Campaigns and Elections

Campaigns and Elections

How Campaigns Are

Several developments have led to the rise of
the personalistic campaign. The decline of parties is the most
important. The primary election has taken from party leaders the
power to select the party’s nominee for office; they therefore have
little reason to work hard to help that person win the general
election, Political funds and political jobs are increasingly under
the control of candidates and officeholders, not party leaders.
Public financing funds go to the individual candidate, not the party.
And the decline in party identification among voters means that
candidates have less incentive to stress party ties. In addition, the
increased use of mass media for campaigning encourages the building
of an image based on personal qualities.

Any campaign tends to be composed of four
distinct types of workers. First, the paid professionals may be
either members of the incumbent’s office staff or outside “hired-gun”
specialists. Second, unpaid senior advisers are usually old and
trusted acquaintances of the candidate. Third, citizen volunteers are
a diverse lot who are given routine and boring tasks. Finally, issue
consultants define issues and write position papers. Other
professional consultants include media personnel, organizers of
computerized direct-mail campaigns, and pollsters. Modern political
consultants, unlike their party counterparts of the past, usually
take no responsibility for governing.

After assembling a campaign staff, the
candidate must make a series of important decisions about campaign
strategy. The primaries present the first problem. One may take
strong, ideological positions on the issues and attract the support
of ideological activists who loom large in the primary electorate
This, as George McGovern found out in 1972, makes it difficult to
appeal to independents and members of the party in the general
election. The candidate must also decide whether to run a positive or
a negative campaign, how to time the campaign (peaking early or
late), what groups to appeal to, and how money should be spent.
Sometimes choices are restricted: an incumbent will necessarily be
judged on his record, and a member of the president’s party will be
saddled with the record of the incumbent president. Finally, a
candidate must guard against making a blunder-such as Carter’s
Playboy interview, Reagan’s claim that trees are a major
source of pollution, or Clinton’s claim not to have inhaled
marijuana-that could cost the election.

Television is an important factor in modern
campaigns. Paid advertisements, called spots, can be useful,
especially in primary elections in which voters do not have large
amounts of information from other sources. Visuals, on the
other hand, are segments on television newscasts. To get this
exposure a candidate must contrive to do something visually
interesting, and at a time and place convenient for TV camera crews.
Ironically, television newscasts are rarely informative, focusing as
they do on campaign hoopla. Paid spots, on the other hand, contain a
good deal of issue information that the public sees, remembers, and
intelligently evaluates. Conversely, television debates between
presidential candidates can sometimes sway an election outcome (such
as the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate). However, their total effect on an
election may frequently appear uncertain or mixed (as the
Clinton-Bush-Perot 1992 debates illustrate).

One undisputed effect of campaigns is to allow
the passage of time so that partisan loyalties can reassert
themselves. People who identify themselves as Democrats substantially
outnumber people who call themselves Republicans. This does not
prevent presidential races from being highly competitive, however,
because (1) independents historically have leaned toward the
Republicans, (2) Republicans have been less likely to defect to the
opposite party than have Democrats, and (3) a higher percentage of
Republicans than Democrats vote in elections.


Money in Electoral
– Summary

Political campaigns cost a lot. This has been
particularly true in recent years, because political machines cannot
supply battalions of precinct workers, and expensive media (such as
television and direct mail) have become more important. But can money
buy elections? In twenty-nine presidential elections between 1860 and
1972, the winner outspent the loser twenty-one times. This does not
necessarily mean that money can buy votes, because popular candidates
who look like winners can raise more money than others. Nixon
outspent George McGovern in 1972 but almost certainly would have won
even if he had spent less. The best studies on the effect of money in
elections have been done on congressional races. It seems that how
much an incumbent spends is of little importance, whereas higher
spending by the challenger produces more votes. Such spending can
overcome the natural advantages enjoyed by incumbents.

Campaign money comes from several

1. The candidates themselves. The
Supreme Court has held that spending one’s own money in campaign
activity is a form of free speech protected by the First

2. Other well-to-do people. Usually
they give for ideological reasons, or out of ambition for prestige or
power. Traditionally, however, some high federal appointments,
especially ambassadorships, went to campaign contributors. In 1972
President Nixon appointed thirteen noncareer ambassadors to Western
European countries; eight of them had contributed at least $50,000 to
his reelection campaign. The 1974 campaign-finance reform law limited
to $1,000 the amount any individual could contribute to any single
candidate in any give federal election.

3. Organizations and interest groups.
These may be motivated by either a material interest in a policy
area (for example, milk producers or schoolteachers) or by a liberal
or conservative ideology. Political action committees can be
set up to solicit contributions from donors and contribute sums of up
to $5,000 to a candidate. PACs have produced a great increase in the
total amount of business and labor spending on elections; business
now spends much more than labor. This does not necessarily give
Republicans an advantage, because business tends to contribute
heavily to incumbents (including Democratic incumbents). In 1982,

2,665 political action committees gave money to

4. Small individual donors. Barry
Goldwater made a television appeal in 1964 and received
300,000 checks. George Wallace in 1968 and George McGovern
in 1972 followed the same strategy. Recent campaign-finance
reforms laws have given candidates a strong incentive to solicit
small contributions.

5. The federal government. In
presidential primaries, the federal government will match the money a
candidate raises from individuals in amounts of $250 or
less, up to a limit of $5 million. In the presidential
general election, candidates of “major parties” get full federal
support (amounting to $55 million in 1992). A
candidate who accepts federal funding cannot accept private
donations. Minor parties, if they obtain at least 5 percent
of the vote, also get federal money. (However, there remain ways for
candidates to spend money outside the limits imposed by the

Campaign-finance reform laws have effects that
are not yet entirely clear. But the following seem likely: First,
candidates who are personally wealthy have an advantage, as do
candidates who can successfully appeal to many small donors. Second,
candidates have to spend much more time on fund raising to appeal to
a large group of small donors. Third, incumbents will continue to
enjoy a substantial advantage in fund raising. Fourth, late starters
will be at a disadvantage, because the raising of money from many
small donors must begin long in advance of an election. Fifth, the
political parties are weakened. Federal funding goes to the
presidential candidate and not to the party. (However, laws have
recently been amended to allow the party congressional committees to
spend more money on congressional candidates.) Sixth, the role of
celebrities in politics will increase because they can stage benefit
concerts to raise money for the candidates.

Campaign-finance reforms cannot be credited
with a wholesale cleaning up of American politics, because relatively
few things were “for sale” before they were passed. Their best
justification is the conviction that elections must not only be fair
but must also appear to be fair.


Elections and Partisan
– Summary

When political scientist look at election
outcomes, they are interested in broad trends in winning and losing
and in what these imply about the attitudes of voters, the operation
of the electoral system, and the fate of the political parties.
Looking at the historical record, we note several eras in American
elections divided by critical, or realigning, periods.
During such periods there occurs a sharp, lasting shift in the
popular coalition supporting one or both parties. This may occur at
the time of the election as voters choose sides in new patterns, or
just after an election, when the new administration
creates, by its policies, a new supporting coalition. The
five realigning periods in American history have been:

1. 1800-when the Jeffersonian Republicans
defeated the Federalists, who then disappeared as an organized

2. 1828-when the Jacksonian Democrats came to

3. 1860-when the Whig party collapsed and the
Republicans (a “minor” or “third” party) rose to replace

4. 1896-when, reacting to economic discontent
in the country, the Democrats nominated populist William Jennings
Bryan and adopted a Populist party platform. This alienated urban
Catholic workers in the Northeast, leaving the Republicans in control
of the industrial states and the Democrats strong in the farm states
of the South and Midwest.

5. 1932-when, in the midst of an economic
depression, Roosevelt gained office on the basis of popular
dissatisfaction and proceeded to implement policies that drew urban
workers, blacks, and Jews away from the Republicans to form a new
majority coalition.

Thus alignments occur when a highly salient new
issue (slavery, the economy) appears and cuts across existing party
divisions. A party may try to straddle the issue, as the Whigs did
with slavery in 1860. Or it may take a distinct position, as the
Republicans did in 1860 and as both parties did in 1896 and 1932.
Either way, the salient new issue creates a new alignment, both by
converting existing voters and by recruiting new voters into the
dominant party.

Some people feel that the nation is overdue for
another realigning period. Indeed, some think the 1980 election
signaled the breakup of the New Deal coalition and its replacement
with an alignment by which the Republicans will benefit from a new
conservative coalition. Neither the 1980 nor the 1984 elections per
se signaled a realigning shift among voters. Apparently, economic
issues and personalities affected the voters more than any
fundamental repudiation of the entire New Deal political

Perhaps, however, the party system has lost
much of its meaning for voters that parties will decay rather than
realign. Evidence of this is found in the decreasing proportion of
voters who identify themselves with one or another party and in the
consequent increase in split-ticket voting.

Even at the peak of the New Deal alignment, the
Democratic party never had a dependable winning coalition in each
election. The groups most loyal to the Democratic party-blacks and
Jews-are small and have given the party only a small fraction of the
votes it needs to win an election. The nation’s blacks have been the
most loyal (two thirds or more of all black voters have voted
Democratic since 1952). The groups that make up the largest part of
the Democratic vote–Catholics, union members, and southerners-are

also the least dependable parts of the coalition. Defections in these
categories of the coalition have occurred often in past

Realigning periods often bring substantial
changes in public policy. The election of 1860 resulted in a chain of
events that ended slavery; that of 1896 produced Republican dominance
and high tariffs, a strong currency, urban growth, and business
prosperity; the 1932 election produced a vast enlargement of federal
authority. The election of 1964 allowed the Democrats to implement
the Great Society programs; and the 1980 election brought into office
a Republican administration committed to reversing the growth of
government over the preceding half-century. Between such elections

are periods of consolidation and continuity.

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