The Message Matters

The Message Matters: The Economy and Presidential Campaigns

Lynn Vavreck
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7t1g4
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  • Book Info
    The Message Matters
    Book Description:

    The economy is so powerful in determining the results of U.S. presidential elections that political scientists can predict winners and losers with amazing accuracy long before the campaigns start. But if it is true that "it's the economy, Stupid," why do incumbents in good economies sometimes lose? The reason, Lynn Vavreck argues, is that what matters is not just the state of the economy but how candidates react to it. By demonstrating more precisely than ever before how candidates and their campaigns affect the economic vote,The Message Mattersprovides a powerful new way of understanding past elections--and predicting future ones.

    Vavreck examines the past sixty years of presidential elections and offers a new theory of campaigns that explains why electoral victory requires more than simply being the candidate favored by prevailing economic conditions. Using data from presidential elections since 1952, she reveals why, when, and how campaign messages make a difference--and when they can outweigh economic predictors of election outcomes.

    The Message Mattersdoes more than show why candidates favored by the economy must build their campaigns around economic messages. Vavreck's theory also explains why candidates disadvantaged by the economy must try to focus their elections on noneconomic issues that meet exacting criteria--and why this is so hard to do.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3048-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. LIST OF FIGURES
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. LIST OF TABLES
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. PROLOGUE
    (pp. xxi-xxvi)

    On october 5TH, 2008 John McCain, the Republican nominee for president of the United States said these 12 words, “If we keep talking about the economic crisis, we’re going to lose.” Meanwhile, his opponent, Barack Obama, kept repeating the phrase “we can’t afford more of the same.” So went the presidential campaign of 2008, arguably one of the most compelling contests of the last half-century. In raw numbers, more people voted in 2008 than in any previous election. The candidates raised and spent an unprecedented one billion dollars. And, more people tuned in to watch election night coverage than ever...

  7. Chapter One PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGNS
    (pp. 1-6)

    In 1976 jimmy carter ran for president of the United States as a trustworthy Washington outsider. He was elected by defeating an opponent who was the consummate Washington insider—a man who pardoned Richard Nixon and who was appointed to the vice presidency and the presidency. Gerald Ford was as inside the Washington Beltway as one could get—and he could not get out. Similarly, John F. Kennedy in 1960 recognized his opponent’s culpability in what was called “The Missile Gap”—the alleged fact that America had fallen behind Russia in weapons development. Richard Nixon, whose administration had presided over...

  8. PART I
    • Chapter Two HOW AND WHY CAMPAIGNS MATTER
      (pp. 9-25)

      There is little doubt that candidates, consultants, and journalists believe presidential campaigns have consequences. In other words—campaigns matter. It is never quite clear the way campaigns matter to these professionals; but the energy, money, and time they put into running and reporting on presidential campaigns suggests that somehow they must have a keen understanding of the importance of campaigns to election outcomes.

      The Federal Election Commission (2008) reports that through October of 2008, spending by presidential candidates totaled nearly $1 billion, 143 percent more than comparable activity during the 2000 campaign. Additionally, parties and special-interest groups spent nearly $1...

    • Chapter Three CONTEXT MATTERS: A CAMPAIGN TYPOLOGY
      (pp. 26-40)

      If voters behave the way Downs describes, comparing the positions of candidates across issues to their own positions on the same issues, then how do candidates decide which issues to stress and which to remain silent about? When candidates sit down at the table, how do they think about their campaign’s message?

      Political scientist Bill Riker (1996, 106) suggests candidates look for issues that are ripe for “domination” (because when one side has an advantage on an issue, the other side ignores it). This is not unlike John Petrocik’s (1980) answer to this question, which is that candidates’ campaign issues...

  9. PART II
    • Chapter Four THE MEDIA DISCONNECT: MEDIA AND CANDIDATE MESSAGES
      (pp. 43-66)

      In order to assess the theory’s predictive and explanatory power, I need to compare candidate messages with what the theory predicts candidates should talk about. This means I need a measure of campaign message for presidential elections going back to 1952. While a good deal of research has been conducted on the importance of campaigns to election outcomes, no one has systematically analyzed the content of major candidate presidential campaigns over the last half century.

      It may seem obvious that if you want to know whether a presidential campaign had any effects on voters, you ought to know what that...

    • Chapter Five THE MESSAGE MATTERS: CANDIDATE-LEVEL TESTS OF THE THEORY
      (pp. 67-110)

      Does my theory of campaign behavior explain the actual behavior of candidates in campaigns over the last fifty years? I begin the presentation of evidence on this matter in table 5.1, which uses the content analyses of ads and speeches to list candidates by predicted campaign type along with the issues each talked about most often in their campaign.

      Before examining table 5.1, it will be helpful to discuss how best to evaluate the evidence. What does it mean to behave as the theory predicts? For clarifying candidates this means focusing predominantly on the economy, either in ads or speeches....

  10. PART III
    • Chapter Six THE MESSAGE MATTERS: MICROLEVEL TESTS OF THE THEORY
      (pp. 113-158)

      So far, i have described candidate behavior in presidential campaigns as predictable long before the candidates are known or the first general election campaign dollar is spent. I have described a campaign environment in which the economy plays a starring role and both candidates react to it. I have shown that candidates seem to understand this world and generally behave as the typology predicts they should, or they lose elections. Presidential candidates, at least some of them, understand that national context matters and that the decisions about where to center their campaigns have consequences. Some of them are better at...

    • Chapter Seven CANDIDATES CREATING CONTEXT
      (pp. 159-166)

      An impressive body of systematic evidence that voters reward incumbent politicians for good economic times and punish them for bad times precedes my work here, and in fact, motivates the puzzle I set out to resolve. The causal path between economic conditions and electoral outcomes is demonstrated with great regularity, and the mechanism that drives this link is often identified as pocketbook or sociotropic voting, a more specific case of retrospective voting—yet no one had linked the importance of economic voting to campaigns and candidate behavior. Now that link is clearer. The economy matters, but candidates’ discourse about the...

  11. APPENDIX
    (pp. 167-190)
  12. REFERENCES
    (pp. 191-198)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 199-205)