Elections and Campaigns

Instructional Objectives

After reading and reviewing the material in this chapter the student should be able to do each of the following:

1. Demonstrate the differences between the party-oriented campaigns of the nineteenth century and the candidate-oriented ones of today, explaining the major elements of a successful campaign for office today.

2. Discuss how important campaign funding is to election outcomes, what the major sources of such funding are under current law, and how successful reform legislation has been in purifying United States elections of improper monetary influences.

3. Define the term realigning election and discuss the major examples of such elections in the past as well as recent debates over whether realignment is again underway.

4. Describe what the Democrats and the Republicans each must do to put together a successful national coalition to achieve political power in any election.

5. Outline the major arguments on either side of the question of whether elections do or do not result in major changes in public policy in the United States.

Text Outline

I. Presidential versus congressional campaigns

A. Introduction
1. Two phases: getting nominated and getting elected

2. Getting nominated

a. Getting your name on the ballot

b. An individual effort (versus organizational effort in Europe)

c. U.S. parties now stress label more than organization

d. Parties used to play a major role

B Major differences

1. Presidential races are more competitive than House races
a. Presidential winner rarely gets more than 55 percent of vote

b. Most House incumbents are reelected (over 90 percent)

2. Fewer people vote in congressional elections

a. Unless it coincides with a presidential election

b. Gives greater importance to partisan voters

3. Congressional incumbents can serve their constituents

a. Credit for government grants, programs, etc., can be claimed by Congress member

b. President can't (power is not local) and must communicate by mass media

4. Congressional candidates can campaign against Washington

a. President is held accountable

b. But local candidates suffer when their party's economic policies fail

5. Power of presidential coattails has declined

a. Congressional elections have become largely independent of presidential election

b. Reduces meaning (and importance) of party

C. Running for president

1. Getting mentioned as being presidential caliber
a. Using reporters, trips, speeches

b. Sponsoring legislation, governor of large state

2. Setting aside time to run

a. Reagan: six years; Mondale: four years

b. May have to resign from office first (Dole in 1996)

3. Money

a. Individuals can give $1,000, PACs can give $5,000 in each election to each candidate

b. Candidates must raise $5,000 in twenty states in individual contributions of $250 or less to qualify for matching grants to pay for primary

4. Organization

a. A large (paid) staff

b. Volunteers

c. Advisers on issues: position papers

5. Strategy and themes

a . Incumbents defend their record; challengers attack incumbents

b. Setting the tone (positive or negative)

c. Developing a theme: "trust," "confidence," etc.

d. Judging the timing (early momentum vs. reserving resources for later)

e . Choosing a target voter: who's the audience?

II. Primary versus general

A. Primary and general campaigns
1 . What works in a general election may not work in a primary
a. Different voters, workers, media attention

b. Must mobilize activists with money and motivation to win nomination

2. Iowa caucuses

a . Held in February of presidential election year

b. Candidates must do well or be disadvantaged in media attention, contributor interest

c. Winners tend to be most liberal Democrat, most conservative Republican

3. The balancing act

a. Being conservative or liberal enough to get nominated

b. Move to center to get elected

c. Apparent contradiction means neither candidate is appealing

4. Even primary voters can be more extreme ideologically than average voters

a. McGovern in 1972

B. Television, debates, and direct mail

1. Paid advertising (spots)
a. Probably less effect on general than primary elections

b. Most voters rely on many sources for information

2. News broadcasts ("visuals")

a. Cost little

b. May have greater credibility with voters

c. Rely on having television camera crew around

d. May actually be less informative than spots

3. Debates

a. Usually an advantage only to the challenger

b. Reagan in 1980: reassured voters

c. 1988 primary debates with little impact

4. Risk of slips of the tongue on visuals and debates

a. Forces candidates to rely on stock speeches--campaign themes

b. Sell yourself as much or more than ideas

5. Ross Perot

a. CNN appearances

b. Infomercials,

6. 1996, major networks with free time to major candidates

7. The computer

a. Makes possible direct-mail campaigns

b. Allows candidates to address specific voters via direct mail

c. Importance of mailing lists

d. Campaign Web Sites

(1) immediate source of information

8. The gap between running a campaign and running the government

a . Party leaders had to worry about reelection so campaigning and government linked

b. Today's consultants don't participate in governing

III. Money

A. How important is it?
1. 1988 presidential campaigns totaled $177 million

2. 1992 presidential campaigns totaled $286 million

B. The sources of campaign money

1. Presidential primaries: part private, part public money
a. Federal matching funds

Candidates are not required to take matching funds in presidential primaries. In 1980, John Connally sought the Republican nomination solely on the basis of private financing, which allowed him to avoid the spending ceiling imposed on candidates receiving federal funds. He lost. Also note the activity of Steve Forbes in 1996 and 200 as well as Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996. In 2000 George W. Bush has refuse matching money as well.

b. Only match contributions of small donors: less than $250

c. Gives incentive to raise money from small donors

d. Government also gives lump-sum grants to parties to cover convention costs

2. Presidential general elections: all public money ($55 million per candidate)

3. Congressional elections: all private money

a. From individuals, political action committees, and parties

b. Most from individual small donors ($100-$200 a person)

c. $1,000 maximum for individual donors

d. Benefit performances by rock stars, etc.

e. $5,000 limit for PACs ...

f. ...but most give only a few hundred dollars

g. Tremendous PAC advantage to incumbents: backing the winner

h. Challengers have to pay their own way

C. Campaign finance rules

1 . Watergate and illegal donations
a. From corporations and unions

b. Brought about the 1974 federal campaign reform law and Federal Election Commission (FEC)

2. Reform law

a . Set limit on individual donations ($1,000 per election)

b. Reaffirmed ban on corporate and union donations ...

c. . . . but allowed them to raise money through PACs

d. PACs in turn raised money from members or employees

e . Set limit on PAC donations ($5,000 per election per candidate)

f . Primary and general election counted separately

3. Supreme Court ruled that limits could not beset on campaign spending

The majority opinion of the Supreme Court held that campaign spending limits where no federal funds are received violated the free speech provision of the First Amendment.

a. But set limit of $50,000 on out-of-pocket spending by a presidential candidate who accepted federal financing

4. Law did not limit independent political advertising-no consultation with candidate or campaign organization

a. Typically done by ideologically oriented PACs

b. Sometimes negative or attack advertising

5. Loopholes of law

a . Allows soft money-money for local party activities, e.g., getting out the vote

b. Allows money for general voter registration campaigns; Alan Cranston and Charles Keating scandal

c. Allows bundling

D. Effects of reform

1 . Goal was to expose and publicize fundraising
a. Has succeeded, but ...

2. has greatly increased power of PACs and thus of special interests

3. has shifted control of money away from parties to candidates

a. Limits influence of parties

4. has given advantage to wealthy challengers

a. Can just write out a check for campaign expenses

5. has given advantage to ideological candidates

a. Direct mail appeals to special interest groups on issues like abortion, gun control, school prayer, etc.

6. has penalized candidates who start campaigning late, who don't have war chests

7. has helped incumbents and hurt challengers

a. PACs more likely to support an incumbent

E. Money and winning

1. Money makes a difference in congressional races
a. Challenger must spend to be recognized

b. Jacobson: big spending challengers do better

c. Big spending incumbents also do better

2. But it doesn't make the only difference

a. Party, incumbency, and issues also have a role

3. Advantages of incumbency, in fundraising

  • One estimate calculates incumbency as providing an automatic 9 percent vote advantage.

    a. Can provide services to constituency

    b. Can use Franking Priviledge for mailings.

    c. Can get free publicity through legislation and investigations

4. Ideas for reform

a. Unlikely: Congress won't agree since incumbent has advantage

b. The "constitutional right to campaign" involved

c. Public financing of congressional races would give incumbents even more of a advantage

d. Abolishing PAC money might allow fat cats to reemerge as a major force

e. Shorter campaigns might help incumbents

5. See box in text-1994 election

6. See box in text-1996 election


IV. What decides elections?

A. Party identification but then why don't Democrats always win?
1. Democrats less wedded to their party

2. GOP does better among independents

3. Republicans have higher turnout

B . Issues

1 . V. 0. Key: most voters who switch parties do so in their own interests
a. They know what issues affect them personally

b. They have strong principles about certain issues (abortion, etc.)

2. Prospective voting is used by relatively few voters

a. Those voters know the issues and vote accordingly

b. Most common among activists and special interest groups

3. Retrospective voting practiced by most voters, so decides most elections

a. Judge the incumbent's performance and vote accordingly

b. Have things gotten better or worse, especially economically?

c. Examples: presidential campaigns of 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992

d. Usually helps incumbent ... unless economy has gotten worse

e. Midterm elections: voters turn against president's party

C. The campaign

1 . Campaigns do make a difference
a. They reawaken voters' partisan loyalties

b. They let voters see how candidates handle pressure

c. They let voters judge candidates' characters

2. Campaigns tend to emphasize themes over details

a. True throughout American history

b. What has changed is importance of primary elections

c. Gives more influence to single-issue groups

D. Finding a wining coalition

1 . Ways of looking at various groups
a. How loyal, or percentage voting for party

b. How important, or number voting for party

2. Democratic coalition

a. Blacks most loyal

b. Jews slipping somewhat

c. Hispanics somewhat mixed

(1) Political power does not yet match numbers

(2) Turnout will increase as more become citizens

(3) See box in text regarding the Hispanic vote

d. Catholics, southerners, unionists departing the coalition lately

3. Republican coalition

a. Party of business and professional people

b. Very loyal, defecting only in 1964

c. Usually wins vote of poor due to retired, elderly voters

V. Elections outcomes

A. Party realignments
1. Definition: sharp, lasting shift in the popular coalition supporting one or both parties

2. Occurrences: change in issues that distinguish the parties, so supporting voters change

a. 1800: Jeffersonians defeated Federalists

b. 1828: Jacksonian Democrats came to power

c. 1860: Whigs collapsed; Republicans won

d. 1896: Republicans defeated Bryan

e. 1932: FDR Democrats came to power

3. Kinds of realignments

a. Major party disappears and new party emerges (1800,1860)

b. Voters shift from one party to another (1896, 1932)

4. Clearest cases of realignment

a. 1860: slavery

b. 1896: economics

c. 1932: depression

5. 1980 not a realignment

a. Dissatisfaction with Carter led to Reagan's victory

b. Also left Congress Democratic

6. Major change in 1972-1988: shift in presidential voting patterns in the South

a. Fewer Democrats, more Republicans, more independents

b. Independents vote Republican

c. Now close to fifty-fifty Democratic, Republican

d. Party de-alignment, not realignment, because party labels lost meaning for so many voters

B. Party decline

1. Fewer people identify with either party

2. Increase in ticket splitting


VI. The effects of elections on policy

A. Argument: public policy remains more or less the same no matter which official or party is in office

B . Comparison: Great Britain, with parliamentary system and strong parties, often sees marked changes, as in 1945 and 1951

C. Evidence indicates that many American elections do make great differences in policy, though constitutional system generally moderates the pace of change

D. Why, then, the perception that elections do not matter? Because change alternates with consolidation; most elections are only retrospective judgments

Important Terms

blanket primary A variant of the open primary in which the voter receives a ballot that lists the candidates for nomination of all the parties, enabling the voter to vote for candidates of different parties.

closed primary A type of primary in which the voter must be a registered member of a political party to vote in that party's primary.

coattails (political) The tendency of lesser-known or weaker candidates to profit in an election by the presence of a more popular candidate on the ticket.

critical or realigning periods Periods during which a sharp, lasting shift occurs in the popular coalition supporting one or both parties. The issues that separate the two parties change, so the kinds of voters supporting each party change.

electoral coalition A base of committed partisans supporting an electoral candidate who also attracts swing votes.

electoral realignment The situation when a new issue of utmost importance to voters cuts across existing party divisions and replaces old issues that formed the basis of party identification.

general election The second election in a campaign (primary is first). It determines which party's nominee will win office.

incumbent The person currently in office.

negative ad Media advertising meant to cast an unfavorable light on an opponent.

office-bloc ballot A ballot, sometimes called the Massachusetts ballot, that lists all candidates by office to minimize a straight party ticket vote. It was an innovation championed by the Progressives.

open primary A type of primary in which the voter can decide upon entering voting booth in which party's primary to participate.

party-column ballot A ballot, sometimes called the Indiana ballot, that was government-printed and contained a list in columns of all candidates of each party. A voter could simply mark the top on one column to vote for every candidate in that column. It was replaced by the office-bloc ballot.

political action committee A committee, set up by a special-interest group representing a corporation, labor union, or other special interest, to contribute financially to candidates and campaigns.

position issue A campaign issue on which the rival parties or candidates take different positions in order to reach out for electoral support. It tends to divide the electorate.

presidential primary A special kind of primary used to pick delegates to the presidential nominating conventions of the major parties.

primary election The first election in a campaign; it determines a party's nominee for an office.

prospective voting Voting on the basis of a person's views of candidates' positions on the issues.

public finance law A federal law providing funds to candidates seeking the presidency. In primaries, matching funds are available only after eligibility requirements are fulfilled. In the general election, the federal government gives candidates of major parties the option of complete financing.

retrospective voting Voting on the basis of how things have gone in the recent past and, if the voter approves of the current administration's performance, voting for the party in the White House or voting against that party if the voter disapproves.

runoff primary A type of primary used in some southern states. If no candidate gets a majority of the votes in the first primary vote, the two candidates with the most votes vie in a second primary election.

split-ticket voting An election result in which a congressional district (or voter) votes for the presidential candidate of one party and the congressional candidate of the other party.

spots Short ads on behalf of a candidate on television. Such ads may convey a substantial amount of information.

straight-ticket voting Voting for candidates who are all of the same party; for example, voting for the Republican candidates for senator, representative, and president.

theme An element of campaign strategy that is a simple, appealing idea that can be repeated over and over again.

tone An element of campaign strategy that involves either a positive (build-me-up) or negative (attack-the-opponent) approach.

valence issue A campaign issue that is linked in the voters' minds with conditions, goals, or symbols that are almost universally approved or disapproved by the electorate, e.g., corruption. visual A campaign appearance covered in a news broadcast.

Back To Class Page