Do Political Campaigns Matter? Campaign Effects in Elections and Referendums

By David M. Farrell; Rudiger Schmitt-Beck | Go to book overview

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Studying political campaigns and their effects

Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck and David M. Farrell

Political campaigns are treated as occasions of immense importance by politicians, and never more so than today. In recent decades political actors of all sorts-parties and candidates, governments and other political institutions, lobby groups, social movements and other kinds of citizens' associations-have increasingly come to view political campaigning as an essential supplement to their engagement in the process of policy making. By investing ever more efforts and resources into political campaigns they seek to mobilize support among the mass public, to persuade citizens of their causes, and to inform the citizenry about public policies and political activities. So far as the practitioners are concerned, such campaigns matter a great deal. Those waging campaigns firmly believe that these efforts help them to achieve their political goals and thus count in the political process. Each year, literally billions of dollars are spent, mostly in election campaigns (at all levels), but increasingly also in other kinds of campaigns, such as referendum campaigns, policy-related information campaigns, or image campaigns. The sophisticated (and thereby costly) services of specialist agencies and campaign consultants are engaged; candidates are sent on television training courses and are suitably colour-coded; glossy literature, advertisements of many forms and items of campaign gimmickry are produced. While parties, candidates, interest groups, governments, media and (some) voters are apparently strongly convinced of the notion that campaigns do indeed matter, the collective views of the academic community can perhaps best be summarized by the word 'undecided'.

The issue is certainly of relevance to a number of fields in political science. There have been countless studies in the voting behaviour literature on the ingredients that voters take into account when deciding which party or candidate to vote for at elections, or which proposal to support at referendums. But with few exceptions there has been little analysis of how these factors are connected with the communication activities of political parties and other campaign organizations. There is also a large body of literature in the area of communications studies, examining the effects of the news media's political reporting on the opinions and attitudes of their audiences during campaign periods. In a number of cases these show how media reporting

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