Making Campaigns Count: Leadership and Coalition-Building in 1980

By Darrell M. West | Go to book overview

back through the warmth of their reactions. While audiences are not random samples of public opinion, they are one of the few learning avenues that candidates have outside their peer groups (that is, the media, advisors, and intimates at home). For this reason, campaigners sometimes equate audiences with "public opinion" or "the people." And the lessons that they learn often stick with leaders. To illustrate, right-wing audiences for over twenty years have cheered Reagan when he attacked "godless totalitarians" in the Soviet Union and "welfare cheats" at home. These positive reactions probably reinforced Reagan's intuitive beliefs about public policy and encouraged him once in office to seek fundamental changes in government policy. Similarly, political observers have noted Reagan's tendency to say things that sound outrageous to the political establishment. But what these people fail to realize is that conservative audiences persistently have encouraged Reagan to make these claims.

Although he now holds national office, Reagan's learning and rhetoric were shaped by the right-wing dinner circuit. What sounds outrageous to liberals and moderates probably brought Reagan enthusiastic applause from his "personal constituencies." In these ways, crowd dynamics may have influenced Reagan's views, and therefore have played a role in the policy process of the Reagan Administration.

The 1980 race also shows some of the dilemmas of leadership. Since leaders take cues from impressionistic sources (such as audience reactions, advisors, personal constituencies, and the media), much of their feedback comes from unrepresentative avenues. In terms of democratic theory, these learning patterns are troublesome. Ideally, candidates should use campaigns to discover what is on voters' minds and to build popular majorities. But with candidates' heavy reliance on personal impressions, there is always the risk that their campaigning will lead them to learn the "wrong" lessons. Enthusiastic responses from personal constituencies on the campaign trail may encourage them to legislate in ways that are not supported by public opinion. While the returns are not complete for the Reagan Administration, one can speculate that the 1980 campaign (along with Reagan's large election margin over Carter) may have led him to overestimate public support for fundamental policy revisions.26 Americans may cheer homilies about big government, yet scream bloody murder when their benefits are reduced. Leaders who fail to recognize the limits of their learning patterns may risk political suicide if they overreach their political support.


NOTES
1.
Studies of reciprocal effects include John E. Jackson, "Issues, Party Choices, and Presidential Votes," American Journal of Political Science, 19 ( 1975), pp. 161- 185; Gregory Markus and Philip Converse, "A Dynamic Simultaneous Equation Model of Electoral Choice," American Political Science Review, 73 ( December, 1979), pp. 1055-1070; and Benjamin Page and Calvin Jones, "Reciprocal Effects of Policy Preference, Party Loyalties and the Vote," American Political Science Review, 73 ( December, 1979), pp. 1071-1089.

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Making Campaigns Count: Leadership and Coalition-Building in 1980
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments iv
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Preface xi
  • 1- Introduction 3
  • Notes 12
  • 2- The Changing Nature of Presidential Campaigns 15
  • Notes 34
  • 3- Candidates and Electoral Coalitions 39
  • Notes 62
  • 4campaign Rhetoric and the Political Agenda 69
  • Notes 92
  • 5- Constituencies and the Allocation Of Travel Time 97
  • Notes 114
  • 6- The Role of Political Symbolism 117
  • Notes 131
  • 7- Candidate Presentations and Audience Reactions 133
  • Notes 148
  • 8- Campaigns and Governance: Predicting Presidential Behavior 151
  • Notes 161
  • Appendixes 163
  • Notes 174
  • Bibliographical Essay 189
  • Index 193
  • About the Author 199
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