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The Persuadable Voter

The Persuadable Voter: Wedge Issues in Presidential Campaigns

D. Sunshine Hillygus
Todd G. Shields
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Persuadable Voter
    Book Description:

    The use of wedge issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and immigration has become standard political strategy in contemporary presidential campaigns. Why do candidates use such divisive appeals? Who in the electorate is persuaded by these controversial issues? And what are the consequences for American democracy? In this provocative and engaging analysis of presidential campaigns, Sunshine Hillygus and Todd Shields identify the types of citizens responsive to campaign information, the reasons they are responsive, and the tactics candidates use to sway these pivotal voters.The Persuadable Votershows how emerging information technologies have changed the way candidates communicate, who they target, and what issues they talk about. As Hillygus and Shields explore the complex relationships between candidates, voters, and technology, they reveal potentially troubling results for political equality and democratic governance.

    The Persuadable Voterexamines recent and historical campaigns using a wealth of data from national surveys, experimental research, campaign advertising, archival work, and interviews with campaign practitioners. With its rigorous multimethod approach and broad theoretical perspective, the book offers a timely and thorough understanding of voter decision making, candidate strategy, and the dynamics of presidential campaigns.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3159-3
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. One Wedge Issues in Presidential Campaigns
    (pp. 1-17)

    At the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts, the topic of stem cell research received top billing in a prime-time speech by the son of former president Ronald Reagan.

    A few of you may be surprised to see someone with my last name showing up to speak at a Democratic convention. Let me assure you, I am not here to make a political speech. . . . I am here tonight to talk about the issue of research into what may be the greatest medical breakthrough in our or in any lifetime: the use of embryonic stem cells.¹


  2. Two The Reciprocal Campaign
    (pp. 18-48)

    In every presidential election, the media focus attention on swing voters in the electorate. Everyone wants to know who they are, what they want, and how they will make up their minds. Swing voters dictate the candidates’ efforts, they provide fodder for media discussion, and they ultimately decide the election. “Mushy Swings are Wavering Election Kings,” summed up one newspaper headline.¹ Political journalists and pundits variously define this group as undecided voters, political Independents, ticket splitters, ideological moderates, or more creatively, soccer moms, NASCAR dads, or some other demographic group du jour. It is commonly recognized that these swing voters...

  3. Three Measuring the Persuadable Partisan
    (pp. 49-81)

    Following the razor-close presidential elections in 2000 and 2004, many political observers concluded that American voters are deeply divided by ideology and partisanship. The red and blue electoral maps from these elections have been interpreted as a depiction not only of the election outcomes but also of the opinions and attitudes of the American public. As the common stereotype goes, the blue states—won by Democrat John Kerry in 2004—are composed of latte-sipping, NPR-listening, Hollywood-loving liberals who are threatening the fabric of society with their advocacy of gay marriage and abortion rights. In contrast, the red states—won by...

  4. Four Capturing Campaign Persuasion
    (pp. 82-106)

    Macomb County, Michigan, a suburban county just north of Detroit, was the most Democratic suburban county in the nation in 1960, voting 63 percent for John F. Kennedy. In 1984, the county gave 67 percent of its votes to the Republican candidate Ronald Reagan. Pollster Stanley Greenberg conducted a study of Macomb County to figure out why so many traditional Democrats had begun to cast their ballots for a Republican presidential candidate.¹

    What Greenberg found was widespread sentiment among white blue-collar men that they were “getting a raw deal” from the Democratic Party, which they viewed as beholden to minority...

  5. Five The Republican Southern Strategy: A Case Study of the Reciprocal Campaign
    (pp. 107-144)

    During the second televised debate in the 1960 presidential election, moderator Alvin Spivlak asked Republican presidential nominee Richard Nixon, “Mr. Vice President, you have accused Senator Kennedy of avoiding the civil rights issue when he has been in the South, and he has accused you of the same thing. With both North and South listening and watching, would you sum up your intentions in the field of civil rights if you become president.” Nixon responded with a lengthy defense of civil rights, including his support of government action to ensure fair treatment in employment and education and offering his support...

  6. Six Candidate Strategy in the 2004 Campaign
    (pp. 145-182)

    In his nomination acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans, President George H.W. Bush made his now famous pledge:

    I’m the one who will not raise taxes. My opponent now says he’ll raise them as a last resort, or a third resort. But when a politician talks like that, you know that’s one resort he’ll be checking into. My opponent, my opponent won’t rule out raising taxes. But I will. The Congress will push me to raise taxes and I’ll say no. And they’ll push, and I’ll say no, and they’ll push again, and I’ll say,...

  7. Seven Conclusions: Consequences for Democratic Governance
    (pp. 183-202)

    Elections are the primary mechanism by which citizens in a democracy express their wants and desires to their elected officials, and it is through political campaigns that this interaction is managed. Campaigns oblige politicians to define their policy priorities, inform the electorate of the policy alternatives offered by opposing candidates, and provide a forum for policy debate, discussion, and change. We have argued that information about the voters shapes campaign messages and candidate strategies. And information from the campaign influences voter decision making. The dynamics we observe in a presidential campaign, in other words, reflect a reciprocal flow of information...

  8. Appendix 1 Question Wording and Coding
    (pp. 205-213)
  9. Appendix 2 Content Analysis Coding
    (pp. 214-215)
  10. Appendix 3 Statistical Results
    (pp. 216-222)