In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Public Presidency, US Elections, and the Permanent Campaign

  • Introduction

Political Science Public Presidency, US Elections, and the Permanent Campaign
Kathryn Dunn Tenpas
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0227


The term “permanent campaign” is relatively new to our political discourse. The creation of this term is often credited to Democratic pollster Pat Caddell who, in 1976, used the term in a transition memo to President-elect Jimmy Carter. Shortly thereafter, journalist Sidney Blumenthal wrote a book called The Permanent Campaign (see Blumenthal 1982 in Broader Studies of the Permanent Campaign) in which he contended that the declining role of political parties had led to the rise of campaign consultants and their burgeoning role in governance. While the term characterizes a phenomenon occurring across the government, this chapter examines the permanent campaign as it relates to the American presidency. The permanent campaign typically refers to the notion that the line between campaigning and governing has become increasingly blurred. As such, it is commonplace to see campaign-like tactics (polling, public relations techniques, sound bites) being used in governing. Since journalist Blumenthal’s book, it was not until the late 1990s when scholars began to examine this concept in a rigorous fashion. Given its relatively short lifespan, subsequent scholarship on the topic does not break down into traditional categories like textbooks, journals, and edited volumes. Instead, I have chosen to break it down into three categories: foundations, permanent campaign as framework, and evidence of the permanent campaign. 1) Foundations: The first category includes works that themselves helped lay the foundations for the permanent campaign or have subsequently provided greater insight into its emergence. These works include those that addressed changes in the presidential electoral process (including fundraising), the political party system, and changes within the presidency itself (e.g., the growth and specialization and the emergence of the public presidency). 2) Permanent Campaign as Framework: The second category of scholarship includes those works that explicitly use the permanent campaign as the vantage point from which to study the American presidency. 3) Evidence of the Permanent Campaign: The third category includes scholarship that demonstrates or measures the trends associated with the permanent campaign, including studies documenting the emergence of the presidential pollster or the strategic allocation of federal funding to swing states. While literature in this last category often explains broader developments in American politics, aspects of this research contribute to our understanding of the permanent campaign.


Explaining the emergence of the permanent campaign is neither simple nor straightforward. Like most political phenomena, there is no single cause or easy explanation, but rather a complex series of events that ultimately paved the way for the permanent campaign. The scholarship below documented these critical developments in American politics. Understanding the origins of the permanent campaign makes it easier to spot and understand its prevalence in modern presidential politics.

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