Do Political Campaigns Matter? Campaign Effects in Elections and Referendums

By David M. Farrell; Rudiger Schmitt-Beck | Go to book overview

11

Do political campaigns matter?

Yes, but it depends

Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck and David M. Farrell

The previous chapters have taken us on a Cook's Tour of different cases of campaign effects. The objective of this chapter is to draw the threads together, to show how collectively these chapters demonstrate some important steps forward in the comparative study of campaign effects, and to set out a stall for further possible research. Three major conclusions are drawn, namely: (1) campaigns do matter, but (2) how they matter can vary in a number of respects and (3) is contingent on circumstances.


Campaigns do matter

As John Zaller puts it in his path-breaking study on political influence, '[e] very opinion is a marriage of information and predisposition: information to form a mental picture of the given issue, and predisposition to motivate some conclusion about it' (1992:6). Information is thus essential for any process of decision making. The information used by electors when deciding how to vote can come from many sources, and campaigns are only one of them. For instance, people may derive an impression of the political state of affairs from their experiences in everyday life. Are prices rising? Do I know many people who are unemployed? Have public services lately been improving or deteriorating? Such observations may help voters to draw conclusions about the performance of government (Popkin 1991). Voters also receive political cues from their social environment. They may see more and more people wearing lapel buttons, or cars displaying bumper stickers supporting a particular party or candidate. They may overhear political conversations in the tram on their way to work or afterwards at the pub. Or they may gather information by engaging in political discussions with their family, friends or co-workers. Last but not least, the mass media, especially television, must never be overlooked as a ubiquitous source of political information in modern democracies.

Hence voters constantly move in environments saturated with political information, even without the campaigns being waged by political actors. This means that, in their campaigns, the political actors have to compete with a range of other sources of potential influence over their target

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