Do Campaigns Matter?

Books

Thomas M. Holbrook

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  • Contemporary American Politics

    Series Editors
    • Richard G. Niemi, University of Rochester
    • Barbara Sinclair, University of California, Riverside
    Editorial Board
    • John Aldrich, Duke University
    • Gregory Caldeira, The Ohio State University
    • Stanley Feldman, SUNY Stony Brook
    • Katherine Tate, The Ohio State University
    • Sue Thomas, Georgetown University

    The Contemporary American Politics series is intended to assist students and faculty in the field of American politics by bridging the gap between advanced but oft-times impenetrable research on the one hand, but oversimplified presentations on the other. The volumes in this series represent the most exciting work in political science—cutting-edge research that focuses on major unresolved questions, contradicts conventional wisdom, or initiates new areas of investigation. Ideal as supplemental texts for undergraduate courses, these volumes will examine the institutions, processes, and policy questions that make up the American political landscape.

    Books in This Series

    DO CAMPAIGNS MATTER?

    Thomas M. Holbrook

    GENDER DYNAMICS IN CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS

    Richard Logan Fox

    Copyright

    View Copyright Page

    Dedication

    This book is dedicated to the memory of my friend, colleague, and mentor, Charley Tidmarch.

    Series Editor's Introduction

    This new Sage series on Contemporary American Politics is intended to convey the most exciting work in political science—“cutting-edge research focusing on major unresolved questions or research that contradicts conventional wisdom or that initiates entirely new areas of investigation.” In this respect, Thomas Holbrook's Do Campaigns Matter? represents a great beginning. In the past several decades of work on voting and elections, little attention has been paid to the campaigns themselves. Occasionally, explicit statements have suggested that the campaign has had only a negligible effect on the voters; more often, there was simply puzzlement—wonderment at how much attention parties and candidates paid to the campaign when we were unable to demonstrate that it had much effect. Holbrook's book breaks that mold, demonstrating that campaigns have a variety of effects on voters.

    Do Campaigns Matter? is also an excellent beginning in another sense. The series is intended to convey cutting-edge research in a style that “bridges the gap between advanced, but sometimes impenetrable research and understandable [though] greatly simplified presentations.” Holbrook does not shy away from complex ideas and materials, but his findings are presented in a way that is accessible to readers at various levels of learning in regard to statistical skills.

    One important feature of Holbrook's work is his innovative combination of a variety of kinds of data about the campaign, including trial heats, a record of important campaign events, newspaper reports about the campaign, and surveys of voter behavior. By combining these elements, Holbrook paints a more realistic picture of campaigns and of their effects than is possible with only one or two kinds of data.

    As yet another long presidential campaign is upon us, we are delighted to inaugurate our series with a volume that shows that all our collective efforts are not without consequence. Presidential campaigns do matter; it is surprising that we had to wait so many years for political scientists to recognize that fact.

    Richard G.Niemi

    Preface

    I began thinking about the ideas presented in this book several years ago, when I was a graduate student at the University of Iowa. In fact, I considered writing my dissertation on the effect of campaigns on presidential elections. There was one small problem, however: I didn't have the foggiest idea about how one would go about assessing the effect of campaigns. I think, and I hope the reader agrees, that I have finally figured out at least one way of assessing the effect of campaigns.

    Having cut my teeth on economic voting and election forecasting models, I originally approached the topic as a bit of a nonbeliever. When I first began to mull over the issues addressed in this book, I was convinced that campaigns were virtually irrelevant to election outcomes. Given the apparent ability of simple forecast models to accurately predict election outcomes and the impressive performance of individual-level voting models, I did not see any room for campaigns to exert an independent influence on elections. By the time I finally started this project, however, I had come around to a point of view that could best be classified as agnostic: I had been impressed enough by anecdotal evidence of campaign effects that I was at least keeping an open mind to the possibility of campaign effects. By the end of this project, I became persuaded that “something is out there.” I think the evidence in this book clearly shows that although campaigns may not be the most important determinant of presidential election outcomes, they certainly play a key role in shaping public opinion and, ultimately, influencing outcomes.

    A number of people have either directly or indirectly influenced this project and, hence, deserve to be thanked. First, I owe a debt of gratitude to those individuals who helped shape my approach to political science, my teachers at the University of Iowa. I especially want to thank Mike Lewis-Beck, Doug Madsen, Peter Snow, and Art Miller for what they taught me. I also need to thank those who commented on some of my earlier work on presidential campaigns: Jim Stimson, Ken Meier, Jim Garand, John Bibby, and Charley Tidmarch. I am also grateful for the comments provided by anonymous reviewers at various journals and publishers that either accepted or rejected my earlier efforts in this area. Almost without exception, I have found their comments useful.

    My colleagues at UWM deserve thanks for their support of my research program over the years, as well as for their friendship. Thanks go especially to my colleague, Steve Percy, who always manages to convince me, by example, that I'm really not that busy after all. In addition, I would like to thank Linda Hawkins and the staff of the Social Science Research Facility for their assistance in getting the data onto my mainframe account so I could use it.

    I also owe a debt of gratitude to Nicole Johnson, a graduate student at UWM, who spent countless hours coding the media coverage data that play a central role in Chapters 3 and 4.

    I also need to thank the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) and the Center for Political Studies (CPS) at the University of Michigan. Many of the data analyzed in this book were made available by the ICPSR and the CPS. The support provided by institutions such as the ICPSR and the CPS makes it possible for others in the scholarly community, such as myself, to pursue large-scale independent research projects.

    The organizers (The National Election Studies and the Annenberg School of Communication) and participants of the Conference on the Impact of Presidential Campaigns are largely responsible for restarting my intellectual engine at a time when I needed a boost. This book was essentially idle for a three-month period before I attended the conference. I came home from the conference with a fresh perspective and a clearer idea of what issues a book on campaigns should address. Therefore, I thank all who participated in the conference.

    A number of other people have had a more direct effect on the work done in this book. First, Dick Niemi and Barbara Sinclair, coeditors of the Sage series, have provided invaluable input throughout this process. Their thorough evaluation of the manuscript and helpful suggestions have made this a much better book than it would otherwise have been. I also want to thank John Aldrich of Duke University, whose first-rate review of this book provided a number of useful insights and comments, many of which were incorporated into the manuscript. Also, David Farrell of the University of Manchester was generous enough to read the entire manuscript and share his insights with me. I can honestly say that all of the advice I received from these people was useful and led to a better manuscript.

    I would like to thank the University of Wisconsin Press for granting permission to use a limited amount of material from “Campaigns, National Conditions, and U.S. Presidential Elections,” an article that I published in the American Journal of Political Science, volume 38, 1994.

    The staff at Sage deserves thanks for making the entire production process as smooth and efficient as possible. Although there are no doubt countless individuals working behind the scenes, the people I have dealt with have been extremely helpful. They are: Carrie Mullen, Peter Labella, Renée Piernot, Druann Pagliossotti, Gillian Dickens, and Jennifer Morgan. Through their professionalism, these people have made this a fairly quick and fairly painless process.

    Last, but certainly not least, I am grateful to my wife, Kathleen Dolan, who provided support on a number of different levels. Kathy saw and commented on more versions of this manuscript than anyone else. Her input included comments on everything from spelling and grammatical errors, to ideas about the structure of the book and suggestions about how to make the arguments clearer and more intelligible. Kathy was especially good at stopping me from adding more analysis when it really wasn't necessary. Because of this, the book is not only better, it's also done. In addition to academic input, Kathy also provided immeasurable support at home. Although I did not find writing this book to be a particularly arduous task, I did have to work a lot harder than I usually do, which did not make me a very happy person. Kathy put up with my “disposition” and did all that she could to make me comfortable. Those who know me well will understand what an onerous task this must have been. For this and everything else, I thank her.

  • Appendix A: Calculating Aggregate Candidate Support

    The dependent variable for the aggregate candidate support analysis is based on trial-heat poll results for the race between the major-party presidential candidates. For the 1984 election, the data were taken from Goldman, Fuller, et al. (1985, 454). Goldman, Fuller, et al. present daily tracking poll results provided by Richard Wirthlin, pollster for the Reagan campaign. The poll results are based on four-day tracking polls from June 4 through October 4, and two-day tracking polls from October 5 through November 5. These data are unique compared to those used for the 1988 and 1992 analysis because they are provided by a single polling organization and cover virtually every day from early June through election day.

    Gathering the data for 1988 and 1992 required a bit more creativity. These opinion estimates were generated on the basis of poll results provided in Public Opinion (November/December, 1988) and Public Perspective (July/August, September/October, and November/December, 1992). Daily candidate support figures were calculated in the following manner. First, poll results for support for the Republican and Democratic candidates were recorded for each day a poll was taken from early June through the last polls taken before the election. To minimize the problem of incompatible poll results, only those polls that sampled registered voters were used in the analysis. Second, the poll results were averaged by day, yielding a single figure for Republican and Democratic candidate support for each day that polling results were available. The difference between the percentage supporting the Republican candidate and the percentage supporting the Democratic candidate (Republican percentage – Democratic percentage) was then calculated and used as the dependent variable. The data in Table A.1 illustrate how the dependent variable was calculated for June 6 to June 8, based on the results of a Gallup poll taken from June 6 to June 8 and a Washington Post/ABC News poll taken from June 6 to June 7.

    Table A.1 Calculating Candidate Support (in percentages)

    The days for which polling data are not available present a special problem. Rather than exclude these days from the analysis, poll values are estimated for these days by interpolating between days with existing data. For example, if the polling data give a Republican advantage of 6 percentage points on one day and 8 percentage points two days later, and there are no data available for the middle day, an interpolated value of 7 percentage points would be assigned to the middle day.

    On any given day these trial-heat results represent the relative level of support for the major-party candidates. Although it is difficult to demonstrate that these results represent the actual vote intention of respondents, some indication of the accuracy of these data can be gleaned by comparing the estimated outcome based on the last-day polling results to the actual election outcome. As the data in Table A.2 indicate, the last-day polling results are an accurate reflection of the actual election outcome, especially for the 1984 and 1992 elections. One important implication of this close relationship between the poll results and the actual election outcomes is that any model that generates an accurate prediction of the last-day polling result is also generating a close prediction of the actual election outcome (see Chapter 6).

    Table A.2 Accuracy of Last-Day Polling Results

    Appendix B: Debate Surveys

    All surveys used in the individual-level analysis in Chapter 5 were conducted by CBS News and the New York Times and were obtained through the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR). All surveys were conducted by telephone and all samples were drawn using random-digit dialing. Analyses of these surveys included a weighting variable that weighted on the basis of region, race, and gender. The surveys each included a predebate battery of questions on a wide variety of topics related to the election and a postdebate battery of questions focusing on the respondents' reactions to the debates.

    The survey used for the first debate of 1984 is CBS News/New York Times National and Local Surveys, Part 11: First Presidential Debate (ICPSR #8399). The dates of the predebate interviews are September 30 through October 4 and the dates for the postdebate interviews are October 7 and October 9. The survey used for the second debate of 1984 is CBS News/New York Times National and Local Surveys, Part 12: Second Presidential Debate (ICPSR #8399). The predebate interviews were conducted between October 14 and October 17 and the postdebate interviews were conducted on October 21, October 24, and October 25. In both postdebate surveys, all respondents—debate viewers and nonviewers—were asked about their impressions of the debates.

    The survey used for the first debate of 1988 is CBS News/New York Times First Presidential Debate Panel Survey, September 1988 (ICPSR #9143). The predebate interviews were conducted on September 21 and September 22 and the postdebate interviews were conducted on September 25. The survey used for the second debate in 1988 is CBS News/New York Times Second Presidential Debate Panel Survey, October 1988 (ICPSR #9147). Predebate interviews were conducted between October 8 and October 10 and postdebate interviews were conducted on October 13. Only debate viewers were asked their impression of the debate in the postdebate interview.

    The survey used for the first debate of 1992 is CBS News/New York Times Monthly Poll #1, October 1992 (ICPSR #6091). The predebate interviews were conducted between October 2 and October 4 and the postdebate interviews were conducted on October 11. Only debate viewers were asked for their impressions of the debate in the postdebate survey.

    Appendix C: Alternative Models

    One would be remiss if certain design issues concerning the method of analysis used here were not brought up. The first issue concerns the degree to which this design is truly dynamic in nature—that is, the degree to which one can be confident that the results reflect the degree to which the independent variables influence changes in the dependent variable. Even though the data analyzed here represent differences in the dependent variable over time, the analysis is still open to being described as essentially static in nature because the values do not represent the actual change in candidate support from one day to the next. One of the more stringent tests for dynamic causality involves including a lagged value of the dependent variable as an independent variable. Doing this allows inferences to be made about the effect of the independent variables while controlling for the effect of previous levels of the dependent variable.

    When the model in Table 6.4 is modified to include candidate support in t – 1 as an independent variable, the substantive interpretation of the results changes very little (Table C.1). As might be expected, the explanatory power of the model increases substantially and the size of all other coefficients is reduced in the presence of the lagged dependent variable. However, there were very few changes in terms of which variables are significantly related to the dependent variable. The one exception to this is the third debate in 1992, which became significant when the lagged dependent variable was added to the model. More important, the relative effect of each of the independent variables remains essentially intact.

    Table C.1 A Dynamic Model of Candidate Support With a Lagged Dependent Variable, 1984–1992 (GLS Results)
    Variablebt-Score
    Constant−16.90−3.05**
    Support t −1.6718.72**
    Conventions
    Democratic, 1984−1.03−2.10**
    Republican, 19841.643.12**
    Democratic, 1988−2.02−3.42**
    Republican, 19884.265.36**
    Democratic, 1992−5.15−3.12**
    Republican, 19922.103.76**
    Debates
    First, 1984−.63−.95
    Second, 19841.842.45**
    First, 1988.07.11
    Second, 19881.512.34**
    First, 1992−1.04−.92
    Second, 1992−.75−.56
    Third, 19922.222.01**
    Perot1.241.83**
    Campaign events.252.08**
    Momentum.062.43**
    National variables
    External events.18.69
    Political and economic climate.243.16**
    Year effects
    1984−.70−.44
    1988−6.87−3.94**

    NOTE: The data have been corrected for first-order autocorrelation using the Yule-Walker procedure. The estimated value of first-order autocorrelation (prior to correction) is .15.

    R2 = .98; SE = 1.72; N = 445.

    *p < .10

    **p < .05.

    One other possible problem with this analysis lies in the potential for endogeneity among the independent variables. Specifically, it is possible that levels of presidential popularity and consumer sentiment, which are used to measure national conditions, could be influenced by campaign events and campaign rhetoric (see Shaw 1995). If this is the case, then some of the effect being attributed to national conditions may actually reflect the effect of campaigns on perceptions of the president and the state of the economy. One simple method for obviating the potential effect of endogeneity is to measure national conditions just before the campaign actually begins and use this as a constant value for national conditions during the campaign period. Events occurring during the campaign cannot possibly influence perceptions of national conditions prior to the campaign. The only problem with using the May national conditions variable is that it creates a state of perfect collinearity between national conditions and the year dummy variables. This problem is easily resolved by dropping the 1984 dummy variable from the analysis. When the model in Table 6.4 is modified to include only the value of national conditions in May of the election year, very few changes occur in the values of the other coefficients (Table C.2). In fact, one of the few changes that does occur is an increase in the size of the coefficient for national conditions. If endogeneity is a problem, it probably serves to dampen the effect of national conditions.

    Table C.2 Model of Candidate Support With June National Conditions, 1984–1992 (GLS Results)
    Variablebt-Score
    Constant−61.86−10.01**
    Conventions
    Democratic, 1984−1.84−1.66*
    Republican, 19845.815.52**
    Democratic, 1988−2.28−1.99**
    Republican, 198811.408.59**
    Democratic, 1992−13.06−9.19**
    Republican, 19926.075.66**
    Debates
    First, 1984−1.25−.95
    Second, 19845.323.64**
    First, 1988.01.01
    Second, 19883.262.45**
    First, 1992−2.49−1.47
    Second, 1992−1.76−.98
    Third, 19923.442.02**
    Perot6.766.49**
    Campaign events.733.45**
    Momentum.164.86**
    National variables
    External events−.39−.96
    Political and economic climate.8311.81**
    Year effects
    1988−17.67−15.04**
    NOTE: The data have been corrected for first-order autocorrelation using the Yule-Walker procedure. The estimated value of first-order autocorrelation (prior to correction) is .65.
    R2 = .85; SE = 1.92; N = 446.

    *p < .10

    **p < .05.

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    About the Author

    Thomas M. Holbrook is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee. He has published articles on elections and state politics in the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, and several other political science journals.


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