Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Living in a Battleground: Presidential Campaigns and Fundamental Predictors of Vote Choice

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Living in a Battleground: Presidential Campaigns and Fundamental Predictors of Vote Choice

Article excerpt

Little evidence links the strategic decisions of campaigns to individual-level voting behavior. Yet for campaigns to matter in the way that experts argue, exposure to campaigns must also matter, so there should be observable differences in the structure of vote choice between battleground and nonbattleground states. Combining presidential campaign data with the Senate Election Study, the authors show that intense campaigning can activate factors such as race, ideology, partisanship, and presidential approval. The authors find that the campaigns affected different variables in 1988 than in 1992, which they hypothesize is the consequence of campaign messages.

Keywords: presidential campaigns; vote choice; battleground states; campaign effects

An emerging scholarly consensus that campaigns matter in elections is built on evidence showing that the public reacts to campaign events (Holbrook 1996; Hillygus 2005), the issue context of elections influences vote choice (Clinton and Lapinski 2004; Carsey 2000; Simon 2002; Popkin 1991), and aggregate election results are related to campaign intensity (Shaw 1999a; Holbrook and McClurg 2005). While such work refutes long-held notions that campaigns have "minimal effects," limits remain to our evidence on whether voting behavior would be different in the absence of presidential campaigns. In this article, we address this by examining whether the intense flows of information created by presidential campaigns in some locales but not elsewhere produce differences in voting behavior.

Unlike most previous research, we examine how campaign decisions create geographically driven information contexts in order to explicitly link them to voter decision making (but see Wolak 2006). In particular, we examine how fundamental predictors of vote choice, such as partisanship and presidential evaluation, vary in importance across campaign contexts of different intensity. By combining survey data from the Senate Election Study with a unique measure of statewide campaign intensity from the 1988 and 1992 presidential elections, our study makes two contributions to knowledge on presidential campaign effects. First, we show that individual voting can differ dramatically across campaign context, thus providing rare individuallevel evidence of campaign effects that result from the strategic allocation of campaign resources over the electoral map. Second, our results suggest a dependence of such effects between years on the choice of campaign message. Although the second hypothesis bears further testing in future research, the fact that the variables that are more important in battleground states than nonbattleground states vary across election years is highly suggestive of this point.

Research on Campaign Effects

For years, campaign effects research was plagued by a contradiction between commonsense beliefs that campaigns influence voters and generally mild empirical evidence of such effects. Two arguments emerged as political scientists reconciled instinct with evidence. The first is that campaigns are strategic, with opposing candidates concentrating resources on the same locations (Shaw 1999b, 2006) and targeting subsets of the voting population (Huber and Arceneaux, forthcoming; Gerber and Green 2004,1; Goldstein and Ridout 2002; Abramson and Claggett 2001; Huckfeldt and Sprague 1992). From this perspective, strategic considerations and selection processes mask campaign effects. That is, the competitive pressures faced by campaigns minimize their aggregate and individual effects. Seeking to avoid this problem, scholars use experimental designs to investigate the impact of negative advertising (Ansolabehere and Iyengar 1995), information complexity (Barker and Hansen 2005; Lau and Redlawsk 2001), issue engagement (Simon 2002), and contacting techniques (Gerber and Green 2004; Green and Gerber 2005) on voting behavior. Still others use quasiexperimental designs to gain significant leverage using data from real campaigns (Huber and Arceneaux, forthcoming) by focusing on voters in targeted media markets who are not in targeted states. …

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