The Persuadable Voter: Wedge Issues in Presidential Campaigns

By D. Sunshine Hillygus; Todd G. Shields | Go to book overview
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Consequences for Democratic Governance
ELECTIONS ARE THE PRIMARY mechanism by which citizens in a democracy express their wants and desires to their elected officials, and it is through political campaigns that this interaction is managed. Campaigns oblige politicians to define their policy priorities, inform the electorate of the policy alternatives offered by opposing candidates, and provide a forum for policy debate, discussion, and change. We have argued that information about the voters shapes campaign messages and candidate strategies. And information from the campaign influences voter decision making. The dynamics we observe in a presidential campaign, in other words, reflect a reciprocal flow of information and influence between voters and candidates, with this relationship governed by the amount, type, and quality of information each has about the other. This broad perspective of presidential campaigns provides insights into why candidates emphasize some issues instead of others, why some voters are more likely than others to be responsive to those appeals, and ultimately, why we observe the dynamics that we do.Building on a diverse body of research in political psychology, political communication, voting behavior, and campaign strategy, we have offered three key theoretical propositions in this book:
1. Individual-level responsiveness to presidential campaigns depends on the strength and consistency of voters' predispositions and on the issue context of the campaign dialogue. Voters facing competing considerations, especially between policy preferences and party identification, are more likely than other voters to rely on campaign information when making up their minds.
2. In an attempt to build a winning coalition between their base supporters and persuadable voters, candidates, motivated by electoral concerns, will target cross-pressured partisans and Independents. The candidates will highlight issues on which these voters disagree with the position taken by the opposing party candidate. In other words, candidates deliberately use wedge issues as part of an electoral strategy.
3. New information and communication technologies have enabled candidates to microtarget different policy messages to different voters, thereby increasing the prevalence and precision of wedge campaign messages.


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The Persuadable Voter: Wedge Issues in Presidential Campaigns


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