Elections and Campaigns


Similarities and Differences between Presidential and congressional campaigns

Size: Most presidential elections have much greater voter participation

Presidential races are more competitive

One party clearly holds the presidential office and resulting administration

In typical house race, incumbent wins; hence presidential has to be more competitive

98 % of house incumbents are reelected

Greater media attention

Much more money

Smaller voter turnout during off years

Lower turnout means congressional candidates must appeal to more partisan voter

Presidents have smaller margin of victory, mostly due to incumbency

Congressmen can do more for constituency

i.e. Lott and Gingrich in budget deal

Can take credit for direct improvements; president can't really do that since he doesn't make laws

Congressmen can distance themselves from "the mess in washington"

Incumbent president cant ignore blame of responsibility

Net result : congressional elections have become largely independent of presidential ones

Running for President

"The great mentioner" must mention you as being of presidential caliber

Ways to get mentioned:

"Off the record" mentioning to reporters of potential presidential intent

Make lots of speeches (Here's Rudy!)

Already be famous (ala John Glenn)

Be identified with a major piece of legislation (McCain-Feingold anyone?)

Getting nominated by the party

Money: running takes a ton of time because it takes a ton of money. Individuals can only contribute $1000, political action committees (PACs) can only give $5000.

Organization: in order to do this, you must have a team behind you. Large number of nation-wide volunteers. Must assemble issue advisors, who write "position papers"

Strategy and themes: Choose a strategy for a campaign, Incumbent defends, challenger attacks. Must look at tone (positive or negative), theme (i.e. "stay the course" (bush 88) or "we need to change" (Clinton, 92)), timing (primaries vs. long fight), and target (who should you look at to vote?)

Primary vs. General Campaigns

Require about the same demands

Must be stronger ideologically, because those attending the caucus will be

Yet if you win nomination, you have to be more moderate, and your opponent won't let you forget your extreme stances

If you don't win early primaries, then you are at a disadvantage

Caucus : alternative to primary in which party members meet to select candidates. Public vote. All are for presidential campaigns.

Kinds of election s

General election: select someone for elective office

Primary election : used to select a party's candidate for an elective office (secret ballot)

Closed primary: you must first say you are part of X party (most common); must vote for only one party’s candidates

Open primary: can decide inside the voting booth which party you are a member of; still must vote only for one party (like in Idaho)

Blanket primary: mark a ballot listing candidates of all the parties, hence you can vote for one democrat for one office and a republican for another.

Runoff primary : if no candidate gets a majority, there is a runoff (common in south)

Blanket and open primaries are thought to result in reduced party power

Presidential primary: used to pick delegates to the presidential nominating convention

Delegate selection primary: only the name of potential delegates appear on ballot

Delegate selection with advisory presidential preference: voters pick delegates and indicate which presidential candidate they prefer. Delegates don't have to obey

Binding [pledged] presidential preference: voters pick preferred presidential candidate. Delegates must observe preference

Television, debates, direct mail

Two ways to get on TV:

Paid advertisements (spots)

Possibly useful for unknowns

Not very effective, however, since people have so many sources of info

Both sides use TV spots

Get on the news

Visual: campaign activity that gets on the news

Cost the campaign little; have greater viewer creditability

Must be visual! No talking heads wanted

May Actually provide less real candidate info than advertising


Incumbents have little incentive to debate their opponents (thank you Dirk!)

Sometimes there are even debates before primaries

Visuals and debates are risky

Proverbial slip of the tongue

1988 : Reagan claimed that trees cause pollution

Generally, then, we simply get campaign rhetoric with little real-issue focus

FCC allows news networks to give time to major candidates, thus limiting third-party opposition

Direct mail allows targeting of interest groups -- hence it is a very effective tool.

Goals of advertising

Provide some information

Counter opponents

Keep and energize base

Swing voters (impacted by negative ads)

Demoralize the opponent’s supporters

Pecuniary Measures and Matters

Money is very large factor, 1992 election cost $650 million

Political parties are less important as far as voting and other means, more important concerning raising of campaign funds.

10-20% of campaing money comes from interest groups.

The Sources of Campaign Money


Federal government matches contributions from individual donors less than $250

Government gives lump sum to parties for nominating conventions

General election the government pays all costs of candidate up to a limit


No government money given

Must be own pocket, PACs, or parties

PACs can give a max of $5000 in hard money (To candidates)

Campaign Finance Rules

Against the law for corporations or labor unions to give money to candidates (but they can form PACs to give money)

Soft money: unlimited donations to parties, can be used for issue-based ads

1974 -- creation of Federal Election Commission

six-person group


All contributions over $100 must be reported

No cash over $100, no foreign contributions

No ceiling on out-of-pocket spending by a candidate (unless presidential candidate accepts federal funding

Individual rules

Can't be >$1000 to any candidate per election

Can't be > $2000 to a national party or >$5000 to a PAC

Big effects arising from reform

Allowing PACs to contribute money allowed vast increase in amount of money spent by special interests

Reform has shifted control of money from parties to candidates

Reforms provide advantage to wealthy challengers.

Reforms favor ideologues that can easily appeal to emotional pocket books

Reforms penalize those who start late in a campaign.

Help incumbents and hurt challengers because it is easier for incumbents to get money from PACs

If you want people to stop contributing to a campaign, make government do less, and people will care less.


Things that affect campaigns and elections

Political Parties: party identification is strong factor

If it was only party, Democrats would win every time. This is not so because of

    1. Democrats are less loyal to party
    2. Republicans do better than democrats among "independent" voters
    3. More Republcians than democrats vote in each election

Issues: "The voters are not fools", voters know more about issues that matter to them. Social issues are well-known.

Prospective voting: examine what candidates think on contemporary issues, cast ballot accordingly. Mostly activists; requires a great deal of knowledge.

Retrospective voting: looking at recent history and voting for the party in the White House if we approve, and voting against the party in the White House if we disapprove. Elections are decided by retrospective voters. Based largely on economic issues.

The Campaign

Three reasons/effects

Reawaken partisan loyalties

Campaigns give voters a chance to see how candidates handle pressure

Allow voters opportunity to judge character and core values of the candidates

Loyalty to a party vs. importance to a party for various groups.

Democrats: blacks are the most loyal voters. Jewish voters, too. Hispanics, although they are few in number

Republicans: business and professional people.

Middle: unions have switched; more poor vote for republicans.


Party Realignments

Realigning periods: periods during which a sharp, lasting shift occurs in the popular coalition supporting one or both parties. Two types: party disappears, or voters switch parties.

"occurs when a new issue of utmost importance to the voters cuts across existing party divisions and replaces old issues that were formerly the basis for party identification."

Office-bloc (Massachusetts) ballot – candidates are listed by office

Party-column (Indiana) ballot – candidates listed by party; easy to vote straight party


Elections and Policy

Position issue: one in which the rival parties reach out for the support of the electorate by taking different positions on a policy questions that divides the elctorate

Valence issues: affect the degree to which success in a particular area is linked in the mind of the electorate.


Eric Jonas's 1998-1999 AP American Government Notes
This material copyright Eric Jonas, 1999.
These notes have been taken from American Government, 7th edition, by Wilson and DiIulio, and from in-class lecture by Mr. Greg Sandmeyer at Timberline High School.


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