Chapter 8: Elections and Campaigns I. Elections have two crucial phases—getting nominated and getting elected. A.
In the US, getting nominated is often an individual decision. In Europe the process is more collective. B. American political parties do play a role in determining the outcome of the final election, but even that role involves parties more as labels in the voters’ minds that as organizations that get out the vote. II. At one time parties played a much larger role in elections in the US than they now do. Until recently they determined or powerfully influenced who got nominated. A. In the past people were much more likely to vote a straight-party ticket than they are today. Presidential Versus Congressional Campaigns I. More voters participate in presidential than congressional campaigns, so presidential candidates must work harder and spend more. II. Presidential races are more competitive than those for the House of Representatives. A. In the typical presidential race the winner gets less than 55 percent of the two-party vote; in the typical House race, the incumbent wins with over 60% of the vote. III. A much smaller proportion of people vote in congressional races during off years than vote for president. The lower turnout means that candidates in congressional races must be appealing to the more motivated and partisan voter. IV. Members of Congress can do things for their constituents that a president cannot. A. Presidents get little credit for direct improvements and must rely on the mass media to communicate with voters. V. A candidate for congress can deny that he is responsible for the “mess in Washington” because they tend to run as individuals. A. These factors probably help explain why so high a percentage of congressional incumbents get reelected. VI. Members of Congress who belong to the same party as the president often feel voters’ anger about national affairs, particularly economic conditions. A. At one time the coattails of a popular presidential candidate could help congressional candidates if they belonged to the same party. But there has been a sharp decline in the value of the presidential coattails. VII. The net effect of all these factors is that, to a substantial degree, congressional elections have become independent of presidential ones. This fact further reduces the meaning of party. Running for President I. The first task facing anyone who wishes to be president is to get “mentioned” as someone who is of “presidential caliber.” A. One way to accomplish this is to make statements to reports about running for president. Another is to travel around the country making speeches. Another way to get mentioned is to be connected to a major piece of legislation. Another is to be a governor of a big state. II. The running and campaigning process is very long. A. One reason that running takes so much time is that it takes so long to raise the necessary money and build up an organization of personal followers. B. A political action committee, which is a committee set up by and representing a corporation, labor union, or other special interest group, can donate up to $5000 to a presidential candidate. III. Raising and accounting money requires a staff of fund-raisers, lawyers, and accountants. Volunteers and other employees are also necessary. A. Advisors write “position papers” on different topics. Because campaigns are usually waged around a few broad themes, these position papers rarely get used. They are made only to express what the candidate’s positions are to various interests and observers. IV. Every candidate picks a strategy for the campaign. Incumbents must defend their records. The challenger attacks the incumbent. A. Candidates must consider the tone of their campaign. They must decide whether they want to build themselves up or attack the opposition. B. Theme is also important. A theme is a simple appealing idea that can be repeated.
C. Timing is another important factor. Unknown candidates must advertize themselves early in the campaign and try to emerge as a front-runner. D. Candidates must decide who to target. They must predict who is likely to change their vote. Getting Elected to Congress I. Since 1962, over 90% of the House incumbents who sought reelection won it. II. Who serves in Congress, and what interests are represented there, is affected by how its members are elected. A. Each state is entitled to two senators, who serve six-year terms, and at least one representative, who serves a two-year term. B. How many representatives a state has depends on its population: what local groups these representatives speak for depends in part on how the district lines are drawn. C. Congress decides how many representatives each state has. III. Initially some states did not create congressional districts; all of their representatives were elected at large. In other states representatives were elected from multi-member as well as single-member districts. A. In time all states with more than one representative elected each from a single-member district. How those district boundaries were drawn could profoundly affect the outcomes of elections. B. There are two problems. One is malapportionment, which results from having districts of unequal size. C. The other problem is gerrymandering, which means drawing a district boundary in some bizarre or unusual shape to make it easy for a candidate of one party to win that election. IV. There are four problems to solve in deciding who gets represented in the House: establishing the total size of the House, allocating seats in the House among the states, determining the size of congressional districts within the size, determining the shape of those districts. A. Congress has decided the answers for the first two questions, and the states the second two. B. In 1911 Congress decided that the House was big enough and decided to fix its numbers at 435. Once the size was determined, it was necessary to find a formula for apportioning seats among the states as they gained or lost population. C. The states did little about malapportionment and gerrymandering until ordered to do so by the Supreme Court. In 1964 the Court ruled that the Constitution requires that districts be drawn so that, as nearly as possible, one person’s vote would be worth as much as another’s. V. A candidate wins a party’s nomination by gathering enough voter signatures to get on the ballot in a primary election. Candidates tend to form organizations of personal followings and win “their party’s” nomination simply by getting more primary votes than the next candidate. A. Parties have little opportunity to control or punish their congressional members. VI. Most newly elected members become strong in their districts very quickly: this is called the sophomore surge. It is the difference between the votes candidates get the first time they are elected and the votes they get when they run for reelection. A. The reason for this surge is that members of Congress have figured out how to use their offices to run personal rather than party campaigns. They cater to their constituent’s distrust of the federal government. B. Members of Congress have great freedom in voting on personal issues and have less need to explain away votes that their constituents might not like. VII. The way people get elected to Congress has two important effects. First, it produces legislators who are closely tied to local concerns, and second, it ensures that party leaders will have relatively weak influence over them. VIII. The local orientation of legislators has some important effects on how policy is made. For example, every member of Congress organizes his office to do as much as possible for people back home. If your representative serves on a particular committee, you are more likely to get benefits from that committee. A. In the view of some, members of Congress should do what is best for the nation as a whole. This argument is about the role of legislators: are they supposed to be delegates who do what their district wants or trustees who use their best judgment on issues without regard to the preferences of their district. B. Delegates tend to value getting reelected more than anything else and seek out committee assignments and projects that will benefit their district. Trustees will seek out committee
assignments that give them a chance to address large questions that may have no implication for their district. Primary Versus General Campaigns I. Each election attracts a different mix of voters, workers, and media attention. What works in the primary election may not work in the general one, and vice versa. II. To win the nomination, one must mobilize political activists who will give money, do volunteer work, and attend local caucuses. To motivate these activists one must be more liberal in tone and theme than normal Democrats or more conservative than average Republicans. A. This means that politicians must sound more radical in areas where their party is in the minority to inspire activists, but then must sound more moderate to the state as a whole. This problem exists in any state where activists are more ideologically polarized than the average voter. To get activist support for the nomination, candidates move to the ideological extremes; to win the election, they try to move back to the center. III. Occasionally even the voters in the primary elections will be more extreme ideologically than are the general-election voters. A. Even when primary voters are not too different from general-election voters, the activists who contribute the time, money, and effort to mount a campaign a very different from voters. Two Kinds of Campaign Issues I. In election campaigns there are two different kinds of issues. A position issue is one in which the rival candidates have opposing views on a question that also divides the voters. A. Sometimes voters are not divided on important issues. Instead the question is whether a candidate fully supports the public’s views on a matter about which nearly everyone agrees. These are called valence issues. What voters look for on valence issues is which candidate seems most closely linked to a universally shared view. Valence issues are quite common. II. Campaigns have usually combined both position and valence questions, but the latter have increased in importance in recent years. This has happened in part because presidential campaigns are now conducted largely on television, where it is important to project popular symbols and manipulate widely admired images. Television, Debates, and Direct Mail I. Increasingly presidential and senatorial candidates use broadcasting. II. There are two ways to use television—by running paid advertisements and by getting on nightly news broadcasts. A. The effect of television advertising on general elections is probably a good deal less than its effect on primaries. This is because in a general election, especially one for a high-visibility office, the average voter has many sources of information. B. Campaign managers will strive to have their candidate do something visually interesting every day. Great pains are taken to schedule these visuals at times and in places that make it easy for photographers to be present. C. Televised debates are also very important. III. Commercials tend to have more information and generate a larger reaction than news appearances. IV. Though TV visuals and debates are free, they can also be risky. The risk is the slip of the tongue. A. Because of the fear of a slip, because the voters do not want to hear a long, fact-filled speeches about complex issues, and because general-election campaigns are fights to attract the centrist voter, the candidates will rely on a stock speech that sets out the campaign theme as well as on their ability to string together memorable lines. V. Candidates make use of the internet for direct-mail campaigns, which can target specific groups of voters to whom specific views can be expressed with much less risk of offending someone. VI. Running campaigns has become divorced from the process of governing. Previously the party leaders who ran the campaigns would take part in the government once it was elected, and since they were party leaders, they had to worry about getting their candidate reelected. A. Modern political consultants take no responsibility for governing, and by the time the next election arrives, they may be working for someone else. Money I. Money is important in politics, but it is not obvious that the candidates with the most money always win or that donors of the money buy big favors in exchange for their donations.
The Sources of Campaign Money I. Presidential candidates get part of their money from private donors and part from the federal government; congressional candidates get all of their money from private sources. In presidential primaries candidates raise money from private citizens and interest groups. A. The federal government will provide matching funds, for all money raised from individual donors who contribute no more than $250. Since each candidate wants as much as this money as possible, each has an incentive to raise money from small, individual givers. B. The government also gives a lump-sum grant to each political party to help pay the costs of its nomination convention. C. In general elections the government pays all the cost of each candidate, up to a limit set by law. II. Congressional candidates get no government funds: all their money must come from their own pockets or be raised by individuals, interest groups, or political parties. Most money comes from individual donors, who tend to be people of modest means. Campaign Finance Rules I. In the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, a new law was passed saying that individuals could not contribute more than $1000 to a candidate during any single election. Corporations and labor unions had for many decades been prohibited from spending money on campaigns, but the new law created a substitute: political action committees. A. A political action committee must have at least 50 members, give to at least 5 federal candidates, and must not give more than $5000 to any candidate in any election or more than $15000 to any party per year. B. The law made federal tax money available to help pay for presidential primary campaigns and for paying the campaign costs of a major party candidate and a fraction of the costs of a minority party candidate in a presidential general election. C. The new law also helped increase the amount of money spent on elections, and, in time, changed the way money was spent. II. PACs are not a dominant influence on candidates because they generally give no more than $500. III. Most money for congressional candidates still comes from individuals. Candidates have had to thus devise clever ways of reaching a lot of individuals in order to raise the amount of money they need. IV. Presidential candidates are treated differently than congressional candidates. The former get money directly from the federal government. A. Any candidate who raises at least $5000 in individual contributions of $250 or less from people living in 20 states is eligible for matching funds. Once eligible, a candidate gets federal money to match what he has raised in contributions of $250 or less. B. After the parties have chosen their nominees, the federal government pays the entire cost of the campaign up to a certain limit set by law. But a candidate can forego federal funding and run using money he has raised. C. If you are a minor-party candidate, you can get some support from the federal government provided you have won at least 5% of the vote in the last election. V. The amount we spend on elections has shot up, but that explosion in spending has not been a major political problem. The real political problems arose from changes in how that money was spent. A. The first change was independent expenditures. A PAC, or a corporation or labor union, could spend whatever it wanted on advertising supporting or opposing a candidate, so long as their spending was “independent,” that is, not coordinated with or made at the direction of the candidate’s wishes. B. The second was soft money. Under the law, individuals, corporations, labor unions, and other groups could give unlimited amounts of money to political parties provided the money was not used to back candidates by name. Campaign Finance Reform I. The campaign finance reforms of the 1970s helped matters in some ways by ensuring that all campaign contributors would be identified by name. But they made things worse by requiring candidates to raise small sums from many donors. This made it harder for challengers to run and easier for wealthy candidates to run, because, under the law as interpreted by the Supreme Court, candidates can spend as much of their own money as they want. II. After the 2000 election, a strong movement developed in Congress to reform the reforms of the 1970s. The
result was the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002. A. The law made three important changes. First, it banned the “soft money” contributions to national political parties from corporations and unions. Any money the national parties get must come from “hard money”—individual donations or PAC contributions as limited by federal law. B. Second, the limit on individual contributions was raised from $1000 per candidate per election to $2000. C. Third, “independent expenditures” by corporations, labor unions, trade associations, and nonprofit organizations are sharply restricted. Now none of these organizations can use their own money to refer to a clearly indentified candidate in any advertisement during the 60 days preceding a general election or the 30 days preceding a primary contest. D. Immediately after the law was signed, critics filed suit in federal court claiming that it was unconstitutional. The suit’s central arguments are that the ban on independent spending that “refers to” clearly indentified candidates 60 days before an election is unconstitutional because it is an abridgement of the right of free speech. Money and Winning I. In the general election for president money does not make much difference, because both major-party candidates have the same amount, contributed by the federal government. A. During peacetime presidential elections are usually decided by three things: political party affiliation, the state of the economy, and the character of the candidates. B. The presidential election is usually decided by the 20% of voter who cannot be counted on to vote either Democratic or Republican. II. In good economic times the party holding the White House usually does well, in poor times it does badly. This is sometimes called the “pocketbook vote.” A. Many people who are doing well financially will vote against the party in power if the country as a whole is not doing well. III. Voters also care about character, and so some money from presidential ad campaign coffers goes to fund “character ads.” IV. Since both major candidates get the same amount of federal money for the general-election campaign, money does not make much of a difference in determining the winner. Other factors that also do not make much of a difference include the following: A. Vice-presidential nominee: there has rarely been an election in which his/her identity has made a difference. B. Political reporting: it may make a difference in some elections, but not in presidential ones. C. Religion: being a Catholic was once a barrier, but this is no longer true D. Abortion: this probably affects who gets a party’s nomination, but in the general election ardent supporters and ardent opponents are about evenly balanced. E. New voting groups: there is no single group that decides the outcome of the election. V. In congressional races, in general it seems that money does make a decisive difference. There is strong evidence that how much the challenger spends is most important, because the challenger usually must become known to the public. A. The amount of money the incumbent spends is not as important because they are already wellrecognized. B. Incumbents find it easier to raise money than do challengers; incumbents provide services to their districts that challengers cannot, they can send free mail to their constituents, and can get free publicity by sponsoring legislation or conducting an investigation. What Decides the Election? Party I. Many scholars have argued that party identification is the principal determinant of how people vote. However, party cannot be the only factor, because otherwise the Democrats would always win. A. Those who consider themselves Democrats are less firmly wedded to their party than are Republicans. B. Republicans do much better than the Democrats among independent voters. Republicans usually get a majority of the independents, who tend to be young whites. C. A higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats vote in elections. Issues, Especially the Economy I. We vote prospectively when we examine the views that the rival candidates have on the issues of the day
and then cast our ballots for the person we think has the best ideas for handling these matters. A. Prospective voting requires a lot of information about issues and candidates. B. Prospective voting is more common among those who are political activists, have a political ideology that governs their voting decision, or are involved in interest groups with a big stake in the election. They are a minority of voters, but very influential. II. Retrospective voting involves looking at how things have gone in the recent past and then voting for the party that controls the White House if we like what has happened and voting against that party if we don’t like what has happened. A. Retrospective voting does not require us to have a lot of information—all we need to know is whether things have gotten better or worse. B. Elections are decided by retrospective voters. C. Though most incumbent members of Congress get reelected, those who lose do so, it appears, largely because they are the victims of retrospective voting. The Campaign I. Campaigns can make a difference in three ways. First, they reawaken the partisan loyalties of voters. Second, campaigns give voters a chance to watch how the candidates handle pressure, and they give candidates a chance to apply that pressure. Third, campaigns allow voters an opportunity to judge the character and core values of the candidates. A. The desire of voters to discern character, combined with the mechanics of modern campaigning lend themselves to an emphasis on themes at the expense of details. This tendency is reinforced by the expectations of ideological party activists and single-issue groups. II. What has changed the most is not the tone of campaigning but the advent of primary elections. Once, political parties picked candidates out of a desire to win elections. Today activists and single-issue groups influence the election of candidates. A. Single-issue groups can make a big difference in primary elections, though they may not in general ones. Finding a Winning Coalition I. Putting together a winning electoral coalition means holding on to your base among committed partisans and attracting the swing voters who cast their ballots in response to issues and personalities. II. There are two ways to examine the nature of the parties’ voting coalitions. One is to ask what percentage of various identifiable groups in the population supported the Democratic or Republican candidate for president. A. The other is to ask what proportion of a party’s total vote came from each of these groups. B. The answer to the first question tells us how loyal different groups are to the two parties; the answer to the second question tells us how important each group is to a candidate or party. III. Democrats can rely on the support of African Americans, Jews, and some groups of Hispanics. They have lost their once-strong hold on Catholics, southerners, and union members. IV. The Republican Party is made up primarily of business and professional people. The loyalty of these two groups to the party is strong. Farmers are usually Republican as well. The Republican party usually wins a majority of the votes of poor people. A. The loyalty of most identifiable groups of voters to either party is not overwhelming. Only African Americans, Jews, and businesspeople usually give 2/3 of their voters to one party more than the other. V. The contributions that each of these groups makes to the party coalitions is a different matter. The most loyal parts of one party’s coalitions may also be the smallest. The Effects of Elections on Policy I. Each party is a weak coalition of diverse elements that reflect the many divisions of public opinion. II. The Constitutional system of our country was decided to moderate the pace of change—to make it neither easy nor impossible to adopt radical proposals. This chapter describes many important features of different kinds of elections. It discusses different funding options, and the important that money may or may not play in who gets elected. It also discusses how candidates try to make themselves appealing to large groups of voters—a task more difficult for presidents than Congressmen and more difficult in general versus primary elections. There are many differences in presidential and congressional campaigns, the largest being that it is much easier for an incumbent congressman to win than an incumbent
president. There are many different issues that can shape the direction of the election, some of which are more important than others. Party loyalty is one such issue, but may not always be incredibly important.