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 Matters provides 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 Matters does 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.
Lynn Vavreck is associate professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is coeditor of "Campaign Reform: Insights and Evidence" and coprincipal investigator of the Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project.
List of Figures xi List of Tables xiii Acknowledgments xvii Prologue xxi CHAPTER ONE: Presidential Campaigns 1 Basic Questions 2 What's Coming 3 PART I CHAPTER TWO: How and Why Campaigns Matter 9 The Challenge 10 Something's Happening in America 11 The Importance of the Economy 12 The Importance of the Media 14 A Theory of Campaign Effects 15 Integrating Literatures 16 Spatial Voting: The Past as Predictor of the Future 18 Retrospective Voting and Campaign Effects 22 Individual-Level Characteristics and Campaign Effects 23 CHAPTER THREE: Context Matters: A Campaign Typology 26 Theoretical Predictions 28 A Campaign Typology 31 Clarifying Campaigns 31 Insurgent Campaigns 32 When the Economy Is Mixed 33 Predicting Campaign Types, 1952-2000 35 PART II CHAPTER FOUR: The Media Disconnect:Media and Candidate Messages 43 Candidates' Messages and How to Measure Them 46 Advertisements and Speeches 46 Newspaper Coverage 48 Coding the Ads, Speeches, and News Coverage 53 The Content of Modern Campaigns 57 The Media Disconnect 58 CHAPTER FIVE: The Message Matters: Candidate-Level Tests of the Theory 67 Clarifying Campaigns: Dominating Economic Discussion 69 Insurgent Campaigns: Issue Selection Matters 71 Stevenson 1952 and 1956: Second Time Same as the First 76 Goldwater 1964: Just Enough Power to Get the Job Done 78 Carter 1980 and Mondale 1984:War through Strength 80 Dukakis 1988: An Unfocused American Dream 82 Insurgent Candidates Making Wise Choices 83 Kennedy 1960: High Hopes 83 Nixon 1968: Freedom from Fear or Racial Appeal? 86 Carter 1976: Outside and Honest 90 Two More Tests of the Theory at the Candidate Level 105 A More Rigorous Test of Compliance 105 Explaining the Errors in Forecasting Models 107 PART III CHAPTER SIX: The Message Matters:Microlevel Tests of the Theory 113 Clarifying Candidate Campaign Effects: Do Campaign Messages Shape Voters' Evaluations of Candidates? 115 High Fidelity? 116 Ads:Messages That Matter 120 Clarifying Candidate Campaign Effects: Do Campaign Messages Help Voters Learn about Candidates' Issue Positions? 123 Measuring Uncertainty 125 Reducing Uncertainty 128 Campaign Learning about the Economy 131 Insurgent-Candidate Campaign Effects: Changing the Debate by Increasing the Importance of Issues 134 The Most Important Problem in the Nation 137 Most Important Problem and Vote Choice 140 Insurgent Candidate Campaign Effects: Being Closer to Most Voters on the Insurgent Issue 144 The Difference in Distances 144 Differences in Distances and Vote Choice 151 The Message and Its Effects 155 CHAPTER SEVEN: Candidates Creating Context 159 Can Candidates Create the Context? 160 Creating Salience: Finding the Right Insurgent Issue 163 Appendix 167 References 191 Index 199