Political Parties, Candidates, and Presidential Campaigns: 1952-1996

Article excerpt

The extensive literature on the decline of political parties has described the significant changes in party organizations and their relevance to the nomination of presidential candidates. What this literature has so far neglected is the explicit link between nomination procedures and the possibility of maintaining democratic governance. Various authors have speculated that the evolution of the presidential nominating procedures from a party-brokered system to a candidate-centered system should have profound implications for the way in which candidates act during the campaign and once they assume office,(1) but few studies have explicitly explored the probable links between nominating procedures and governing activities.(2)

In this paper, we argue that as presidential campaigns have evolved from a brokered-convention system to a candidate-centered system, we should expect to see a shift in the way in which presidential candidates relate to the various elements in their nominating, electoral, and governing coalitions. We first look at the number of presidential issue stances taken by the candidates. We then compare these positions to the party platforms. The rate of agreement between the presidential candidates and their parties' platforms indicates the extent to which candidates take seriously the various elements of the coalitions that nominated them. Second, we categorize the types of issues that presidential candidates address. The types of issues are relevant both to campaigns and to governance. The types of issues reveal the coalitions, appeals, and strategies on which candidates will rely If the actors in presidential campaigns have changed over time, then we should expect changes in the nature of the appeals candidates make. Finally, we compare the stances of the candidates to positions taken by congressional leaders. If congressional leaders have truly been excluded from the process of nominating presidential candidates, then we should expect candidates to articulate a greater number of positions that diverge from those taken by the party leaders. Congressional leaders once exercised a modicum of control over the presidential selection process. In the absence of such control, congressional leaders and presidential candidates are less likely to agree.

Data and Methods

Presidential issue stances are taken from a content analysis of the New York Times. These stories include transcripts of speeches, transcripts of news conferences, reports of speeches by candidates, transcripts of press releases from campaigns, and interviews of candidates by reporters. We analyzed all stories in the New York Times related to the campaign activities and pronouncements of the candidates. The recording unit is the sentence, and the context unit is the paragraph. We read and coded all sentences in the stories and transcripts for issue pronouncements. We followed a procedure developed by Pomper and Lederman that categorizes policy pronouncements according to the specificity of the policy.(3) We included all stories and transcripts from the New York Times from the end of the nominating convention to election day.

We applied the same coding rules that we used for the presidential candidates' positions, taken from the New York Times, to the coding of issue stances for party leaders from Congress. However, we took issue stances for the party leaders from both the New York Times and the Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report and extended the time frame from which we coded their positions. We expanded the base for party leaders for two reasons. First, the New York Times does not substantially cover the activities and speeches of congressional leaders. Second, party leaders can be involved in shaping the policy agendas during the presidential nominating campaigns. Including the Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report and expanding the time frame increases the number of policy positions taken by congressional leaders. …