Presidential Elections: 1.5

Sono Shah


Today’s Readings

  • Chapter 5: Modern Campaign Strategies
  • Chapter 13: Voter Choice

Modern Campaign Strategy

  • Campaigns try to mobilize supporters and persuade undecided voters
  • Involves making decisions about whether to run, which issues to emphasize, what positions to take on issues, whether to attack the opposition, and how to allocate resources to different constituencies and media

Developing a strategy

  • The electorate can be divided into three groups: candidate’s base, opponent’s base, and the undecided
  • Past election results + survey research make it possible to determine which people fall into each group

Developing a strategy

  • It is neither possible nor necessary to get the support of all people everywhere to win the election
  • Once a campaign has ID’d who they need to win, they should act to do so

Voter Targets

  • How many total votes the campaign believes will be cast in the election
  • How many votes it will need to win
  • How many votes its candidate can expect no matter what
  • How many persuadable (swing) votes are out there

Voter Targets

  • Campaigns typically derive vote targets by examining data from recent comparable elections
  • Build estimates for: a good candidate versus a bad candidate by looking at prior elections
  • Similar process for swing votes

Idea versus Identification

  • Vote targets do not translate into individual targets
  • We have an idea about how many voters can by swayed
  • But, we don’t know which individuals are most likely to be persuaded.

Profiling Voters

  • In order to ID these voters, campaigns typically use surveys and focus groups, among other things.
  • Surveys are mostly probability samples
  • focus groups are usually used as an in-depth follow up
  • what are some differences?


  • Campaign uses information gained from results of poll + focus groups to generate a guess of each person’s persuadability, in their file.

  • They isolate specific voters for mailings, phone calls, or in-person visits


  1. A “cookie,” or digital marker, is dropped on a user’s computer after the user visits a Web site or makes a purchase,

  2. That profile is matched with offline data like what charities a person supports, what type of credit card a person has and what type of car he or she drives.


  1. The political consultants then take a third step and match that data with voting records, including party registration and how often the person has voted in past election cycles, but not whom that person voted for.

Obama Campaigns

  • In 2008, Obama’s campaigns had enough data that they buy advertising on specific bus routes in select cities across the country

Deciding to run

  • motivation to run
  • resources to run
  • staff to help
  • opportunity

Differences across groups

  • Why so few women hold elective office?
  • Although women candidates are as likely to as male candidates to win elections, they are less likely to run in the first place (Lawless & Fox 2005)
  • Others point to characteristics like risk assessment, time and resources, etc. (more on this next week)

Issue Priorities

  • What issues should a candidate emphasize?
  • Think about 2016 election? What where their issue priorities?

Median voter theorem

  • How do they decide which position to take?
  • Candidates seek to position themselves nearest to the voter that would provide the winning vote for them: the median voter

Median voter theorem