Advertising and Election Campaigns in the United States

Michael Hagen

in Political Science

ISBN: 9780199756223
Published online November 2011 | | DOI:
Advertising and Election Campaigns in the United States

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Americans invest a great deal in choosing political leaders. In each election cycle, campaigns for elective office in the United States combine to raise and spend billions of dollars, and candidates and volunteers devote untold unpaid hours to promote their causes. The campaigns with sufficiently large bank balances use most of their money for airtime on television, most purchased in thirty-second portions, during which candidates communicate their case to potential supporters. Legions of journalists and commentators follow the tactical twists and turns, handicapping the races. The scholarship on American campaigns addresses two fundamental questions: Why do campaigns do what they do, and what difference do they make? For many years, the scholarly view of the impact of campaigns was diametrically different from the views of the people who mount or report on them. The conventional wisdom that emerged among academics—especially political scientists—in the wake of survey-based election studies in the 1940s and 1950s held that voters make their choices principally on the basis of longstanding attachments to the political parties and other groups, and these attachments shift little from election to election, let alone from the start of a campaign to Election Day. Since the early 1990s, however, scholars have reopened the question of campaign influence—in part because they have brought new tools to bear on the study of elections, in part because the electorate seems in some respects to have become more volatile, and in part because the magnitude of both the investment and the stakes makes a thorough understanding of campaigns vital. Election campaigns vary enormously, of course, in the time, effort, and money they entail: a presidential campaign can employ hundreds of people and spend hundreds of millions of dollars, whereas a campaign for a local office may depend for its resources solely on the energy and credit card of the candidate. The emphasis of the scholarship reflects campaign expenditures; as will be clear below, scholars have focused mainly on high-profile campaigns, presidential campaigns in particular, and on television advertising rather than radio or print. Finally, although this bibliography focuses rather ruthlessly on the American case alone, the literature on advertising and campaigns in the rest of the world is growing in quantity and quality as well.

Article.  10250 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Comparative Politics ; Political Institutions ; Political Methodology ; Political Theory

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