and then begin grooming them for later runs for office by encouraging them to run for lower level offices. Kolodny and Dwyre (1998) described an acceleration of party efforts to orchestrate individual congressional campaigns in the 1990s. Beginning as an effort to rebuild political party organizations, the professionalization effort quickly evolved into a larger-scale effort that completely changed the culture of campaigning for office.
Congressional campaigns transformed, and other levels of campaigning followed suit. Abbe and Herrnson (2003) found a growing professionalization of state races, but only in selected states. A state campaign is much more likely to raise more money, hire consultants, and be more strategic when the legislature is professional and the state is close to Washington, D.C. Daniel Shea (1995) also showed that state-level politics was following in the same professional model that national politics had already undergone. Political party organizations in the states began to focus on recruiting, targeting resources, and professionalizing state legislative campaigns.
The effectiveness of partisan campaign involvement has been questioned in recent work. Regarding the efficiency of party contributions to congressional races, a significant disparity exists in the races money is distributed to. The parties simply try to find the best possible challenger and open seat candidates and then distribute money and other resources to them. The parties also act as liaisons between the campaigns and Political Action Committees (PACs) to further extend their fund-raising reach. Incumbents, particularly those in very safe districts, are expected to contribute back to the party committees for money to redistribute to seats that are either endangered or potentially picked up. The result is a rethinking of the political party as a coordinating entity. Schlesinger (1996) asserts that the new party reality is one of a primarily electioneering organization that acts as the nerve center of a campaigning network that includes the candidates, consultants, PACs, and media.
B. Differences in Gender
All things being equal, female candidates should be just as successful in running for office as their male counterparts. From the advent of women’s suffrage into the 1980s, though, female candidates were few, and elected female officials were even fewer. Female candidates are therefore an important area of scholarship as political scientists today attempt to discover why female candidates and representatives lag behind.
In the 1970s, there were only 13 women in the 435-member U.S. House, a single woman in the Senate, and no female governors. By 2008, 16 women served in the U.S. Senate, and 16 women were governors. More than 50 women were U.S. representatives, and almost a quarter of state legislators throughout the country were women. The disadvantage that female candidates were assumed to have had apparently disappeared.
A number of scholars find that when female candidates run, they win (Seltzer, Newman, & Leighton, 1997). Male candidates significantly outnumber female candidates, though, so the percentages of successes are not as obvious as the raw numbers of victories for men compared with women when running for office. At all levels of campaigns, by the 1990s the assumed disadvantage that female candidates had was not evident in office-seeking success.
For female candidates, 1992 was a breakthrough year. Commonly referred to as the Year of the Woman because of the significant number of women who ran for office and won, 1992 has received significant attention because of the potential insight for prospective female office seekers. A shift toward domestic issues after the cold war, recruitment efforts by the national party committees, and the rise of female-focused political groups such as EMILY’s List contributed to the female-candidate boom in 1992.
Taking 1992 as a transformative year, then, lets us assume that being a female candidate is no longer (if ever) a detriment to successful campaigning. Accepting that assumption, a female candidate’s gender can either be a nonfactor in a campaign or an asset. For the most part, being a female candidate today is an asset. One study shows that female candidates who focus on issues closely aligned with the wishes of their female constituents see their gender become an asset. The authors dispute the idea that the common stereotype of women as weaker candidates is outdated (Herrnson, Lay, & Stokes, 2003).
For some voters, gender is a cue in their information search. In a low-information environment, the simpler the cue, the better. The gender of a candidate is a very relevant and obvious cue. As a result, women tend to support female candidates, and gender becomes a highly significant informational cue for women voters. However, sometimes informational cues conflict. The advantage for female candidates appears to only work for Democratic candidates. Since women tend to vote Democratic, the cues of party and gender reinforce each other. Since the cues of female and Republican conflict, the advantage that female Republican candidates have is much less than their Democratic counterparts.
Being a woman is not enough, though, to ensure a successful campaign (Atkeson, 2003). Many female candidates prior to 1992 were not part of the movement to professionalize campaigns, so their efforts came across to voters as amateurish and not serious enough. Atkeson shows that a candidate must be taken seriously enough by the party, the press, and outside interests to be considered as having a real chance to win.Without the perception that a female candidate can be competitive, just being a woman is not enough to ensure success or support by women.
Atkeson (2003) shows that stereotypes and assumptions about women persist in election campaigns. Democratic and Republican female candidates are not created equal. For Democratic female candidates, voters perceive them as being extreme in their ideologies. As a result, their Republican opponents are generally more successful in general election campaigns. For Republican female candidates, voters see them as closer to the middle of the ideological spectrum, improving their chances at winning. The most in-depth work on the ascension of female candidates is by Sanbonmatsu (2002), who presents two important findings. First, Sanbonmatsu points out that the social class differences between the parties means that female candidates have an easier time emerging in the Democratic Party. Second, her study shows that women are less likely to self-select in their candidacies, and so they become more reliant on party recruitment. Therefore, states that have more developed party organizations and recruitment mechanisms are more likely to recruit female candidates.
Sanbonmatsu’s (2002) work is reinforced by Fox and Lawless’s (2004) research. In the Fox and Lawless piece, women show generally lower ambition to run for political office than men. Again, women tend to not self-start in campaigns compared to male potential candidates. Two factors depress female candidacies: a perception of self by the potential candidate that she is not as qualified to run for office as others and a lack of recruitment efforts by others. Although female candidates might have replaced their disadvantages as candidates with advantages, the greatest deterrence to female success in campaigns is the initial decision to enter the race.
C. Campaign Advertising
The field of campaign advertising is an area rich in research. Televised campaign ads have become ubiquitous since their introduction with Dwight Eisenhower’s “Ike for President” animated advertisement in 1952. Over time, campaign advertising has advanced well beyond the jingles and slogans that characterized early ads. Consistent with other technologies, strategy, and professionalism, lower-level races have also embraced televised advertising as a method of reaching voters during a campaign.
Trent and Friedenberg’s (2008) vital work on political communication relates the entirety of political communication to the need to campaign. For voters, campaign-related communication gives them the most concise and concentrated amount of political information possible. Trent and Friedenberg then see all forms of campaign communication as beneficial and essential to a democratic society. More a history of campaign outreach, including debates as well as advertising, Trent and Friedenberg do not delve into how effective ads are generally.
Early work on negativity suggested that the effect of negative campaign ads was severely limited. Negative political advertising evokes negative feelings toward the targeted opponent and also the sponsoring candidate. Voters seem to look at a negative strategy in blanket terms. Rather than simply accepting the attacks levied in a negative ad against a candidate, the voter who consumes an ad thinks negatively about both candidates, and therefore the likelihood is reduced that he or she will strongly support either candidate. Implied in the research is that voters exposed to a significant amount of negative ads may be less likely to vote.
A major breakthrough in the study of campaign advertising came in 1991, with the first book dedicated to negative campaign advertising. Johnson-Cartee and Copeland developed a dichotomy of negative advertising, claiming that attack ads find fault with the political positions or record of the opponent and also his or her individual character or personality. Much of the negativity assumed to be held by the public, the authors show, relates to the personal ads and not the policy ads. Johnson-Cartee and Copeland showed that at least some subtle critical thinking was being done by voters as they viewed the ads in question.
Indeed, many point to campaign advertising as a reason for the decline in elements of civic engagedness like beliefs in efficacy of government and voter turnout. Ansolabehere and Iyengar (1997) broke ground in the effects of negative campaign ads and, using experimental methods, exposed voters to carefully designed ads to measure the differences between policy attacks, personal attacks, and nonattack advertising. The study showed that voters who were exposed to negative political campaign ads were 5% less likely to turn out and vote. The primary reason that voters report less likelihood to vote is that they feel disengaged from and uncomfortable with the political process. The implication and assumption in the work of Ansolabehere and Iyengar is that voters are turned off by negativity in general. In a later book, the authors replicate and repeat the findings from their original work. Ansolabehere and Iyengar firmly established one side of the debate on campaign advertising. Negativity as a depresser of civic engagement and voter turnout persists today as one theoretical orientation toward campaign advertising.
However, other research shows that campaigns should use negative campaign advertising because of its effectiveness with voters. Recent scholarship shows that political advertising contains significant informational and emotional content, contributing information, engagement, and participation. Using the 2000 election as a case study, one article clearly shows that citizens who are exposed to campaign advertising develop higher levels of interest in the election, think more about the candidates running, are more familiar with the candidates, and are more likely to vote. The most important finding of their research is that the beneficial effects of campaign advertising emerge mostly among those with the low levels of political interest and information prior to the beginning of the campaign (Freedman, Franz, & Goldstein, 2004).
More recent research has continued to dispute the idea that negative advertising suppresses engagement in campaigns and suggest they are in fact a vital part of the information search that voters involve themselves in. Using multiple statistical methods on data from American National Elections Studies over 42 years, Finkel and Geer (1998) showed that the reason for lower voter turnout and engagedness could be explained better by other factors than exposure to negative advertising.
The most important rejoinder to Ansolabehere and Iyengar’s work comes from Wattenberg and Brians (1999), who also used American National Elections Studies data and other sources, showing that candidates who sponsor negative ads do not suffer a loss of support and votes from respondents who recalled seeing that campaign’s negative ads.
For two decades, political scientists have debated the role of campaign advertising and its importance to the candidates who sponsor them. Two schools have emerged: one arguing that negative ads suppress turnout and lead to backlash against the sponsor and another that says the effect of exposure to negative ads is minimal and overpowered by other elements of the campaign.
D. Fund-Raising and Compliance
Another aggressively studied element of the campaign is fund-raising. Jesse Unruh, former speaker of the California State Assembly, coined the phrase “Money is the mother’s milk of politics” (Cannon, 1969, p. 99). The phrase, first uttered in the 1960s, is still true today and is ever truer. As campaigns have become more professionalized, they have required even more money for consultant salaries, polling voters, developing and placing advertising, direct mail, and other strategic elements of campaigning.
Frank Sorauf (1994) published some of the early works on campaign finance. After the Federal Election Campaign Act limited campaign money and mandated disclosure of donations and spending, data became available to analyze. Sorauf tracked the amounts of money donated to campaigns in aggregate as well as the spending by those campaigns. Sorauf in particular shed light on the common assumption that elected officials who accept donations from interested parties are bought and sold by those interests. Sorauf points out, in a theme that continues throughout most of the subsequent literature on the topic, that the assumption is based on correlation and not cause. In other words, candidates accept money from interests who are aligned with their preferences, but it does not mean that those groups are imposing their preferences on the elected officials to whom they donated.
The demand for money has led to a development of fund-raising styles, especially the personal touch as described by Francia (2003). Fund-raising committees and personal appeals by the candidate are the most successful elements of fund-raising by campaigns, using emotional language of threats by opponents and the need to fight against them.
At the presidential level, there are two primary methods of soliciting funds: direct mail appeals to voters and the use of interpersonal networks to bundle contributions. Since that work, though, the Internet has allowed for direct fund-raising online. Indeed, the Obama presidential campaign of 2008 used online fund-raising to dramatic effect, raising very small donations from a wide variety of voters. The small-donation model, dependent on social networks, has been established as a key method of successful fundraising (Cho & Gimpel, 2007).
Greater attention has been paid to preprimary-phase fund-raising in recent years. One study focused on preprimary-fund-raising success using professionalism of the campaign, length of candidacy, and the candidate’s poll performance. The author found that more money spent on fund-raising early in the preprimary phase, perceptions of candidate competitiveness, and poll results all increase a campaign’s ability to successfully fund-raise (Goff, 2007).
Some scholars turn conventional wisdom on its head, actually positing the question of why so little money flows into campaign coffers. Reinforcing the initial findings of Sorauf, the work finds that small sums dominate campaign fund-raising and that the money does not have nearly the negative affect commonly assumed. Ansolabehere, de Figueiredo, and Snyder (2003) find that interested groups give little and get little but do so because of the importance of the marginal success they may have. The access to elected officials they get and the subsequent opportunity to influence legislators is enough to provide the groups an incentive to give just a bit. Additionally, the goals of the groups are more to affect elections and ensure friendly legislators are in office, knowing their policy success is not guaranteed.
E. Campaign Effects
The final question to ask is whether all of these campaign elements have any effect on voters. Early work on the effects of campaigns said that candidate outreach did little to nothing to add supporters. Most voters, the research showed, had made up their minds based on partisanship and approval of the incumbent. Finkel (1993) found that campaigns serve primarily to mobilize existing supporters, activating that support rather than converting opponents or swaying the undecided.
If there is a measurable and notable effect from campaigns, it comes in the form of voter mobilization. Recent research has focused on the efforts of campaigns and affiliated groups to get voters out to the polls. Local and county party organizations that are well organized and well led are more aggressive about mobilizing voters and therefore more successful (Beck, Dalton, Haynes, & Huckfeldt, 1997). Outside groups such as interests and PACs have begun interacting with parties more since the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 banned the practice of soft-money donations to parties from groups (Magleby, Monson, & Patterson, 2007).
Gerber (2005) and Green (2003) have led the study of effectiveness of campaign activities throughout the last decade. Their work has shown consistently that the personal touch, so vital in fund-raising, is also necessary to effectively mobilize supporters. Direct mail has a slight positive effect on mobilization, as do phone calls. Face-to-face campaigning, though, has the greatest effect on mobilization, and that effect is most pronounced among younger voters.
IV. Policy Implications
The First Amendment to the Constitution provides a significant degree of protection to political speech, so regulations impact the campaign environment. Campaign finance is the most notable area of legal limits on campaign activity, and those regulations are common. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002 provides an example of the interaction of policy and campaigning. The BCRA banned unlimited soft money contributions from interested companies and groups to political parties for campaigning and had two significant effects on campaigns: First, they midwifed the birth of 527 organizations, and they also led those groups to change from donors to mobilizers.
Reversing the causal chain, campaigns can have an impact on public policy. However, as the research on campaign finance shows, the money that flows into campaigns does not buy the votes or support of elected officials. The money buys only access and the opportunity to occasionally influence policy. One can say affirmatively that the common assumption about interested money buying and selling legislators is a myth easily dispelled by volumes of research on the effect of campaign money.
V. Future Directions
As the campaign scholarship field expands, a number of areas will emerge in the research. State-level campaigns are the most obvious area of greater research. Since federal campaigns have seen a greater unanimity of style and strategy, the diversity of political cultures among the states provides a rich field of opportunity to study the professionalism, fund-raising, and strategic elements of those campaigns with the same analytical attention paid to the national campaigns.
As the Internet supplants television as the dominant media that voters consume, the effects of web video as a campaign element should emerge as an important field of study as well. Indeed, a campaign can conduct many of the traditional elements of its outreach over the Internet, so fund-raising, volunteer mobilization through social media, and advertising content can all be studied from the new frame of Internet campaigning.
Finally, the effects of campaign activities on voters will continue to develop. Experimental models and survey research will likely continue to be the method through which scholars examine the effectiveness of campaigns, but more models will emerge and more data will show if the initial findings on mobilization are robust.
For a long time, campaigns were treated as a given, and scholars paid more attention to voting behavior as the only important element of a campaign. However, the last 20 years have seen an emerging scholarship on campaign elements. Professionalism has dominated federal-level campaigns, whether for the presidency or Congress. The professionalism has led to more strategic thinking on the parts of all campaigners and a more consistent style of campaigning.
The use of advertising has also increased and become nearly ubiquitous. The effects of campaign advertising, particularly attack ads, is an area of great dispute. Two schools of thought have emerged about the effectiveness of campaign advertising, one arguing it depresses voter turnout. The competing school claims negative ads provide useful information to voters and are a strong contribution to democratic debate.
Women as candidates, long assumed to have significant disadvantages, have emerged as overcoming the biases and perceived weaknesses that hurt their electoral chances in years past. Campaign fund-raising is closely linked with professionalism and running ads and has increased over the last few decades, but research points out that candidates are not beholden to the interests from which they fund-raise. Finally, campaigns are not the sole force that drives votes. Many voters have their minds made up prior to the campaign’s beginning. However, campaigns can activate soft supporters and do convert the undecided. In close races, therefore, a campaign’s activities are a vital contribution to the democratic process.
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