Chapter 8

Campaigns, Elections, and Voting Behavior Chapter menu



After students have read and studied this chapter they should be able to:

·         Identify the reasons people have for seeking public office.

·         Describe the changes that have occurred in campaigning for public office over the last decade.

·         Describe the presidential election process from primaries to the general election.

·         Explain the value of polls during a campaign.

·         Explain the reason for campaign financing and what legislative action has led to campaign financing reforms.

·         Describe the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974 and the 1995 reforms.

·         Identify the factors associated with nonvoting and trace historically the movement toward universal suffrage.

·         Explain the psychological factors that influence voting decisions.

·         Discuss the presidential nominating procedure from primary elections through convention proceedings.

·         Describe the different forms of selecting delegates (or candidates), including the open closed and blanket primaries and the caucus system.

·         Describe the Electoral College, and proposed reforms to it.

·         Specify the influence of education and occupation on voting behavior.

·         Likewise the influence of socioeconomic status.

·         Likewise the influence of religion, race and ethnicity, and geographical region.

·         Define and explain the gender gap.


VII.  p 188 The People Who Run for Office (including margin)

A.      Who Is Eligible? Qualifications for candidates vary from office to office, but few offices have restrictive limitations. Residency requirements are common for legislative positions. Some offices have age requirements (25 years of age for the U.S. House, 30 years of age for the U.S. Senate, and 35 years of age for the presidency). Uniquely, the president cannot be a naturalized citizen.

B.      p. 190 Who Runs? While there are few restrictions on being a candidate, most candidates are not demographically representative of the general population.  Traditionally, the overwhelming majority of candidates are white, male, and relatively well off.

1.       Women as Candidates. However, in recent years, more women have run for office. Women are more likely to run for local and state offices, though the number of women elected to Congress recently has increased significantly.

2.       Lawyers as Candidates. A very large number of elected officials at all levels are lawyers. These professionals enjoy more flexible schedules and have careers that can be aided by serving in elected positions.


VIII.       The Twenty-First Century Campaign

A.      The Changing Campaign. Campaigning for public office has changed dramatically over the past forty years. In the years before most households had televisions, campaigning was personalized. Voters received information about a candidate from an individual, either from the candidate or a person who was working on behalf of the candidate or the party of the candidate. Campaigns today are often less personal, with voters receiving information through the media, usually in the form of advertising. In the recent decades campaigns have become less party-centered and more candidate-centered. Increasingly candidates must form their own political organizations and not rely on the party organization for campaign support.

B.       The Professional Campaign. It is now commonplace for candidates even for local offices to hire consultants for their campaigns. Political consultants devise a campaign strategy that begins months before the general election. This strategy will include raising contributions, seeking endorsements of organized groups, arranging for the candidate to speak at meetings of organized groups, the formation of groups for grass roots neighborhood support, and an extensive advertising campaign.

C.    The Strategy of Winning

1.       Candidate Visibility and Appeal. A key issue is the candidate’s name recognition. If the candidate is well known (most likely if the candidate is an incumbent), then the strategy will be to remind voters of the candidate’s accomplishments, and to mobilize them to vote. If the candidate is unknown (more likely if s/he is a challenger or a candidate for an open seat), then the strategy will be to get the candidate known to the voters. After this is accomplished, challengers frequently will opt to criticize the incumbent or his or her positions. If the candidate is an independent candidate, or from a third party, the strategy must also include a rationale for votes to abandon the major parties and to support the third party and its candidate. Typically, the major party candidates will label third party candidates as unworthy of consideration.

2.       The Use of Opinion Polls. Candidate for president and other major offices use private polls to fine-tune their campaign strategy.

3.       Focus Groups. Consultants may organize focus groups. This technique must rely on far fewer people than a poll, but goes into far greater depth. The focus group is led in a discussion of the candidate’s character and positions. An attempt is made to discern underlying emotions of the participants.


IX.    Financing the Campaign

The change in the structure of campaigning has created a greater dependence upon campaign contributions. As campaigns have focused on advertising through the media to reach voters, the cost of campaigning has increased dramatically. In 2000, candidates spent more than $3 billion at all levels. Without the ability to raise large sums of money for campaign costs, candidates have little chance of winning.

A.      Regulating Campaign Financing. The first attempts to control campaign financing were legislated in 1925 and 1939. The 1925 corrupt practices acts were ineffective. The Hatch Act of 1939 was not much more effective.

B.       The Federal Election Campaign Act. The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 replaced all previous legislation. It attempted to limit spending on advertising and required disclosure on contributions of over $100. Unions and corporations could no longer make direct contributions but had to set up political action committees (PACs). The voluntary income-tax check-off for contributing to presidential campaigns was created.

1.       Further Reforms in 1974. Through the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974, Congress:

·  Created the Federal Election Commission, charged with overseeing the enforcement of federal election campaign law.

·  Provided for public funding of presidential primaries and general elections.

·  Limited presidential campaign spending for those who accept public funding.

·  Placed limitations on contributions. Individual could contribute $1,000 per candidate per election, with a maximum total of $25,000. PACs are limited to $5,000 per candidate per election. (These figures did not include “soft money” contributions to the political parties for “party building” activities.)

·  Required disclosure of the source of contributions and what the expenditures were for.

2.       Buckley v. Valeo. The 1971 act had placed limits on how much money a candidate could spend on his or her own campaign. In 1976, the Supreme Court ruled that this provision was unconstitutional.

C.      PACs and Political Campaigns. Political Action Committees (PACs) are set up to represent a corporation, a labor union, or an interest group. They raise money and provide candidates with contributions. To be legitimate, a federal PAC must obtain donations from a minimum of 50 people and contribute to at least five candidates in a federal election. The number of PACs registered with the Federal Election Commission has increased significantly since 1976. The amount of money being contributed to campaign by PACs also has increased significantly, and incumbents receive the lion’s share of contributions.

D.      Campaign Financing Beyond the Limits. The problem of campaign finance is compounded by the practices of issue advocacy advertising and soft money contributions, which allow contributors to skirt contribution limitations but still influence the outcome of an election.

1.     Contributions to Political Parties. The legislation of 1971and 1974 placed no restrictions on money given to parties for voter registration, general publicity about a party’s positions, and the national conventions. Contributions for such purposes were called “soft money,” as opposed to regulated “hard money.”

2..    Independent Expenditures. It was soon discovered that it was legal to make independent expenditures that were not coordinated with the candidates’  campaigns.

3.     Issue Advocacy. A major tactic is for interest groups to buy advertising that advocates positions on issues and either attack or praise candidates on the basis of the issues. As long as no candidates are actually endorsed, the tactic is legal.

E      The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act was passed by Congress in 2002.

1      .Key Elements of t he New Law. The act banned soft money contributions to the national party committees. It also placed limitations on issue advocacy advertisements and increased the individual contribution limit to $2000 (from $1000).

2.     Consequences of the 2002 Act. One impact of the act will be that it will hurt the ability of the political parties to help the candidates running on the party label. This could lead to less cohesiveness within the parties. Also, the act may help incumbents, who are less likely to need soft money contributions and issue advocacy ads.


X.      Running for President: The Longest Campaign

The first primary election was held in Wisconsin in 1903. It was a way to open up the process to the ordinary voter and reduce the power of political “bosses.” Until 1968, however, only a minority of states had binding primaries. Some primaries were “beauty contests” that did not actually select delegates.

A.      Reforming the Primaries. After riots outside the 1968 Democratic Convention, the party created the McGovern-Fraser Commission to recommend reforms. p.  190 Under the new rules, delegates had to be chosen by primaries, open caucuses, or elected state conventions, and not by party leaders. In 1984, however, elected officials re-won the right to attend conventions as voting superdelegates. The Republicans also instituted most of these reforms.

B.       Types of Primaries.

1.       Closed Primary. Voters are restricted to voting for candidates of the party in which the voter is registered.

2.       Open Primary. Voters are restricted to voting for candidates of one party. The voter selects which party primary to participate in at the voting booth.

3.       Blanket Primary. Voters may participate in the primaries of both political parties. In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled the California blanket primary unconstitutional.

4.       Runoff Primary. In some states, if no candidate receives an absolute majority in a primary, a second primary is held between the top two contenders.

C.      Front-Loading the Primaries. Each state determines the date for its primary or caucus.

1      .The Rush to Be First. Because early primaries are more influential, states have competed to schedule their primaries as early as possible. As a result, the primary season is essentially over by March. This process is believed to help well-funded front-runners.

2.     Consequences of Early Primaries. By choosing the nominees so early, there is a long lull in the news between the primaries and the national conventions.

3.     The 2000 Democratic Primary Contest. The nominating process was over in March with both George W. Bush and All Gore having enough convention delegate votes to win their nominations at their conventions much later in the year.

D.     p. 201   On to the National Convention. Each state receives delegates to the national convention for each party. The number of delegates a state receives is

       roughly in proportion to the population of the state, with extra delegates if the party’s candidate carried the state in the last presidential election.

1.     Seating the Delegates. A credentials committee approves all delegates. This is usually not controversial but there have been disputed delegations in the past.

2.     Convention Activities. The highlight of the convention is the nomination of the presidential candidate. Because the identity of the nominee is a foregone conclusion, the TV networks have drastically curtailed their coverage of the conventions in recent years.***SEE  BOXES BELOW

E.      pp.  201-203 The Electoral College

1.       The Choice of Electors. The Electoral College is set forth in the Constitution (Article II, Section 1; Amendment XII; and Amendment XXIII). Each state chooses electors equal in number to the number of representatives and senators the state has at the time of the election. The District of Columbia also chooses three electors. Currently there are a total of 538 electors. For a candidate to be elected president, he or she must win a minimum of 270 electoral votes.

2.       The Electors’ Commitment. In each state the political party selects a number of people to serve as potential electors under the party label. When voters go to the polls to cast a ballot for the presidential candidate they are actually voting for a slate of electors pledged to support the presidential candidate of the party. In all but two states, there is the winner-take-all system. That is, if a candidate receives a plurality of the votes cast he or she wins all of the electoral votes from the state. This is the unit rule

3.       Criticisms of the Electoral College. As a result of the unit rule, presidential candidates often ignore states where the result is not in doubt. Also, in four different elections (including 2000), the presidential candidate who received a plurality of the popular vote did not receive a majority of the electoral vote. In 2000, George W. Bush lost the popular vote and still received a majority of the electoral vote, though Democrats challenged the popular vote count in Florida, which determined Bush’s Electoral College victory. In the wake of the 2000 elections, there have been numerous arguments against the Electoral College. Regardless of these arguments, it is likely to remain as the method for the election of the president.  To change how the president is elected, an amendment to the Constitution would have to be proposed and ratified. Such an amendment is not likely to pass. The unit rule, however, could be altered by national legislation


XI.    How Are Elections Conducted?

All states have used a secret, or Australian ballot since 1888. But while every state uses a secret ballot, not all state’s ballots are of the same type.

A.      Office Block and Party Column Ballots. The office-block ballot groups candidates for elective office together under the title of the office. The office-block ballot discourages straight-ticket voting. States that use the party-column ballot list candidates in columns arranged by political parties. This type of ballot makes voting for all candidates of one party easier. In general elections where a president or a governor is elected, voters who are not knowledgeable about candidates for lower offices may be swayed to support candidates of the same party as the president or governor. This is referred to as the coattail effect.

B.       Voting by Mail. Increasingly, voting by mail has been used in the states. This has been done to make it easier for people to vote. Oregon is the only state in which all votes are cast by mail.

1.Problems with Mail Voting. Arguments against vote by mail include the claim that early voters may not benefit from late-breaking information and that vote by mail could result in election fraud.

2.Benefits of Mail Voting. In nearly all elections in which vote by mail has been used, there has been an increase in levels of participation.

C.      Vote Fraud. This was probably more of a problem in the historical past.

1.The Danger of Fraud. Failure to purge the electoral rolls of voters who have died or moved opens up possibilities of fraud.

2.Mistakes by Voting Officials. On the other hand, in some locales voting officials have purged many legitimate voters from the rolls by mistake.


XII. pp.  205-208 top Turning Out to Vote

In the 2000 general election, 51.2 percent of the voting-age population cast ballots. Voter participation in the United States is low compared with other countries. In congressional elections in years when a president is not elected, the turnout rates are lower. Turnout rates are even lower yet for most local elections. 

A.      The Effect of Low Voter Turnout. Some observers believe that low turnout reflects a dangerous disaffection with our political system. Others believe that nonvoting means satisfaction with the status quo.

B.       Factors Influencing Who Votes. The decision to vote appears to be influenced by the following factors:

·         Age. Individuals who are older are more likely to vote.

·         Education. Individuals who have more formal schooling are more likely to vote.

·         Minority status. Despite a decreasing gap, African-Americans are still less likely to vote than whites. Turnout for Hispanics and Asian Americans is low because many are not yet citizens.

·         Income. Individuals who have higher incomes are more likely to vote.

·         Party competition. States that have two strong parties, as opposed to one strong and one weak party, tend to have higher voter participation. 

   deleted C.   Why People Do Not Vote. There are several explanations why people do not vote. Two include “rational ignorance effect” and ”uninformative media

                  coverage and negative campaigning.”

1.       Uninformative Media Coverage and Negative Campaigning. This theory says that voters are not given the kind of information that would provide an incentive for them to vote, and many are turned off by the negativism of campaigns.

2.       The Rational Ignorance Effect. This theory purports that many individuals rationally calculate that their vote is not important and that the effort to seek information to cast an informed vote is not worthwhile.

3.       Plans for Improved Voter Turnout. More reliance on absentee ballots may not help. One idea is to declare Election Day a national holiday.


XIII.     Legal Restrictions on Voting

A. Historical Restrictions.

1.       Property Requirements. By the 1850s individuals who did not own land were allowed to participate in most states. 

2.       Further Extensions of the Franchise. In 1870 African-Americans were granted the right to vote, though obstacles to their participation remained until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. By 1920 women were granted suffrage. The last major extension of suffrage occurred in 1971 when 18 to 20 year olds were allowed to vote. 

deleted 3.       Is the Franchise Still Too Restrictive? The principal argument is over ex-felons who have served their sentences but are barred from voting, often for life. Most other democracies do not impose this rule and not all U.S. states have it. This restriction alters the shape of the electorate because ex-felons are often members of minority groups, poor, or both.

deleted 4.       Current Eligibility and Registration Requirements. In order to participate in the electoral process in most states an individual must complete a registration process. While this process varies from state to state, it is considered important to prevent voter fraud.  Some have argued that the registration process is too complicated and therefore reduces the number of people who vote. In 1995, Congress passed a bill that allows individuals to complete the registration process when they apply for a driver’s license, assuming they are at least 18 years of age. It is now considerably easier for citizens to register.

         B. Current Eligibility and Registration Requirements. In order to participate in the electoral process in most states an individual must complete

            a registration process. While this process varies from state to state, it is considered important to prevent voter fraud.  Some have argued that the

            registration process is too complicated and therefore reduces the number of people who vote. In 1995, Congress passed a bill that allows individuals

            to complete the registration process when they apply for a driver’s license, assuming they are at least 18 years of age. It is now considerably easier

            for citizens to register


XIV.    pp. 209 end-212 center   How Do Voters Decide?

The candidates and political parties individuals decide to support are influenced in part by certain demographic and socioeconomic factors.

A.      Demographic Influences. Demographic traits exert a major influence over the development of one’s opinion. 

1.       Education. For years, higher education levels appeared to correlate with voting for Republican candidates. Since 1992, however, voters with higher levels of education have been voting increasingly Democratic, so that in the 2000 election, these voters were nearly evenly divided between Al Gore and George W. Bush. The reason seems to be that professionals (such as lawyers, physicians, professors, etc.) are trending Democratic. Therefore, persons with postgraduate degrees (necessary to many professionals) now often vote Democratic. Businesspeople have remained strongly Republican, however. Businesspeople are less likely to have postgraduate degrees, which is why the population with BAs only continues to appear to favor the Republicans.

2.       The Influence of Economic Status. Economic status and occupation appear to influence political views. On issues of economic policy, individuals who have less income tend to favor liberal policies, while individuals of the upper middle class favor conservative policies. On cultural issues the reverse tends to be true. Those with less income are more conservative and those with higher incomes are more liberal.

3.       Economic Status and Voting Behavior. The Democratic Party also tends to receive support from people employed as manual laborers and from union workers.

4.       Religious Influence: Denomination. Religious influence appears to have a significant impact on the development of political opinions. For example, the Jewish community is highly likely to vote for Democratic candidates. Irreligious voters tend to be liberal on cultural issues, but to have mixed stands on economic ones. A century ago, Catholics were often Democrats and Protestants Republican, but little remains of that tradition.

5.       Religious Influence: Commitment. In 2000, trends showed that the level of devoutness (rather than denomination) correlated with voting. Those who attend church regularly are more likely to vote Republican, no matter what the denomination. This tendency does not apply to African Americans, however, who demonstrate both high levels of religious commitment and generally liberal politics.

6.       The Influence of Race and Ethnicity. In general, members of minority groups favor the Democrats. African Americans do so by overwhelming margins. Hispanics are voting Democratic by about two to one, though the Cuban American vote is strongly Republican. Asian Americans tend to support the Democrats but often by narrow margins. American Muslims of Middle Eastern decent gave George Bush majority support in 2000 based on shared cultural conservatism, but went heavily for John Kerry in 2004 on the basis of civil liberties concerns.

7.       The Gender Gap. Key term: the gender gap, or The difference between the percentage of women who vote for a particular candidate and the percentage of men who vote for the candidate. Since 1980 women have tended to give somewhat more support to Democratic candidates for president and men have given somewhat more support to the Republicans. Women have been more supportive of social spending and extending civil rights (the value of equality). They have also been more concerned than men about security in the wake of 9/11, however. Republicans have benefited from this and the gender gap in the 2004 election proved to be quite modest.

8.       Reasons for the Gender Gap. Some researchers have argued that a decline in marriage rates and an increase in the number of divorces has depressed the income of many women, who tend to be helped economically by marriage. And indeed, single women appear to be unusually Democratic. Other researchers, however, note that the gender gap rises with education and that it persists among well-educated married women.

B.       Election-Specific Factors

1.       Party Identification. This is the strongest determinant of an individual’s vote. If an individual identifies with a particular party there is greater the likelihood this person will vote and support the candidates of that party.

2.       Perception of the Candidates. The candidate who is more successful in projecting an image that the public wants has a better chance of winning the election. Typically, these traits have to do with character, for example trustworthiness.

3.       Issue Preferences. Although not as important as party identification or image, where a candidate stands on a given issue does have an impact on voters. Economic issues are often the most important. Some voters may cast votes based on their own economic interests, while others will vote based on what is happening to the nation’s economy as a whole.




B.       The National Party Organization. In theory American political parties are structured like a pyramid, with the national party organization at the top and the local party organization serving as the base. This theoretical structure is not realistic. Rather, American political parties tend to operate like a confederacy, where the state parties act autonomously and have loose connections to each other and to the national committee.

1.       Convention Delegates. The national party organization receives the most publicity during the national convention. Members of the party who have been selected to attend the convention meet to nominate the presidential candidate, approve the party platform, and approve the presidential candidate’s selection of a vice-presidential candidate. This convention is held once every four years. Convention delegates typically have political views further from the center than the supporters of the party in the electorate.

deleted 2.       The National Committee. Elected by the national convention, this body serves as the party’s governing body until the next convention.

deleted 3.      Picking a National Chairperson. This person is picked or approved by the party’s presidential candidate. If the candidate loses, however, the

                          National Committee may choose a different chairperson.

C.      The State Party Organization. Each state also has a party organization. There is a state chairperson and a state central committee. Like the national party, each state party holds a state convention, which may endorse some candidates, depending on state law. A state party platform is drafted which focuses on state-level issues.