Chapter Study Outline

  1. Introduction
    1. Many Americans do not follow politics closely, and as a result they are likely to “take shortcuts” and vote for parties that are aligned with the social groups to which they belong, and they also vote based off of judgments made about the incumbent parties’ previous actions or the situations that occurred during their period in office.
    2. Campaigns help to remind people of their underlying attachments; it is less common for them to change the minds of voters completely. However, there are cases where campaigns can move enough voters the shift the outcome of an election.
  2. What Influences Vote Choice
    1. In general, citizens usually keep the same opinion of a candidate or a political party over time and are not easily swayed by campaign rhetoric. Studies show that most citizens have little interest in politics and campaigns, so academics and professionals alike have had to study why voters tend to vote the way they do. Their results show that there are, overall, five factors that influence vote choice.
      1. Social identity, or the class background, ethnicity, and/or religion of the voter all affect who voters tend to choose in an election. Parties tend to cater to social groups in order to garner loyalty, and during a campaign are likely to “remind” any aligned social groups that they are the best choice through ads and their basic messages.
      2. A more directly influential factor on citizens is their party identification, or their psychological attachment to a political party—not just affiliation with a particular political ideology or opinion. Usually, citizens tend to learn party affiliation early in life, from family or social ties, as well as the political context during which a citizen grows up.
        1. Responses to polls on party identification indicate a rise in the number of independents, though nearly all political independents “lean” towards one party or another—all but 11 percent— and are nearly as likely to support a party’s candidate as those who affiliate themselves with a party.
        2. Party identification is important because political parties function as a filter through which trusted information passes to members, it helps to motivate affiliates to vote, and it also a very direct predictor for how citizens will vote. Close to 90 percent of Democrats and Republicans vote for their respective parties in most presidential elections.
      3. In most cases, the state of the national economy is seen as a reflection of incumbent performance, and voters respond accordingly—rewarding those incumbent presidents when the country prospers, and punishing either the incumbent or their political party when it is not. This tends to be the case with independent voters more than with those who identify with a party.
      4. Though in general, policy issues are not as important as the aforementioned factors, certain voters will also make choices based on specific policy choices, and candidates accordingly try and adjust their positions on these issues to ones which they believe will gain them the most votes. In most cases, however, issue voters still tend to vote on party lines if they are also affiliated with a party, so policy issues are still of secondary importance.
      5. There is conflicting evidence as to whether candidate traits affect voter choice in elections. In general, most campaigns function with the assumption that voters tend to take both physical attributes and personality into consideration when making their decision on who they vote for in an election. Appearance and personality, however, will only typically matter significantly when party affiliation has already been accounted for, and in smaller elections when other information is not as readily available and distributed.
    2. Both professionals as well as those who study campaigns share similar views on how voters make a choice between candidates. They believe that voters are largely constrained by their party loyalties and other predispositions. Because of this, academics and campaign consultants believe candidates should stick to a basic message throughout their campaign and also focus most of their efforts on mobilizing partisans or persuading independents rather than campaigning toward voters affiliated with opposing parties.
  3. When Campaigns Matter
    1. Both professionals and academics, though they disagree about the extent to which a campaign can change voters’ decisions, understand the important of identifying when campaigns are likely to make an impact, or when persuasion of voters will be successful. This is most likely when the candidates are relatively unfamiliar to voters, and when one candidate has more opportunities to reach voters than the other.
    2. Many believe that campaigns in presidential elections matter less because voters are usually very familiar with the candidates, and in most cases, campaigns are relatively equal financially and in terms of expertise, as candidates hire experts in campaigning. Campaigns during presidential primaries are much more important, because the candidates running are less familiar nationally and have a wider discrepancy in resource availability.
    3. For the same reasons that primary campaigns matter, candidates running for offices in non-presidential elections are more likely to see results because of campaigning. Disparities in available resources and the ability the disseminate information about the candidates to the public become much more important in these elections, which is why fund-raising is so vital for these candidates.
  4. How Campaigns Matter
    1. While it is important to consider the context of campaigns, in general campaigns are important because they have the opportunity to create and spread the candidates’ message, which must be specifically crafted in order to persuade voters and it must be timed and spread in a specific way in order to increase its likelihood of success. Campaigns must decide whether to pursue negative campaigning, a strategy that is sometimes effective but also has a tendency to cause a backlash. They must also decide what issues to emphasize as well as when to campaign the most. Different campaigns try different strategies because there aren’t yet any proven methods of success for campaigns to follow
    2. Campaigns are also necessary to remind voters about their preferences, which especially when voters are already predisposed to one party (whether formally or informally), and need to be reminded to vote at all, as well as for a certain candidate. The success of this reinforcement, however, can be unappreciated, because there has been no conclusive evidence as to how much it can affect the outcome of an election.
    3. Not only do campaigns affect how people vote, but they can also affect the reasons people choose to vote a certain way, which is caused by a process called priming. If campaigns are able to focus on issues or details that are significantly beneficial to them, or if they can control the agenda set for the election, they are more likely to change the minds of the voters than if they have to address issues that may or may not reflect well on their candidate.