Candidates, parties, and campaign effects in congressional elections, 1992-2002

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Brox, Brian Joseph

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Political campaigns are vital to democracy in the United States. Campaigns educate and mobilize voters, thus making it possible for citizens (though elections) to select government leaders and indirectly to control public policy. From the point of view of those who create them, campaigns are vehicles for winning elective office. For candidates and parties, campaigns should activate and mobilize supporters while persuading undecided voters and demobilizing those who support the opponent. This dissertation looks at one set of campaigns – those bearing on Congressional elections from 1992 to 2002 – with the purpose of addressing three important research questions. The first research question asks what campaigns do. Related to that is the question of how that activity varies depending on who is conducting the campaign: the candidate or the political party. The second research question asks why campaigns do what they do. For both candidates and parties, it is vital to create an efficient campaign that will maximize the probability of achieving the primary goal: the winning of elective office. The third research question asks about the effects of campaigns on voters. Moving beyond existing research into campaign effects, this dissertation looks at how candidates and parties influence turnout and vote choice behavior by focusing on those components of the campaign designed to reach voters. The results of this study provide compelling answers to these three questions. First, candidate and party campaigns allocate most of their resources to voter contact activities, though resource allocation patterns have changed significantly over the last decade. Second, competition is a key factor that candidates consider when making resource allocation decisions; it is less crucial when parties make resource allocation decisions. Both, however, also look to what other campaigns (not just their opponents) are doing when making resource allocation decisions regarding overhead, fundraising, and grassroots campaign activities. Third, campaign efforts have effects on voters. Candidate efforts both persuade and activate voters, but party efforts have little independent effect once one controls for the efforts of the candidates.