The long and arduous campaign required of political hopefuls is unique to the United States. While some argue that this extended period is a useful testing ground, others question its effectiveness in helping citizens choose the best candidate. This chapter gives a better understanding of the pros and cons of having a nomination and campaign process that is so open and democratic. It talks about campaigns and how they are run, how money is raised and used in a campaign, and how people are affected by the vote.
There are two types of campaigns in American politics: campaigns for party nominations and campaigns between the nominees. A nomination is a party’s official endorsement of a candidate for office. Success in the nomination game generally requires money, media attention, and momentum. Candidates attempt to manipulate each of these elements through campaign strategy. The goal of the nomination game is to win the majority of delegates’ support at the national party convention.
Once nominated, candidates concentrate on campaigning for the general election in November. Three ingredients are needed to project the right image to the voters: a campaign organization, money, and media attention. To effectively organize their campaigns candidates must get a campaign manager, get a research staff and policy advisers, hire a pollster, get a good press secretary, and establish a Web site. Before voting, citizens in most states must register to vote, often a cumbersome procedure.
Largely to prevent corruption associated with stuffing ballot boxes, states adopted voter registration laws around the turn of the century, which require individuals to first place their name on an electoral roll in order to be allowed to vote. Although these laws have made it more difficult to vote more than once, they have also discouraged some people from voting at all. The Motor Voter Act—which allows individuals to register to vote when they receive or renew their drivers’ license—has made registration a little easier since 1993.
Elections socialize and institutionalize political activity. They provide regular access to political power. America has an entrepreneurial system in which the people play a crucial role at every stage, from nomination to election. The price of this openness is that the process is a long and convoluted one that has little downtime before it revs up all over again. Today’s campaigns clearly promote individualism in American politics. Whether elections make the government pay attention to what the people think is a matter of debate.
The clearest conclusion is that the greater the policy differences between the candidates, the more likely voters will be able to steer government policies by their choices. Candidates do not always do their best to clarify the issues. They are often ambiguous. Because states are the key battlegrounds of presidential campaigns, candidates must tailor their appeals to the particular interests of each major state. During the campaign promises mount which may contribute to the growth of government. Elections also help to increase generalized support for government and its powers. Citizens in a democracy often seek to benefit from the state.