The Modern Political Campaign

Assembling a Campaign Staff

It is essential to gather a specialized and politically driven staff that helps run political campaigns in elections.

Learning Objectives

Describe the organizational structure of a major modern political campaign

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Successful campaigns usually require a campaign manager to coordinate the campaign’s operations.
  • Activists are the ‘foot soldiers ‘ who are loyal to the cause. They are the true believers who will carry the run by volunteer activists.
  • Political consultants advise campaigns on virtually all of their activities from research to field strategy.
  • There are different departments created while assembling the staff in order to structure all of the campaign roles.

Key Terms

  • pollster: A professional whose primary job is conducting pre-election polls.
  • consultant: A person whose occupation is to be consulted for their expertise, advice, or help in an area or specialty. Alternatively, a party whose business is to be similarly consulted.
  • quadrennial: Happening every four years.
  • activist: A person who is politically active in the role of a citizen; especially, one who campaigns for change

Organization

In a modern political campaign, the campaign organization will have a coherent structure and staff like any other large business. Political campaign staff is the people who formulate and implement the strategy needed to win an election. Many people have made careers out of working full-time for campaigns and groups that support them. However, in other campaigns much of the staff might be unpaid volunteers.

Campaign Manager

Successful campaigns usually require a campaign manager to coordinate the campaign’s operations. Apart from a candidate, the campaign manger is often a campaign’s most visible leader. Modern campaign managers may be concerned with executing strategy rather than setting it, particularly if the senior strategists are typically outside political consultants such as primarily pollsters and media consultants.

Activists

Activists are the ‘foot soldiers’ loyal to the cause. They are the true believers who will carry the run by volunteer activists. These volunteers and interns may take part in activities such as canvassing door-to-door and making phone calls on behalf of the campaign.

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Caricature of Woman Suffrage 1869: This is a satirical caricature of the possible consequences of giving women the vote. The two candidates “Susan Sharp-tongue the Celebrated Man-Tamer” (dressed in circus-performer costume) and “Miss Hangman for Sheriff” canvass for women’s votes (in 1869 women could not vote anywhere in the United States, except as a newly-established experimental innovation in the remote territory of Wyoming). At the right, a sharp-featured woman brandishes a fist threateningly at her husband, who holds the baby. In the 1860’s chignons were a fashionable hairstyle worn by most women and often supplemented with a roll of artificial hair. The artist has caricatured this hairstyle.

Political Consultants

Political campaigns in the United States are not merely a civic ritual and an occasion for political debate. Campaigns are a multi-billion dollar industry, dominated by professional political consultants using sophisticated campaign management tools. Though the quadrennial presidential election attracts the most attention, the United States has a huge number of elected offices. There are wide variations between different states, counties, and municipalities on which offices are elected and under what procedures. Moreover, unlike democratic politics in much of the rest of the world, the U.S. has relatively weak parties. While parties play a significant role in fundraising and occasionally in drafting people to run, the individual candidates themselves ultimately control campaigns

Campaign Departments and Their Respective Purposes

The field department focuses on the “on-the-ground” organizing that is required in order to personally contact voters through canvassing, phone calls, and building local events. Voter contact helps construct and clean the campaign’s voter file in order to help better target voter persuasion and identify which voters a campaign most wants to bring out on Election Day. The field department is generally also tasked with running local “storefront” campaign offices as well as organizing phone banks and staging locations for canvasses and other campaign events.

The communications department oversees both the press relations and advertising involved in promoting the campaign in the media. They are responsible for the campaign’s message and image among the electorate. This department must approve press releases, advertisements, phone scripts, and other forms of communication before they can be released to the public.

The finance department coordinates the campaign’s fundraising operation and ensures that the campaign always has the money it needs to operate effectively. The techniques employed by this department vary based on the campaign’s needs and size. Small campaigns often involve casual fundraising events and phone calls from the candidate to donors asking for money. Larger campaigns will include everything from high-priced sit-down dinners to e-mail messages to donors asking for money.

The legal department makes sure that the campaign is in compliance with the law and files the appropriate forms with government authorities. In Britain and other Commonwealth countries, such as Canada and India, each campaign must have an official agent who is legally responsible for the campaign. The official agent is obligated to make sure the campaign follows all rules and regulations. This department will also be responsible for all financial tracking including bank reconciliations, loans, and backup for in-kind donations.

The technology department designs and maintains campaign technology such as voter file, websites, and social media. While local (county, city, town, or village) campaigns might have volunteers who know how to use computers, state and national campaigns will have information technology professionals across the state or country handling everything from websites to blogs to databases.

The scheduling and advance department makes sure that the candidate and campaign surrogates are effectively scheduled in order to maximize their impact on the voters. This department also oversees the people who arrive at events before the candidate to make sure everything is in order. Often, this department will be a part of the field department.

On small campaigns the scheduling coordinator may be responsible for developing and executing events. The scheduling coordinator typically: a) manages the candidate’s personal and campaign schedule, b) manages the field and advance team schedules, and c) gathers important information about all events the campaign and candidate will attend.

Candidates and other members of the campaign must bear in mind that only one person should oversee the details of scheduling. Fluid scheduling is one of the main components to making a profound impact on voters.

The Modern Political Campaign

A modern political campaign informs citizens about a political candidate running for the elected office.

Learning Objectives

Identify key moments in the history of mass campaigns in the United States

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A political campaign is an organized effort which seeks to influence the decision making process within a specific group.
  • Major campaigns in the United States are often much longer than those in other democracies. Campaigns start anywhere from several months to several years before election day.
  • Campaigns often dispatch volunteers into local communities to meet with voters and persuade people to support the candidate. The volunteers are also responsible for identifying supporters, recruiting them as volunteers or registering them to vote if they are not already registered.
  • Campaign finance in the United States is the financing of electoral campaigns at the federal, state, and local levels. At the federal level, campaign finance law is enacted by Congress and enforced by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), an independent federal agency.
  • The internet is now a core element of modern political campaigns. Communication technologies such as e-mail, web sites, and podcasts for various forms of activism to enable faster communications by citizen movements and deliver a message to a large audience.

Key Terms

  • political action committee: A political action committee (PAC) is any organization in the United States that campaigns for or against political candidates, ballot initiatives, or legislation.
  • political campaign: It is an organized effort which seeks to influence the decision making process within a specific group.
  • referendum: A direct popular vote on a proposed law or constitutional amendment.
  • lobby groups: The act of attempting to persuade a group of people that influence decisions made by officials in the government, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies.

Introduction

A political campaign is an organized effort which seeks to influence the decision making process within a specific group. In democracies, political campaigns often refer to electoral campaigns, where representatives are chosen or referendums are decided. In modern politics, the most high profile political campaigns are focused on candidates for head of state or head of government, often a President or Prime Minister.

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Candidate for Congress: Walter Faulkner, candidate for U.S. Congress, campaigning with a Tennessee farmer. Crossville, Tennessee.

Background History

Political campaigns have existed as long as there have been informed citizens. The phenomenon of political campaigns are tightly tied to lobby groups and political parties. The first modern campaign is thought to be William Ewart Gladstone’s Midlothian campaign in the 1880’s, although there may have been earlier modern examples from the 19th century. American election campaigns in the 19th century created the first mass-base political parties and invented many of the techniques of mass campaigning.

Process of Campaigning

Major campaigns in the United States are often much longer than those in other democracies. Campaigns start anywhere from several months to several years before election day. Once a person decides to run, they will make a public announcement. This announcement could consist of anything from a simple press release to concerned media outlets to a major media event followed by a speaking tour. It is often well-known to many people that a candidate will run prior to an announcement being made.

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John Edwards Pittsburgh 2007: 2008 United States Presidential candidate John Edwards campaigning in Pittsburgh on Labor day in 2007, accepting the endorsement of the United Steelworkers and the United Mine Workers of America.

Campaigns often dispatch volunteers into local communities to meet with voters and persuade people to support the candidate. The volunteers are also responsible for identifying supporters, recruiting them as volunteers or registering them to vote if they are not already registered. The identification of supporters will be useful later as campaigns remind voters to cast their votes. Late in the campaign, campaigns will launch expensive television, radio, and direct mail campaigns aimed at persuading voters to support the candidate. Campaigns will also intensify their grassroots campaigns, coordinating their volunteers in a full court effort to win votes.

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Nixon Meets Crowds at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia: President Nixon “works the crowd” at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia in the initial stages of his campaign.

Campaign Finance in the United States

Campaign finance in the United States is the financing of electoral campaigns at the federal, state, and local levels. At the federal level, campaign finance law is enacted by Congress and enforced by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), an independent federal agency. Although most campaign spending is privately financed, public financing is available for qualifying candidates for President of the United States during both the primaries and the general election. Eligibility requirements must be fulfilled to qualify for a government subsidy, and those that do accept government funding are usually subject to spending limits.

In 2008—the last presidential election year—candidates for office, political parties, and independent groups spent a total of $5.3 billion on federal elections. The amount spent on the presidential race alone was $2.4 billion, and over $1 billion of that was spent by the campaigns of the two major candidates: Barack Obama spent $730 million in his election campaign, and John McCain spent $333 million. The total spent on federal elections in 2012 was approximately $7 billion. The figures for the 2016 election will not be available until 2017.

Techniques

A campaign team must consider how to communicate the message of the campaign, recruit volunteers, and raise money. Campaign advertising draws on techniques from commercial advertising and propaganda. The avenues available to political campaigns when distributing their messages is limited by the law, available resources, and the imagination of the campaigns’ participants. These techniques are often combined into a formal strategy known as the campaign plan. The plan takes account of a campaign’s goal, message, target audience, and resources available. The campaign will typically seek to identify supporters at the same time as getting its message across.

Modern Technology and the Internet

The internet is now a core element of modern political campaigns. Communication technologies such as e-mail, web sites, and podcasts for various forms of activism to enable faster communications by citizen movements and deliver a message to a large audience. These Internet technologies are used for cause-related fundraising, lobbying, volunteering, community building, and organizing. Individual political candidates are also using the internet to promote their election campaign.

Signifying the importance of internet political campaigning, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign relied heavily on social media, and new media channels to engage voters, recruit campaign volunteers, and raise campaign funds. The campaign brought the spotlight on the importance of using internet in new-age political campaigning by utilizing various forms of social media and new media (including Facebook, YouTube and a custom generated social engine) to reach new target populations. The campaign’s social website, my.BarackObama.com, utilized a low cost and efficient method of mobilizing voters and increasing participation among various voter populations. This new media was incredibly successful at reaching the younger population while helping all populations organize and promote action.

The Nomination Campaign

In the nomination campaign, Presidential candidates are selected based on the primaries to run in the main election.

Learning Objectives

Describe the procedure by which the Electoral College indirectly elects the President

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The modern Presidential campaign begins before the primary elections.
  • Nominees campaign across the country to explain their views, convince voters and solicit contributions.
  • Much of the modern electoral process is concerned with winning swing states through frequent visits and mass media advertising drives.

Key Terms

  • Twentieth Amendment: This amendment establishes the beginning and ending of the terms of the elected federal offices.
  • vice president: A deputy to a president, often empowered to assume the position of president on his death or absence
  • electoral college: A body of electors empowered to elect someone to a particular office

Modern Presidential Campaign and Nomination

The modern presidential campaign begins before the primary elections. The two major political parties try to clear the field of candidates before their national nominating conventions, where the most successful candidate is made the party’s nominee for president. Typically, the party’s presidential candidate chooses a vice presidential nominee, and this choice is then rubber-stamped by the convention.

Nominees participate in nationally televised debates. While the debates are usually restricted to the Democratic and Republican nominees, third party candidates may be invited, such as Ross Perot in the 1992 debates. Nominees also campaign across the country to explain their views, convince voters and solicit contributions. Much of the modern electoral process is concerned with winning “swing states” through frequent visits and mass media advertising drives.

Election and oath

Presidents are elected indirectly in the United States. A number of electors, collectively known as the Electoral College, officially select the president. On Election Day, voters in each of the states and the District of Columbia cast ballots for these electors. Each state is allocated a number of electors, equal to the size of its delegation in both Houses of Congress combined. Generally, the ticket that wins the most votes in a state wins all of that state’s electoral votes, and thus has its slate of electors chosen to vote in the Electoral College.

The winning slate of electors meet at its state’s capital on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, about six weeks after the election, to vote. They then send a record of that vote to Congress. The vote of the electors is opened by the sitting vice president, acting in his capacity as President of the Senate, and is read aloud to a joint session of the incoming Congress, which is elected at the same time as the President.

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Electoral College: Electoral college map for the 2012, 2016 and 2020 United States presidential elections, using apportionment data released by the US Census Bureau.

Pursuant to the Twentieth Amendment, the President’s term of office begins at noon on January 20 of the year following the election. This date, known as Inauguration Day, marks the beginning of the four-year term of both the President and the vice president. Before executing the powers of the office, a President is constitutionally required to take the presidential oath.

The General Election Campaign

In the U.S., general election campaigns promote presidential candidates running for different parties.

Learning Objectives

Identify the features that distinguish American elections from those in other democracies

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In U.S. politics, general elections occur every four years and include the presidential election.
  • One of the most important aspects of the major American political campaign is the ability to raise large sums of money, especially early on in the race.
  • Campaigns often dispatch volunteers into local communities to meet with voters and persuade people to support the candidate.

Key Terms

  • general elections: In the United States, these regulation elections of candidates occur every four years and include the presidential election.
  • campaign: An organized effort to influence the decision making process within a specific group when seeking election to political office.
  • partisan: An adherent to a party or faction.

General Elections in the United States

In presidential systems, a general election refers to a regularly scheduled election, where both the president, and either “a class” of or all members of the national legislature are elected at the same time. A general election day may also include elections for local officials.

In U.S. politics, general elections occur every four years and include the presidential election. Some parallels can be drawn between the general election in parliamentary systems and the biennial elections determining all House seats. There is no analogue to “calling early elections” in the U.S., however, and the members of the elected U.S. Senate face elections of only one-third at a time at two year intervals including during a general election.

Types of Elections

The United States is unusual in that dozens of different offices are filled by election, from drain commissioner to the President of the United States. Elections happen every year, on many different dates, and in many different areas of the country.

All federal elections including elections for the President and the Vice President, as well as elections to the House of Representatives and Senate, are partisan. Elections to most but not all statewide offices are partisan-oriented, and all state legislatures except for Nebraska are partisan-oriented.

Some state and local offices are non-partisan, these often include judicial elections, special district elections (the most common of which are elections to the school board, and elections to municipal (town council, city commission, mayor) and county (county commission, district attorney, sheriff) office. In some cases, candidates of the same political party challenge each other. Additionally, in many cases there are no campaign references to political parties, but sometimes even non-partisan races take on partisan overtones.

Process of Campaigning

Major campaigns in the United States are often much longer than those in other democracies. The first part of any campaign is for a candidate to decide to run in elections. Prospective candidates will often speak with family, friends, professional associates, elected officials, community leaders, and the leaders of political parties before deciding to run. Candidates are often recruited by political parties and lobby groups interested in electing like-minded politicians. During this period, people considering running for office will consider their ability to put together the money, organization, and public image needed to get elected. Many campaigns for major office do not progress past this point, as people often do not feel confident in their ability to win. However, some candidates lacking the resources needed for a competitive campaign proceed with an inexpensive paper campaign or informational campaign designed to raise public awareness and support for their positions.

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Nixon Meets Crowds at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia: President Nixon “works the crowd” at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia in the initial stages of his campaign.

Once a person decides to run, they make a public announcement. This announcement consists of anything from a simple press release, to concerned media outlets, or a major media event followed by a speaking tour.

Funding for Campaigns

One of the most important aspects of the major American political campaign is the ability to raise large sums of money, especially early on in the race. Political insiders and donors often judge candidates based on their ability to raise money. Not raising enough money early on can lead to problems later as donors are not willing to give funds to candidates they perceive to be losing, a perception based on their poor fundraising performance.

Also during this period, candidates travel around the area they are running in and meet with voters; speaking to them in large crowds, small groups, or even one-on-one. This allows voters to get a better sense of who a candidate is, rather than just relying on what they read about in the paper or see on television.

Campaigns often dispatch volunteers into local communities to meet with voters and persuade people to support the candidate. The volunteers are also responsible for identifying supporters, recruiting them as volunteers or registering them to vote if they are not already registered. The identification of supporters is useful later, as campaigns remind voters to cast their votes.

Late in the campaign, campaigns will launch expensive television, radio, and direct mail campaigns aimed at persuading voters to support their candidate. Campaigns will also intensify their grassroots campaigns, coordinating their volunteers in a full court effort to win votes.