In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section US Presidential Campaigns and Their Impact

  • Introduction
  • Learning and Priming

Political Science US Presidential Campaigns and Their Impact
Andrew Reeves, David Miller, Bryant Moy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0156


U.S. presidential campaigns dominate national media attention during increasingly long periods before election day. Presidential campaigns deliver messages by way of television, radio, mail, and online media with a goal of persuading voters to support their candidate and mobilizing supporters to turnout on election day. Early studies of the persuasiveness of campaigns were characterized by findings of minimal effects. Most voters made their minds up before the general election campaigns and they did not often change their minds once decided. Campaigns exerted little influence when it came to changing the mind of voters about whom to vote for. Still, other studies find evidence that campaigns enable learning by voters. Despite limited evidence of persuasive effects, many studies find evidence of campaign effects with respect to mobilization and turnout. Through field experiments and the randomization of get out the vote (GOTV) messaging, decades of studies have documented the ability of campaigns to increase turnout. Recent studies, sometimes in conjunction with campaigns, have brought voter files—large databases of citizens voting history sometimes supplemented with additional information—to bear on questions of voter turnout. Through the use of field experiments and with advances in data and modeling techniques, studies have increasingly identified consistent evidence that through advertisement and other mobilization efforts campaigns may successfully bring voters to the polls. In addition to the campaign’s effect on voters, we consider campaigns as institutions. We consider studies that examine the determinants of presidential campaign strategy. The effects of presidential elections are not limited to the periods before Election Day. While campaigns target voters with goals of both persuasion and mobilization, the electoral motivations driving campaigns influence governing after the last inaugural ball is over. The incentives of presidential campaigns are defined by the electoral institutions of the office. Namely, the Electoral College and the all-or-nothing allocation of electoral votes in all but two states incentivizes candidates-turned-presidents to favor the same states they targeted in campaign. We consider studies that examine how campaign forces drive the policies that presidents pursue. From federal grant spending to disaster aid, the specter of presidential campaigns persists into governing.

Research and Teaching Resources

The resources below may be used both to assist researchers new to the subject of presidential campaigns in familiarizing themselves with extant scholarship and learning about important data sources, and to aid instructors in planning courses on presidential campaigns.

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