Thursday, November 5, 2009

Scholarly Book is Student's Fave

“Hey Jim, had a student of mine tell me today that it’s her favorite book of all time and that she takes it with her when she flies b/c she learns something new after every read…thought you’d get a kick out of that!”

How often does an author get a note like that about a book he’s written for a largely academic audience?

James E. Campbell recently received this email from a colleague at another school about his book The American Campaign: U.S. Presidential Campaigns and the National Vote.

This text, now in second edition, is used widely in classes on voting and electoral behavior, as well as the American presidency. But its appeal is not restricted to the classroom, as this student’s enthusiasm makes clear.

Anyone wanting insight into the factors affecting presidential elections can benefit from the clear prose and lucid analysis Campbell provides. Who knows, it may become your “favorite book of all time.”

An excerpt:

"Do presidential campaigns affect election results? For campaign consultants and political pundits the answer is obvious: of course they do. Why else would anyone in his or her right mind devote the tremendous amounts of time and energy to devising intricate campaign strategies and to crisscrossing the
country endlessly on speaking tours with a caravan of campaign workers and reporters? If they did not believe that campaigns affected the vote, why would candidates raise and spend enormous amounts of money on consultants, national surveys, campaign appearances, and wildly expensive television advertising? For political scientists studying campaigns and voting behavior, the answer has not been so obvious. As discussed at the outset of this analysis, the research on presidential campaigns has concluded that their effects on the vote are 'minimal.' Being dedicated political observers as well as scientists, political scientists have never been comfortable with this finding. Nevertheless, the unsettling findings were there.

Also as observed at the outset, doubts about campaign effects have been renewed in recent years by the success of several election forecasting models. If elections can be accurately forecast before the campaign even begins, it might appear that the intervening campaign is of no real consequence. Individual campaign events may affect voters, but positive events for one candidate offset positive events for the opponent and the net effect is negligible, or so it is supposed. The canceling of these campaign effects may be imperfect in any particular election, but generally, even within an election year, the net impact of the campaigns is supposed to be minor. This supposition, however, understates the effects of campaigns.

Presidential campaigns have significant effects, perhaps not as great or of the same sort as some campaign politicos might suppose, but significant nonetheless. The reason that elections are predictable is not that campaigns have no effect, but that campaign effects themselves are largely predictable. Campaign effects are predictable because their effects are limited and largely systematic. They are limited because of the large number of vote decisions reached before the campaign begins, decisions based on established partisanship, ideology, issue beliefs, and evaluations of candidate qualities. They are systematic because three fundamentals guide the course of the campaign and voter reactions to it, and these three fundamentals are in place before the campaign begins. Presidential incumbency and election-year economic conditions shape how receptive the voting public is to candidate messages. The political implications of the election-year economy are also gradually incorporated into the decisions of voters over the months leading up to the vote. The intense competition present in every presidential campaign also systematically puts pressure on frontrunners and typically costs them some portion of their lead.

These fundamental forces that have structured the effects of campaigns have done so over a long period of electoral history despite enormous changes in how campaigns have been conducted. The norms, styles, technologies, and intensity of presidential campaigning have changed tremendously over time. Yet throughout all of this history, partisanship has guided many voters to a choice before the campaign begins. The election-year economy, presidential incumbency, and the forces of political competition have systematically affected the evaluations of campaign events and the votes of those who decide during the campaign. Whether campaigns are conducted in a low-key manner from the front porches of the candidates' homes or through sophisticated focus-group-tested televised advertising, most voters rely on their partisan affinities and are affected by the circumstances of the election-year economy, incumbency, and the heated contest between the candidates regardless of how the campaign messages are delivered. There is little evidence to suggest that these fundamental factors have changed much over the years."