The Persuadable Voter: Wedge Issues in Presidential Campaigns

By D. Sunshine Hillygus; Todd G. Shields | Go to book overview

Two

The Reciprocal Campaign

IN EVERY PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, the media focus attention on swing voters in the electorate. Everyone wants to know who they are, what they want, and how they will make up their minds. Swing voters dictate the candidates' efforts, they provide fodder for media discussion, and they ultimately decide the election. “Mushy Swings are Wavering Election Kings,” summed up one newspaper headline.1 Political journalists and pundits variously define this group as undecided voters, political Independents, ticket splitters, ideological moderates, or more creatively, soccer moms, NASCAR dads, or some other demographic group du jour. It is commonly recognized that these swing voters are individuals who might be available to either candidate, but there are few guiding principles—and certainly no well-grounded theory— about who these voters are or what makes them persuadable. Political scientist Daron Shaw recently observed, “The concept of swing voting is something that has miraculously escaped the empirical scrutiny of scholars…. We are clearly enamored with the idea that certain voters are more persuadable and therefore disproportionately important for our understanding of close elections…. But we are not quite sure what we want to say on the matter.”2

As the title of our book implies, we offer a theoretical perspective that identifies the persuadable voters in the electorate. More broadly, though, we argue that to understand campaign dynamics it is necessary to understand the interaction between the persuadable voters and the political candidates who attempt to sway them. In this chapter, we consider the incentives, motives, and interests of both voters and candidates in a presidential campaign, outlining our theoretical expectations about the behaviors of both of these actors. We begin by explaining why cross-pressured partisans—those who disagree with their affiliated party on a policy issue—are among the persuadable voters, and then we consider the implications for candidate strategy.

1 Peter Callaghan, “Mushy Swings Are Wavering Election Kings,” The News Tribune,
12 October 2004, Bl.

2 Shaw, The Race to 270, 169–70.

-18-

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