Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Candidate Strategies in the Presidential Nomination Campaign

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Candidate Strategies in the Presidential Nomination Campaign

Article excerpt

Political scientists have learned much in the past decade about presidential campaigns and their strategic use of political advertising--especially the decision to go negative. This research, however, generally has not extended to the nomination season, when the strategic environment is much different than that of the general election. After all, nominations generally feature a half dozen or more competing candidates, voting that takes place sequentially, considerable variation in voter knowledge across candidates, and generally low levels of voter knowledge (at least when contrasted with the general election). What circumstances, then, drive nomination candidates to air negative advertising? Are candidates more likely to do so when they are leading or trailing? At which opponent(s) are such ads aimed? And at what point in the nomination season does advertising turn negative?

To investigate these questions, we employ ad tracking data from the 2004 and 2008 nomination seasons, which allow us to detail the date, time, and location of each primary ad airing in the top media markets in the United States. We code each unique ad on a variety of characteristics, including its tone and issue content. In addition to providing many descriptive statistics, multivariate statistical models are used to estimate whether, when, where, and against whom campaigns launch attack ads. In the end, this research provides an understanding of how the unique rules of the game in the nomination season structure candidate behavior and reveals how widely theories of candidate behavior developed for the general election campaign generalize.

Our research on candidate decisions to attack opponents is an important advance over existing research in several ways. First, we bring to the table an explicit focus on the timing of attacks, something that typically has been relegated to the sidelines in previous research, and we make a distinction between intraparty and interparty attacks. Second, instead of assuming that presidential primaries work as de facto national primaries, we allow for a separate race dynamic in each state. Third, we are able to employ new and better data on the political advertising used by candidates instead of relying on filtered media reports, which are likely to exaggerate the true extent to which candidates go negative. Finally, our research, by focusing on the 2004 and 2008 nomination campaigns, allows us to test some existing ideas in the context of the contemporary, front-loaded presidential nomination campaign.

Presidential Nomination Campaigns

The unique features of the primary election environment make it somewhat difficult for candidates to differentiate themselves from their opponents. First, party cues are no help for voters in primary elections. Voters must look beyond the easy party shortcut in trying to distinguish between candidates (Just et al. 1996), and candidates themselves, because they share the same party, are constrained in how much of the ideological spectrum they can occupy (Haynes and Rhine 1998). Second, presidential primary elections are generally multicandidate affairs, with up to a dozen candidates competing depending on the year and the party. Consequently, finding a space on the ideological spectrum that is distinct from one's opponents can be difficult (Haynes and Rhine 1998). (1) The third challenge facing candidates in a presidential primary race is that many of them enter the race with little name recognition beyond their home states. Their task, then, is not only to distinguish themselves ideologically from their opponents--to find an unoccupied niche that might appeal to some segment of the electorate--but to make themselves well known to voters as well (Just et al. 1996). Part of defining one's own image involves positive campaigning, telling voters about oneself and one's own views on the issues of the day. But defining oneself and one's unique position in the minds of the voters may involve going negative, too. …

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