The Effectiveness Of Election Campaigns

If there is one specific topic that has generated the most resounding growing political research in the study of voter behavoiur and election outcome, then it must be “Do campaign matter?”

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Decades of voting researches have explored this topic either as a co-relation between the effects of campaign on election outcome in new political perspectives or as a critique to the earliest voting behavoiur studies, whatever the rationale for investigation may be, it has ushered the emergence of a new political phenomenon.

This essay would be explored from a typical two sided scholarly perspectives either to argue for or against the significances of election campaign in any political entity. Although this style of discussion would offer in-depth and broader academic resources for clearer understanding but may not be able to sufficiently examine the dimension and dynamics of campaigns in political phenomenon because of the limited time constraint.

Also this study intends to draw a clearer picture between the importance and irrelevance of campaigns in cognizance of its relationship with some other socio cultural influences providing the liberty of the readers to take academic position on the argument


Even though the literature of campaigning is unlikely minimal among the academic players, entirety of campaign have been eulogized as a key influence on election outcome and voting behavoiur amongst political actors. This view is supported by Holbrook (1996) as he argues that campaign enjoys continuous recognition from other political actors (voters, candidates and parties) but the scholarly community have shown less interest in campaign effects rather concentrated on the sociological and partisan identification, incumbency and its performances, candidate popularity as the essential factors which influence election outcome creating the emergence of the “minimal effects” of campaign by the earliest political scientist such as Berelson, Lazarsfeld and McPhee, 1954; Campbell et al., 1960

This position of argument influenced series of subsequent campaign researches which tend to primarily define the minimal effect of campaign as it merely activates voters’ prevailing partisan sentiments, thereby necessarily ignores a variety of other highly relevant campaign effects. Ironically, It is interesting to know how this “minimal effects of campaign could create marginal changes in the voter participation can upturn the election outcome

Considering the continuous transformation of the political institution, some political scientists ( Iyengar and Simon 2000) have argued that election outcome in any political environment are always shaped by interplay of many factors in which they may not be individually measured. Thus, they argue that assessing election outcome through the singular premise of campaign is unjustified because campaigns are part of the political processes which are traditionally focused on influencing voting decision by conveying certain impression about candidate or political parties

In relation to this position, Ornstein and Mann 2000 in his descriptive analysis of the behavioral attitudes of campaigning defined it as a self centered, continual and persuasive political activity that gives the “much needed” relevance to the retrospective loyalties of the voter which reactivates them to make voter decision, Quite interestingly, he eulogized campaign as a key political instrument used to make a voter make a psychological purchase in correlation with his reasoning. However, such persuasion is achieved through aggressive media channels by engaging the voter’s feelings in a preferred direction.

Because the political contests are predominantly competitive for elective position, the adversarial nature of campaign has reinforcement effect to maximize the voter’s loyalties in order to win the election is highly commendable. However, it is likely that campaign effects are heterogeneous across individuals and countries. These are the following reasons why campaign do matters;


Recent researches have confirmed that there is a gradual decline of partisanship which given credibility to the significance of campaigns to influence the voter decision. The strength of retrospective evaluation upon the voter choice has been undermined by this decline which provides the fertile grounds for campaign messages to convert their perceived intention by enlightening their political knowledge.

Shaw, 1999 and Salmore etal 1989 claim that political parties have failed in its primary duty to provide powerful information about the candidate during election causing a declining level of party identification in the electorate. In similar view ,Ornstein and Mann 2000 argues that there is a gradual decline in voter identification to the ideals of their political parties This is owing to that fact that the sudden change in party policies and in excesses of election primaries has weakened the allegiance of candidate to their political parties.

These declining factors have given premises for campaign to persuade the voter’s intention for voting decision .However; this growing body of research has provided evidence that campaigns can influence voter preferences. This is evident in the study by Trent and Friedenberg (2000).

Although voter behaviour are not only persuaded into new converts for opposing parties during campaigns, campaigning events are designed to reactivate pre-existing partisan loyalties of the voters for voter decision. To support this view, Ansolabehere 2006 further argues on the reinforcing model of the campaign effects on voter behavior as product of interplay of private and public information.

This is within the premise that people use their cognitive properties (private information) with the campaign communication (public information to make voting decision showing the campaign reactivates their private supposition.


Recent voting research has proved that campaign messages convert pre- voting intention into voting participation during election periods. Most evidently, Holbrook 1996 argues that findings have proved that there is fluctuation of opinions during campaign events which are due to its high content. This exercise tends to encourage public support which in turn influences voter behaviors.

Because campaign exercise consists of several events, activities and processes, voter still respond differently to campaign events based on their individual’s demographic and political ideals. The effect of these campaign events is that perceptions and opinions about the candidate and political parties are changed by the aggressive media communication which would propel voter participation.

This is because researchers have shown that voting intention have been influenced by campaign communication which have strengthen voter participation in the election. Such participation would adversely enhance election outcome. (Kosmidis and Xezonakis. 2010

Personal canvassing, media communication and debates possess a more engaging interactive power to motivate voter participation in electoral processes. All retrospective alliance to his/her partisan party of the voter must be motivated by campaigning platform in order to encourage massive voting decision. However, the specific political act that can provide the engaging platform is campaigning.

Certain political researches have not able to specifically measure the turn out effect of campaign on the voter behaviors but considerable evidence provided that voter participation increased during campaign activities. Evidently, in the field experiment by Gerber and Green 2000 on the effect on personal canvassing in the American 1998 Election

In relation to the increased voter mobilization as a campaign effect, Bratton 2008 and Schaffer, 2007 collectively suggests that African election campaigns are mainly moments for politicians to engage in mass mobilization and the manipulation of electoral rules in order to increase voter turnout. Specifically in the case of Nigeria’s general elections of April 2007, Bratton (2008) claims that vote buying and political intimidation are characteristic dimensions of Nigerian election campaigns and are targeted at rural communities.

Furthermore, Fournier etal 2004 argued that time-of-voting decision has been suggested as a key mediating variable for campaign effects. In other words, campaign messages tend to convert voting indecision to positive decision, or from one candidate choice to another thereby making the voter open to campaign persuasion.

The media coverage and debates during the campaign influenced the voter intention drawing a co- relation between time of decision and the persuasion of campaign messages. In their researches, they confirmed that late deciders are responsive to campaign events in Canadian elections


Every voter needs information to make any type of voting decision either to reinforce his existing partisan loyalties or to make new voting decision. However, campaign is the most appropriate electoral process to provide such function.

Because of the vast information- generating nature of Campaign, it provide the avenue for voter learning- the acquisition of information about the candidates and issues .During campaigns the political awareness are enlarged and fundamental voter preferences are being enlightened (Gelman and King, 1993), while the campaign learning process informs voters party positions and issue stances (Peterson, 2009).

Campaign occupies the prestigious role as an educational academy for political learning through its information communication about the electoral system which enables the voter to understand the ideologies of the candidate, thereby offering them an enlightened voting decision. To support this stance, Iyengar and Simon 2000 describes campaigns as multifaceted and information-rich events which encompasses the candidates ‘chances of winning, their personal and political ideologies giving campaign events (debates, candidate advertising) the opportunity to expose the voter knowledge to the personality of the candidate by boosting citizens’ political information, which may increase their likelihood of supporting the particular candidate

Evidently, Hillgus and Jackman 2002 in the examination of the campaign effects in the presidential election 2000 in America party argue that conventions and presidential debates affected vote preference. They explored their research using the transition model to individual-level campaign data and concluded the effect of a campaign event based on the voters, campaigning timing, candidate ‘

Similarly, the effect of campaign for voter learning were evidently backed by Survey Researches such Brians & Wattenberg 1996 and Zhao & Chaffee 1996 as they found out that exposure to candidate marketing through the lens of campaign enhance voter learning which would encourage their voting participation

Campaign communications increases the voter’s political understanding, thereby reducing uncertainty around the voting decision. Most recently, Kosmidis and Xezonakis 2009 executed an exploratory research on the undecided voters in the 2005 British general election; their finding confirmed that specific campaign messages formulated the choice preference of undecided voting behaviours.

Agenda Control

Traditionally, it is believed that voters choose whatever political interest based on their consideration of importance; ironically, campaign communication determines this consideration because of the cycle of appearance in media. Campaign messages surround its themes around those key interests and communicate them strategically in the media to set the agenda for relevance.

Dalton etal 1995 suggests that because candidates are the principal sources of news during campaigns, they are in an advantageous position to simultaneously influence the media and public, for instance, candidates are motivated to introduce and pursue issues on which they enjoy a comparative advantage. The candidate closer to the student voter on an issue like fee reform would want to address that topic, as opposed to discussing issues which is not relevant to the student.

Agenda control remains a key determinant of campaign effects because the candidate determines the principal yardsticks in which he/ she would be evaluated by the electorate as this are achieved through media communication.

An extension in investigation of agenda control during campaign, Johnston et al 1992 argues that rhetoric also plays a special role by directing voters towards a specific agenda and considerations surrounding that agenda. This is achieved by the interplay of the acquisition of information and agenda control which provoke their voting decision. The evidence can be seen in their study of Canadian election 1988 which shows how free trade agreement between Canada and the United States, as a result of the candidates’ and parties’ rhetorical posturing came to the forefront of the public issue agenda

To conclude the support for campaign, Kavanagh 1995 argues that the essence of campaign lies within itself, campaign is a means of choosing government and promoting political learning and citizenship, thereby contributing to the quality of representative democracy. This is because the interests of politics are heightened during campaigns through media communication about the candidate and party policies which are designed to attract the voting inclination for election participation.


Examining the other view which argues that campaign do not matter, for the sake of clear understanding of the essay, the argument against campaign would be explored from the macro context factor of elections and their influence on voting behavoiur.

As earlier stated, scholarly study on political science have argued the macro context of factors of elections both at the individual and aggregate level s strongly affect voting behavoiur and further posited that the macro context of election provides the wide platform in which any electoral campaign can function presenting a strong weakening interdependence characteristic of campaign.


Most predominantly stance of their argument is the influence of party identification on election outcome based on its psychological characteristics; their research argues that voting behavoiur and choices in elections are not merely a short term decision as similar the limited influencing experience campaign offers rather it is a conglomerate of certain long term political dispositions and ethnics in the social fabric of the electorate in which there is no room for campaign to change minds or influence behavoiur .

An early voting research by Campell et al (1960) in their seminal book, The American Voter described the influence of party identification as a sustained psychological orientation to political parties which is a key determinant for attitude formation and political behaviour. Thus, electorates most often cast their votes based on their emotional affiliation with the electoral parties affirming their strong spirit of political devotion rather than the short persuasiveness of campaign propaganda.

In the extensive study of the psychology of party identification and its influences of voting choice, a key realization is the existence of retrospective voting attitudes in the electorate. Fiorina(1981) explored the dynamics of retrospective voting and its direct impact of voting behavoiur as he argues that electorates associate their policy preferences with the policies of the party and make voting decision based on their retrospective evaluation of the performance of party in contrast to the mere “make believe” of campaigns. Much recent research points to the powerful electoral effects of incumbent performance evaluations which is termed the “referendum model” of presidential elections (Erikson 1989; Fiorina 1981)

The recent studies such as Rice 1992 have evidently confirmed that election outcomes are easily explored without recognizing the mechanism of campaigning with their forecasting model. This simply means that elections outcome can be accurately predictive based on circumstantial factors before any campaign exercise.


Power of the incumbency is another factor that mitigates campaign effects. This particularly means that a party may enjoy a long term advantage in elections over its contemporaries because of its present governing authority. This long advantage may be due to the performance of the incumbency or possession of extensive resources to win the election. In this case, no matter the persuasiveness and aggressiveness of media fireworks in the campaign exercise, the ruling party would outage such approach.

In all cases, every incumbency would strategically utilize all significant resources to ensure positive election outcome, they benefit from their ruling capacity in transforming media and economy to their advantage. In extreme cases, they use existing political institutions for election malpractices. A typical case is the Nigeria’s general elections of April 2007, Bratton (2008) which was characterized with rigging due to the power of incumbency by the ruling party (People Democratic Party)

Trent and Friedenberg (2000) argue that the incumbency creates a special advantage for the candidate because of the political resources attached to the office of incumbency. Such advantage may be measured in them of the performance of the incumbency which may initiate retrospective loyalties during voting decision.

In such power of incumbency, campaign may not necessarily affect the election outcome as voters would align their voting power t o the incumbency that have performed positively that an aspiring candidate of a new party


State of the Economy remains another significant factor subverts the effect of campaigns. Holbrook 1996 argues that the national economic context of political activities influences the voting behaviors, that is the economic performance of the incumbency largely influence voting behavoiur as voters are mostly inclined to vote for the ruling party in good economic times (High Gross Domestic Product, Infrastructural development)and more willing to change party in power in bad economic times(unemployment, inflation, high banking rate, poor exchange rate) .

This position challenges the rhetoric of campaigns as it present comparison between the realistic experiences of the economy of the state and the fictitious gimmicks of campaigns. Thus, an aggressive campaign cannot influence the election outcome in occurrence of bad economic state –

A practical example cited by Holbrook 1996, was the American election of 1992, the winning of Clinton of the incumbent president George Bush was not due to his strong content of this campaign, it was purely because of poor economic situation of Bush’s administration. No Bush campaign would have influence the voting behavior to change the experience of the realities o f the economy


Even though it is believed that the power of campaign lies in its events of activities, it have been characterized with several shortfalls ranging from its irrelevant key themes, ambiguous message and inappropriate media channel.

Kavanagh 1995 also argues that the shortfalls of campaigns lies in itself as, campaign are mostly surveyed based on the content of output(advertisement, flyers) not by its output (election result).The lack of defined measurement system for campaign effect devalued its significance because election outcome is a product of several interplay of key factor and campaigns is least .

Also he identified the ineffectiveness of campaign in various factors are wrong timing , conflict of electoral goals(election winning) versus other political goals(party values),Disagreement on campaign strategy and tactics ,Lack of party actors for implementation of campaign strategies, Lack of guaranteed knowledge about election winning.


Evaluating the two ideological perspectives on campaign, it may difficult to take a decisive position considering the continuous transformation of political environment. However, it is true that voters are open to myriad of political information designed to influence their voting decision but tend to make their voting choice based on their sociological experience, campaign seems to be one major political process that creates a platform of series of effects ranging from the reinforcement of the retrospective values, education of the voter’s political knowledge and influencing the voting behavoiur.

The main paradox is the word “matter” in the question because relevance of campaign may be related to different objectives, context and ideologies. In order, campaign effects can be from different studies use different approaches to aim specific objectives. Therefore, it may be devaluing to adjudge a political act to be irrelevant if it does not achieve the entire expected objective.

It is important to say that no political scholar can specifically say that a particular political activity guarantee the Election winning because Election outcome is a series of interplay of macro cultural actives, therefore campaign may matter but not necessarily to all voters