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Campaigns and Elections

How Campaigns Are Conducted

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 Campaigns - 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 sources:

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 Amendment.

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 candidates.

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 law.)

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 Alignments - 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 party.

2. 1828-when the Jacksonian Democrats came to power.

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

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 philosophy.

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 elections.

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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