American Elections and the Competition to Govern

By Spiller, Lisa D.; Bergner, Jeff | Competition Forum, July 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

American Elections and the Competition to Govern


Spiller, Lisa D., Bergner, Jeff, Competition Forum


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The competition to govern in America is a dynamic process. This paper examines the major paradigm shifts that have occurred in political campaigning with a focus on the most recent development-the ways in which political campaigns have borrowed from the world of business and have become direct marketing campaigns, where the political consumer has replaced the deliberative voter as the target of these campaigns. This paper uses the Obama 2008 presidential campaign as a case study to explore the cross-sector communication and marketing strategies employed in contemporary American elections and offers competitive strategy recommendations for future political candidates.

Keywords: American elections, Political campaigns, Competitive strategy, Business, Political marketing, Democracy

INTRODUCTION

There is no more important competition in our democracy than the competition to govern. Elections have dramatic consequences across the board in terms of American business, governmental regulation and responsibilities, and global competition. And the fact of the matter is that American elections are becoming more competitive all the time. Election campaigns are longer than ever; they raise and spend more money than ever; and they employ a wider and more sophisticated array of competitive techniques than ever.

This paper discusses cutting edge developments in American electoral politics-the ways in which political campaigns have borrowed from the world of business marketing. Political campaigns look more and more like direct marketing campaigns, and the political consumer has replaced the deliberative voter as the target of political campaigns. Through effective cross-sector communication, candidates now compete with one another using a multitude of direct marketing techniques and a multi-media approach. Candidates compete for volunteers; they compete for donations; most importantly, they compete for votes. The objectives of this paper are to examine the paradigm shifts that have occurred in political campaigning and to discuss the competitive marketing strategies and tactics employed to compete in contemporary political campaigns. We will do this first by examining the history of campaigning in America and the major paradigm shifts which have occurred; then by reviewing recent research on current marketing strategies and tactics used by major party political candidates; and finally by exploring the political marketing strategies employed by Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign as a case study.

HISTORY OF POLITICAL CAMPAIGNING IN AMERICA

Haven't American politicians since the very first federal elections in 1788, and even before that in colonial elections, always campaigned for office by skillfully creating a public persona? Haven't candidates always shaped and shaded their views, taking care to stress what they believed would be persuasive and well received by voters? For that matter, doesn't every newsletter mailed out by the most junior members of Congress stress his or her "accomplishments" and not their doubts, reservations, or failures? Hasn't political marketing always been a feature of American politics? Yes and no. Yes, it is true that American politicians from the earliest days of the republic maneuvered behind the scenes to secure electoral support. Not only rogues and self-interested men, like the third vice-president of the United States, Aaron Burr, but no less a figure than the father of the Constitution himself, James Madison, actively advanced their own interests. Madison found himself temporarily shut out of representing Virginia in the new Senate which he did so much to create-and maneuvered behind the scenes to get elected to the House of Representatives. American politicians were never as pure or innocent as they pretended to be in public (Chernow, 2010).

But it was also true that in America's early years, there was a definite prejudice against men who seemed too eager to serve in political office. …

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