Chapter Study Outline

  1. Introduction
    1. What explains the outcomes of American elections—presidential, congressional, and state and local? How much does the campaign itself matter? Many political scientists and professionals have different perspectives on these two questions and how they should be answered. 
    2. This leads to the further question of how should we evaluate the American electoral process? These are the central questions that this text seeks to answer.
  2. A Framework for Understanding Campaigns and Elections
    1. This book uses a simple framework to answer the above questions, emphasizing four aspects of campaigns and elections: the rules that govern elections; the broader reality affecting the campaign, the strategic choices made by various actors, and the choices of citizens.
    2. Rules, like in sports, affect every aspect of elections. They are usually permanent, stable guidelines that all actors involved in a campaign or election must follow.
    3. Reality, or the context in which an election occurs, includes the background of the candidates, the legacies of the political parties, and current or recent events directly related to policy, the political sphere, or the economy. Reality can detract from the ultimate success or failure of a specific campaign strategy.
    4. Candidates, their personal campaign organizations, political parties, interest groups, and the news media all are crucial in controlling the strategy of a campaign; the multitude of actors emphasizes the importance in a campaign of staying “on message.”
    5. Eligible voters make the two choices of whether to vote and how to vote in elections. They are affected by the other aspects of campaigns and elections as well as by their own backgrounds, sometimes making it difficult for political scientists to answer the question of why citizens voted in a certain way.   
  3. Evaluating Campaigns and Elections
    1. Campaign reform is an important part of democratic systems, but it is not a simple matter and would be impossible to undergo successfully without first understanding the standards by which campaigns—and citizens participating in campaigns—should be evaluated.
    2. The standard of free choice dictates that citizens must be free from coercion or manipulation and that they must have adequate information about the parties and candidates involved in the election. This standard brings to light the potential effects of funding discrepancies between campaigns, which can affect the level of information that citizens receive about different candidates.
    3. Political equality requires that citizens be considered equal under the law—and could be applied to candidates as well. Voter eligibility requirements are an example of a subject of discussion surrounding the standard of political equality.
    4. A third standard of deliberation measures the quality of information provided by the campaign to citizens, usually on the policies of those involved; the standard of deliberation is often mentioned in conjunction with media coverage of elections and campaigns.
    5. Free speech is a key part of the American political system in general, and sometimes runs counter to the other standards mentioned, such as in the case of campaign finance reform, where the importance of equality between candidates and free speech are sometimes considered to be at odds.
  4. Conclusion
    1. Political professionals and political scientists have different perspectives on how campaigns can affect elections: political scientists look at broader theories and test such theories with empirical data, while political professionals are focused on the specific “how-to’s” of campaigns.
    2. Taking both views into consideration will provide an overall evaluation of the importance of campaigns and elections while still remaining grounded in the realities and standards of the campaign and election processes.