Competitive Elections and the American Voter

Competitive Elections and the American Voter

Keena Lipsitz
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Competitive Elections and the American Voter
    Book Description:

    Tight political races with their emotionally charged debates, mud-slinging, and uncertain outcomes are stressful for voters and candidates alike, but that stress may be healthy for democracy. In Competitive Elections and the American Voter, Keena Lipsitz argues that highly contested electoral battles create an environment that allows citizens to make more enlightened decisions. The first book to use democratic theory to evaluate the quality of campaign rhetoric, Competitive Elections and the American Voter offers a rare overview of political contests at different levels of government. Lipsitz draws on a range of contemporary democratic theories, including egalitarian and deliberative conceptions, to develop campaign communication standards. To promote the values of political competition, equality, and deliberation Lipsitz contends that voters must have access to abundant, balanced information, representing a range of voices and involving a high level of dialogue between the candidates. Using advertising data, the book examines whether competitive House, Senate, and presidential campaigns operating at the state level generate such facts and arguments. It also tests the connection between this knowledge and greater voter understanding and engagement. Because close elections can push candidates to attack their opponents, the book investigates how negative advertising affects voters as well. Given the link between electoral competitiveness and an informed electorate, the book includes reform proposals that enhance competition. Competitive Elections and the American Voter reminds us that we avoid political controversy and conflict at our peril. This eye-opening analysis of political communication and campaign information environments encourages citizens, scholars, and campaign reformers to recognize the crucial role that well contested elections play in a democracy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0419-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Americans love to hate political campaigns. Voters find them tiresome, politicians find them draining, and scholars find them shallow. As a consequence, the list of campaign reform proposals grows longer with each election cycle. For example, the Alliance for Better Campaigns wants broadcasters to provide free air time to candidates for political advertisements and debates while the Institute for Global Ethics wants candidates to sign codes of conduct in which they promise to adhere to ethical campaign practices. In addition, a handful of organizations have cropped up recently, largely due to the largesse of the Pew Charitable Trusts, to train...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Democratic Theory and the Campaign Information Environment
    (pp. 17-39)

    Popular criticisms of campaigns tend to focus on their negativity and, perhaps less often, on the way they are financed, which has led reformers to concentrate on these issues. Yet, plunging headlong into reform without developing a comprehensive and systematic critique of campaigns is putting the cart before the horse. In other words, it is necessary to identify the values or goals one believes campaigns should uphold and the kind of information environment that is required to promote these values before one begins to make claims about specific campaign funding schemes and the way candidates should campaign. This chapter explores...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Electoral Competitiveness and the Campaign Information Environment
    (pp. 40-62)

    Chapter 2 suggested that adopting reforms that enhance electoral competitiveness might be the most promising way of improving campaign information environments for voters. Although there is certainly an abundance of literature suggesting that competitive campaigns generate more information, as we saw, there is much less evidence that competitive campaigns improve the quality and equality of campaign information. In this chapter, I analyze data from 2000, 2002, and 2004 Senate and House elections, as well as the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, to determine how electoral competitiveness is related to these aspects of a campaign information environment. In addition, I address...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Competitiveness and Campaign Knowledge in Congressional Elections
    (pp. 63-92)

    It is widely believed that competitive elections have a host of salutary effects on voters. Studies of Senate elections have concluded that competitive elections, “enliven and enrich people’s political life” by making citizens more knowledgeable about their political choices (Kahn and Kenney 1999, 7), while studies of House campaigns have found that competitive races generate similarly positive but slightly more muted effects (Huckfeldt et al. 2007; Gronke 2000). This chapter will examine the relationship between electoral competitiveness and voter knowledge in these contexts but with the goal of understanding how competitive a race needs to be to generate knowledge effects....

  8. CHAPTER 5 Competitiveness and Campaign Knowledge in a Presidential Election
    (pp. 93-116)

    The information environments generated by presidential elections are incredibly rich compared to those in congressional contests and other down-ticket races. In addition to the information generated by major campaign events such as the conventions and debates, presidential candidates and their supporters have far more resources for communicating with voters than down-ticket candidates do. For example, in the 2008 presidential race, John McCain and Barack Obama spent nearly as much on their campaigns as all the U.S. House and Senate candidates did combined.¹ Layered on top of the presidential campaign efforts are those by national media organizations who doggedly report every...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Competitiveness and Political Participation
    (pp. 117-149)

    It is virtually a cliché to say that competitive elections excite and engage citizens. The images of excited youngsters canvassing battleground state neighborhoods during the 2008 campaign and voters standing in lines for hours on Election Day only seemed to confirm this widely accepted truism. The cliché may describe what happens when a presidential election is especially close nationally, but as we have learned in the previous chapters, it seems to be a much poorer description of what happens in competitive congressional races and even in many battleground states during a given presidential election year. In Chapter 4, we learned...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Improving Electoral Competitiveness Through Reform
    (pp. 150-177)

    Electoral competitiveness is not an unmitigated good, but if one seeks to improve campaigns in America, the path to their improvement involves adopting reforms to ensure that more elections are not only contested but closely contested. Without competitive elections, candidates and their supporters have no incentive to communicate with citizens and provide them with the information they need to make informed decisions in the voting booth. This also means that competitive elections are the linchpin of democratic accountability. Tough challenges force incumbents to defend their record, to describe their future policy agenda, and in doing so to heed the desires...

  11. EPILOGUE: Why Voters Are Not Excited by American Campaigns
    (pp. 178-188)

    The goal of this book has been to understand how the campaigns generated by competitive elections affect voters. For the most part, my analysis has shown that competitive elections, even those that are modestly or moderately competitive, generate information environments that help voters learn. They also encourage political elites to mobilize citizens. Yet, I have found little evidence that they move voters in a psychological or emotional sense. Voters learn when elections are competitive, not because they are motivated to seek out more information, but because they cannot help but learn from the rich information environments that competitive elections generate....

    (pp. 189-212)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 213-226)
    (pp. 227-242)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 243-246)
    (pp. 247-249)