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Impact of Campaign Appearances on Key Constituencies

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Published: Wed, 28 Feb 2018

Abstract

Why do people vote the way they do and what can candidates do to sway the votes of those that go to the polls? Do people cast their votes based on the policies advanced by a candidate, rational self-interest, or political campaigns and the get-the-vote-out efforts (e.g. campaign appearances, advertising, door-to-door canvassing, leaflets, phone banks, electronic mail)? Which one of these influences most the number of votes a candidate gets in elections? Recent studies in voting behaviour point out to an increased importance of get-the-vote-out strategies. The purpose of the present paper is to explore the effects of one type of get-the-vote-out efforts – more precisely, local visits by the candidate or incumbent in a certain constituency – and the strategies politicians employ in order to increase the number of votes they get.

I take as a case study the Romanian 2009 presidential election. I look at whether the abovementioned type of get-the-vote-out efforts made a difference in the number of votes the candidates got. Social scientists have recently started to pay increasing attention to matching in an attempt to infer causation based on experiments that rely on observational studies. In order to test my hypotheses I use matching as a main method. In addition to it, I conducted content analysis on printed and audio-visual media and run several OLS regressions. The results show that only one candidate’s campaign appearances were marginally significant in statistical terms and did have an effect on the number of votes that candidate got.

INTRODUCTION

Voting means freedom of expression in terms of political views; in any democracy, it is the ultimate method through which a mature, informed, law-abiding individual expresses his/her decision about how he/she wants to be ruled. It is about representation and participation; it is the assumption that those casting the vote are politically knowledgeable and want to express that knowledge (Popkin vs. Converse, Popkin, 2006). Thus, one of the key elements that candidates to public offices need to bear in mind is the fact that they must persuade the average individual not only to participate in the electoral process (and exercise their Constitutional right to freedom of expression) but also to cast a vote in their favour.

The standard literature on voting behaviour lists as factors that influence the voters’ preferences for one candidate or another, elements such as: the position of the candidate on certain issues and their respective policy priorities, ideological attachments, rational self-interest (which candidate’s policies best fit the voter’s private interests) Kim 2009 and Sears et al. 1979, discussants (the political preferences of people one esteems, trust etc.), and charisma (Popkin 2004, Lau and Redlawsk, 2006). However, these elements fail to explain much of the realities in newer democracies, for instance post-communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe such as Romania. Even in old democracies, researchers have started to focus more on political campaigning and advertising as factors that make individuals cast a vote for a particular candidate. The broad category of political campaigning includes: campaign appearances, advertising (TV spots and billboard ads), door-to-door canvassing, leaflets, phone banks, direct and electronic mail. This approach has proven to be a promising stream in voting behaviour research, as many studies conducted in the U.S. show. A somewhat similar study was conducted after the 2000 election in the U.S., by King and Morehouse (2005), their aim being to demonstrate that the Gore Mississippi River trip of August 2000 was paramount in ‘moving’ voter preferences for this candidate in the states included in the itinerary of the trip – this being a more productive campaign scheme than television ads and media consulting services.

The natural question that emerges thus is to what extent political campaigning has an effect on voters’ preference for one candidate or another. The present paper aims at exploring this question by focusing on the case of the Romanian presidential election of 2009. Of all the abovementioned types of political campaigning I decided to take into account the candidates’ electoral visits in different towns, the main reason being the fact that this the most commonly used in Romania. Therefore, the main research question that this paper raises is: Do campaign appearances have an effect on the number of votes a particular candidate gets in elections?

To answer this question I test one main hypothesis:

H1: In towns where a particular candidate already enjoyed a high number of supporters, that candidate’s electoral visit led to an increase in the number of votes he got.

Several additional hypotheses are tested, although they do not refer strictly to the core research problem – the effect of making appearances on the number of votes a candidate gets in election.

H2: Candidates organizing electoral visits in constituencies leads to an increase in the turnout of a particular election.

H3: Candidates organizing electoral visits in constituencies lead to an increase in the added number of votes of those respective candidates.

In order to test these hypotheses I use matching, a statistical method that compares groups (in this particular case, the number of votes each candidate got in the towns where they made an electoral appearance against the number of votes they got in the towns where they did not make an electoral appearance) on measurable parameters. The mentioned parameter should be as closely resembling (if not equal) as possible. Thus, the paired towns have similar (sometimes even identical) values for the confounding variables, the difference in the number of votes each candidate got being therefore attributed to the electoral visits of that said candidate. While this method has been extensively used in medical or economics researches, recently political scientists started using it on a more extensive basis, especially when it comes to observational or experimental studies.

In addition to this, I conducted content analysis in order to identify the towns where the presidential candidates made appearances. I analyzed two national newspapers (chosen based on the total circulation number) and one national TV station. I crosschecked the information derived from the media against the information provided on the personal web pages of the candidates. Furthermore, I ran several OLS regressions in order to test whether the hypotheses hold.

In what regards the structure, the paper is divided into four main sections as follows: the first offers an overview of the existing literature in the field of voting behaviour; the second deals with the theoretical background and the methodology employed; the third introduces the data used and presents the analysis, whereas the fourth section discusses the main findings and proposes directions for further research.

The novelty that this paper brings consists in applying a relatively new approach in voting behaviour research – the effects of political campaigning on voters’ choice for a particular candidate – to a country that previous studies have tackled very little. In addition to this, matching represents an innovative method able to provide a more in-depth and meaningful insight in this particular field, still underused by social sciences researchers.

LITERATURE REVIEW, METHOD AND THEORY

This chapter will focus on a brief overview of the current literature in the field of voting behaviour with an emphasis on campaign events used by candidates to persuade voters to cast a vote for them, while highlighting at the same time the aspects of the theory that are of crucial importance for the present study, and propose a way to analyze them further.

Literature Review

Together with voting, electoral campaigns represent the main tool through which citizens in representative democracies assess the suitability of a candidate running for office. This allows that candidates, in their turn, can use the same tool in order to attract a larger and broader audience whose political views they can thus hope to shape into favouring them above all other candidates (Arceneaux, 2010).

For the purpose of the present study, it is important to point out from the very beginning, that the scholarly literature on electoral campaigning and voter behaviour focuses on two main aspects of campaigning. The first deals with campaign appearances and local visits in key constituencies (Holbrook 2002, 1996, Campbell 2000, Shaw 1999, Jones 1998 cited in King and Morehouse 2005), while the second with television advertisements (Shaw 1999, Freedman and Goldstein 1999, Ansolabehere and Iyengar 1995, Finkel 1993 cited in King and Morehouse 2005). The two aspects mentioned above have been deemed as the two most important in impacting voters’ behaviour in terms of choosing a candidate and/or voting on Election Day. Yet it has been argued by scholars (Fowler et al. 2002 and Joslyn and Ceccoli 1996) that in order for a candidate’s visit or ad to have a lasting impact on the voter, the specific voter needed to have a previous lingering inclination towards that specific candidate (cited in King and Morehouse, 2005).

As I have previously mentioned, the literature on elections and voting behaviour, focuses primarily on types of voting or factors that influence voting, i.e. economic voting, instrumental or expressive voting, self-interest voting, issue voting and so on. The focus is thus on who votes (Wolfinger and Rosenstone 1980, Sigleman, Roeder, Jewell and Baer 1985, Verba, Nie and Kim 1978) or on what makes individuals vote. More precisely, the focus is on what are the influences of how individuals vote and how a candidate can persuade voters to cast a vote in his/her favour. Relatively recent studies on campaigning and campaign management (Feddersen and Pesendorfer 1997, Dutta, Jackson, Le Breton, 2001, Thurber & Nelson, 2004, King and Morehouse, 2005, Gerber and Green, 2008) illustrate that campaigns usually aim at influencing the reasons individuals have for voting in a particular way, with a strong emphasis on manipulation and appeal to emotions. Still a clear-cut connection between different types of campaigning, the symbolic factor and the rationality of the voter is yet to be found – especially in what concerns new democracies, such as Romania.

In order to explore the issue of how Romanian leaders carried out campaigns in the last 20 years since the revolution it needs to be pointed out that their main focus was, as mentioned above, to appeal to the emotions of the individual. They achieve this through the symbolic over-flooding of messages (Sears, Hensler and Speer, 1979, Pippidi, 2004) in the printed press and the audiovisual, in the speeches they hold during TV debates and/or rallies, or in their campaign appearances in different constituencies. In the U.S. case (the 2000 U.S. elections); King and Morehouse point out that the Democrats presidential campaign made use of campaign appearances as a tactic to generate positive media coverage. Through these campaign appearances the Democrat candidate managed to ‘energize the base’, while it also generated free advertising and appealed more to the local community since is their media reporting the news. King and Morehouse go on to underline that: “local newspapers and television stations are eager to cover campaign events and they tend to approach politics with less cynicism than one finds among the national press corps”[1] (King and Morehouse, 2005). Thus they emphasize that candidates should in fact choose key swing states for campaign appearances and attract the local media to generate free coverage both locally and at national level.

Although both in 2004 and 2009 Romanian presidential candidates made use of electoral visits in order to gain media coverage, the Romanian media landscape is quite different from the American one. In contrast to the U.S. where local media is powerful and autonomous, the Romanian local media is mainly an extension of the national media. Most national TV stations and newspapers or radios have local versions for most of the towns or counties. Consequently, the news coverage these local media do is still in accordance to the articles printed at the national level – at least in the case of high level importance elections.

Referring to the pieces of news that voters use to inform themselves about candidates and campaigns, recent research showed that (Baum, 2006) soft news impact to an important degree inattentive individuals by making them change their preferences depending on the cues they get from that type of news. Following the idea presented by King and Morehouse (2005) that local media is and should be used by politicians to get their message across for free during elections to as many individuals as possible, it also follows that candidates should and must tailor their message and their campaign strategies depending on the different societal groups they aim at reaching (Baum, 2005). Since most supporters of parties build their political knowledge and political preferences based on the cues they get from different tabloids or entertainment shows – yet still do this on a rational manner (Jerit, Barabas, and Bolsen, 2006) – it is all the more clear why Romanian politicians use the sensational factor in their speeches and why they centre their campaign discourse more on rhetoric than ideology and concrete policies. The average voter tends to watch more soft news than hard news, as the former promote a humanized version of politics and politicians, emphasizing the personality and character of a candidate (as well as his/her shortcomings and mistakes). Thus, instead of the policies, the voter ends up identifying with the candidate and vote more based on feelings and emotions rather than ideological attachment or policy preferences. Jerit mentions that “even if learning from this medium is largely passive and unintentional, individuals may obtain enough information to function as monitorial citizens (Schudson, 1998)” (Jerit et al., 2006).

Another relevant aspect involving the literature on campaigning and campaign appearances promoted through national and local media is presented by Zaller. His main argument, that “mass communication is a powerful instrument for shaping attitudes … and [that] it exercises this power on an essentially continuous basis” (Zaller, 1996, p. 18) strengthens the argument made by King and Morehouse (2005) and mentioned above. By meeting with the local press and presenting their platform they insure that even those not present at the rallies or not watching the debates might still find out about what their campaign platform is.

Lastly, still on the issue of media and campaign appearances, Natalie Stroud’s article points out that there is in fact a relationship between selective exposure and political attitudes (the example she gives is that those who watched “Fahrenheit 9/11” were significantly more negative towards the Bush administration; not only that, but they also were more prone to start political discussions on the topic, as opposed to those who did not see the film). Thus, those exposed to such means of communication, tend to be more politically active and to engage in political discussions due to the attitude polarization of the extreme media messages. For the present paper, this argument can be interpreted in the light of the local visits made by candidates. Given the trail of articles following the candidates’ visits, the previous argument supports the statement that visits generated local and national coverage in the press for the candidates. This in turn generated debates between the supporters and even the detractors of those said candidates, ultimately leading to their being ‘moved’ towards the polls on Election Day.

Directly related to turnout though, Powell (1980, 1986) was the first to look at vote turnout in an analysis that span over twenty-nine democratic countries, between 1958 to 1976, in an attempt to answer why is turnout high in some countries and low in others. He found that there are certain ‘mobilizing voting laws’: compulsory voting and the fact that the governments assume responsibility for registering individuals on lists for elections, as well as strong-line party alignments (Crewe, 1981, also lists strong-line alignments) that increase turnout. Consequently, for the present study, one can take from Powell’s study the fact that having a ‘party with strong-line alignments’ (Romania already has a system where the government assumes responsibility for registering the eligible voters on lists), that has kept a constant line in politics over time, and that enlists as a candidate a charismatic individual has more chances to move voters and persuade them to cast a favourable vote for that candidate, given that the party has a campaign that ensures its candidate makes appearances in key constituencies.

Other similar studies include those made by Jackman (1987), Blais and Carty (1990), Black (1991) or Franklin (1996), but all dealing with turnout and what influences higher or lower turnout – either the electoral system, compulsory voting, degree of disproportionality of electoral outcomes, unciameralism vs. bicameralism, postal voting, Sunday voting, number of polling days. While focusing on all the abovementioned factors that influence turnout the referred studies either eliminate or loose sight of the campaign effect on the number of votes a candidate gets. This is why the present paper, following these studies, in an attempt to complete the picture presented by them, focuses on the effect of campaign visits on the number of votes candidates got in the visited constituencies. Another aspect to bear in mind is that the previously mentioned studies were focusing on old democracies, while this paper analyses the election in an East-European new democracy.

Method and theory

As this paper is using matching as a main methodological tool – constituencies where the candidates made appearances are matched with similar constituencies where those candidates did organize electoral visits – a closer look it is needed in order for the analysis to be better understood.

Method

“Matching has been proposed as a non-parametric solution to problems of bias that emerge in observational studies” (Rosenbaum and Rubin, 1983, 1985 cited in Arceneaux et al. 2006). However, scholars are split between the issue of matching having a bias or not, especially given the fact that it is nonetheless a method that allows for unobserved differences between groups to remain unnoticed. The literature on the topic, to date, focuses on the performance of matching estimators but uses ‘experimental benchmarks’, and not observational data (Dehejia and Wahba 1999; Heckman, Ichimura, and Todd 1997, 1998; Heckman, Ichimura, Smith, and Todd 1998; Smith and Todd 2003 cited in Arceneaux et al. 2006). “The matching process identifies treated individuals [in this case, towns] who share the same background characteristics as untreated individuals [towns]. It is hoped that after matching on covariates, any remaining difference between groups can be attributed to the effect of the treatment” (Arceneaux et al. 2006).

This is one of the reasons why this paper will look at the performance of matching estimators in explaining if campaign appearances generate increases in a candidate’s obtained number of votes in those constituencies visited but will use observational data instead of experiments.

Another aspect to bear in mind when conducting an electoral campaign focused research is the strategic nature of campaigns, for as Arceneaux highlights, selection biases may appear in voter exposure to campaign stimuli therefore creating biased estimates of campaign effects (Arceneaux, 2010). This is why it would prove interesting to look at the campaign trail for each candidate and highlight the strategy used for ‘getting-out-the-vote’ in the constituencies visited. Yet the present study will not deal with this aspect extensively since the main issue that it addresses remains the ability of campaign appearances to persuade voters to cast a favourable vote for the candidate making the appearance. In terms of time and geographical parameters, the focus here is on the Romanian presidential elections of 2009. In order to counteract the possible matching bias that the literature on the topic mentions (Arceneaux et al. 2006), a comparison between the number of votes the candidates considered for this study got in 2009 and the number of votes their parties got in the 2008 parliamentary election is introduced as an independent variable (the comparison is made for each of the towns included in the study and their matches).

For the purpose of this study it is also of great importance to shortly note the manner in which the candidates lead their campaign. Pippa Norris mentions that most candidates are vote-maximizers, following set patterns when setting their electoral agendas, and that they usually involve putting issues before voters (Pippa Norris, 2004). Therefore, a candidate’s electoral agenda should focus on issues that are crucial points for the constituency he is running for. For the presidency this means centring their agenda on issues that interest most of the country. Consequently, the agendas should follow the lines of thought of the majority of voters without transforming the speech into pure rhetoric, demagogy or empty promises. As the following sub-chapter will highlight this is usually not the case for Romania and for the Romanian electoral campaigns.

Social networks researchers (Valdis Krebs, 2004) suggested that there are certain key facts to take into account when addressing the issue of building the electoral campaign in such a way that will mobilize voters and persuade them to vote for a particular candidate. One is getting a charismatic figure as candidate, someone that could be perceived as a role model. A second one would be using candidate appearances (or party supporters) to get the votes of the undecided – this has been a technique also used by the Gore campaign of 2000 (King and Morehouse, 2005), whereas the third would be using campaign appearances to consolidate the faith and votes of a constituency that already supports that particular candidate. For the Romanian 2009 electoral campaign the latter two mentioned strategies were used – using campaign appearances to either convince the undecided or consolidate the faith and votes of a constituency – though with a higher emphasis on the latter.

As far as the present paper is concerned, it is also important to look at the campaign agendas and stump speeches the candidates tailored for each visited constituency. It is noteworthy to point out that, contrary to what Rose and Haerpfer (1994) highlighted for Eastern European voters, voting in Romania is based on socio-tropic evaluations. In Romania, as in most Eastern European new democracies, the main problems governments are faced with are political and economical. Due to the negative views regarding the state of economy, individuals tend to vote economically. In other words, this means that they hold the president responsible for the state of the economy – even if to a lesser extent than they view it as the parliament’s responsibility. Having in mind the aspects mentioned above, one of the independent variables chosen for this study is the unemployment rate, at county level, this helping pinpoint the level of development of the region. The assumption for that choice was that the better developed the region was, the more people it has employed in different industry branches, the higher the income of the inhabitants is (this may also mean better education for the voters), and the better the ability to assign responsibility correctly and therefore, make more informed decisions when casting their vote.[2]

Further on, I looked at previous voting patterns for those constituencies where the candidates made campaign appearances, in order to establish whether there is a recurring pattern in the voting habits of the inhabitants of the area, and if the appearances influenced it one way or another. This is needed to show whether political candidates chose some constituencies with the intention to get those voters to go to the polls and vote for them, the choice being done strategically or not. As mentioned before, this paper will not attempt to deal with the large issue of political campaigning as a whole. It will examine a particular aspect of it – candidate appearances, whether it is rallies (events where candidates meet with their constituents), or meetings with the media in a certain constituency. The latter aspect of campaigning is a practice commonly used in Romanian elections, where candidates meet with the local media and thus get free advertising in the local media as well as coverage at the national level. Yet it is unclear if this aspect is at the back of the minds of the candidates when doing it.

Theoretical Background for Romania

In post-Revolution Romania, too often party members change their affiliation; floating from one party to another, only to adapt to the fact that their former party lost elections or simply because the party no longer meets their needs and political aspirations. Each election, the electorate is faced with incumbents or new candidates who have both tailored their political rhetoric to the current political persuasion of those who have nominated them so that they can secure elections without having a clear and strong ideology. Consequently, politicians are transformed into clients of the parties or party officials and vertical accountability in office is void of its initial meaning (Pippidi, 2004)[3].

This system has been maintained in place by a dual executive that doesn’t share power but functions on a servitude basis and on the basis of repetition – a bicameral legislative framework, where the two chambers are equal, elected in the same way, with almost identical functions and where “both deputies and senators … cannot be bound by instructions of their constituencies” (Ludwikowski, 1996, pp. 129).

All these have been a staple of the post-communist elections in Romania and have eroded the quality of the democratic process. As a consequence, both presidential and parliamentary elections are heavily dominated by populist discourses. In 2009, the main parties having candidates running for the presidential office were the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Democratic-Liberal Party (PD-L), and the National Liberal Party (PNL). The first one, the Social Democratic Party (PSD), is considered to be the heir of the former Communist Party following the revolution of 1989, and as such maintained itself as the largest and best institutionalized one (Curt, 2007). However, the alleged failures of the 1992-6 and 2000-4 governments placed it on the second position in the preferences of the people.

For the purpose of this study, I have chosen to exclude from the analysis candidates of other parties or independent candidates that also ran for the presidential office. That is based on the assumption that their importance in the preferences of the majority of the electorate was secondary compared to the candidates of the three parties mentioned above.

DATA DESCRIPTION AND ANALYSIS

This section of the paper focuses on the collected data, more precisely the sources of the data, the method of collection, as well as how it was used further in the analysis.

Data

Given that before I have mentioned the tendency of the Romanian voter to base political decisions on the state of the economy and on feelings (the persuasiveness of the candidate playing a key role here), it will facilitate the understanding of the analysis to point out that voters also tend to be influenced by other factors (since they don’t appear to vote by making evaluations, appraisals or weighting their decision). This is why the speeches of the candidates during their campaign appearances in the thirty towns used in the analysis were centred on aspects such as the economy and the recent economic crisis, family values, wages and the incompetence of the other candidate versus their own competence superiority. By choosing these facts to centre the speeches on, they tackled some of the key aspects that influence the Romanian electorate: the socio-economic background, their social environment, self-interest, the charisma of the candidate, and the fear of change that the elections will bring changes in government that will prove to the detriment of the country.

The socio-economic background is important for both the Romanian voter and the candidates since it is a well known fact that most of the Romanian middle class families tend to vote for coalitions or for democrat-liberals, as these give them the confidence that their income will stay at the same level; while the working class families, for example tend to vote for socialists or social-democrats.

The social environment also is a crucial factor, since family values are still of paramount importance in Romania. Individuals therefore, tend to vote in high percentages, the same way their parents vote (Hatemi et al., have already shown that parents have a major role in determining the initial political direction of their children especially if the children still live at home which is the case for most Romanians, thus the previous inference gets higher support.)

Individuals also tend to focus on only one or two key policy areas (issue publics – as they tend to acquire information about candidates and elections based on their interest in particular issues) and inquire only about issues they are primarily affected by or interested in (Young Mie Kim, 2009). Therefore, candidates tailor their speeches based on the issue that is more pressing for the electorate they visit. Seeing things in this light, Feddersen and Pesendorfer (1997) argue that though individuals focus on one or two policy areas makes the electorate as a whole better informed collectively about what the alternatives and best outcomes are, for this particular case, at an individual level, the choice might still not be the best one.

On the other hand, yet still highly related to the previous statement, it is not clear if self-interest is necessarily what guides the Romanian voter. On these lines, Sears et al. (1979) highlight that self-interest guides the vote choice together with rational choice and that it is defined as minimizing losses for private well-being. But for Romania in 2009, the former correlation, that self-interest in terms of voting goes hand in hand with rational choice, is not necessarily always the case. What is more important is the security of the job, maintaining lower taxes, the ability to pay-off debts or receiving credits to pay-off debts, free medical care, a welfare state on the lines of the socialist credence. Subsequently, as long as a candidate promises the electorate the fulfilment of these, and appears credible (and here the charisma of the key party leader plays a very important role) in his promises, rational choice reasoning for casting a vote is rarely used. Lastly, I would also argue that, at least for Romania, candidates, but especially incumbents, use fear of change to influence voters and to move them to polls. Here fear of change is understood in the sense of apprehension towards everything and anything that is new, that might change the previous order, the previous system and its institutions, that might demand for different behaviour.

Having all of the above in mind, and going back to the purpose of the paper, to conclude, the main issue this paper looked at was if by making campaign appearances in different constituencies, and using the abovementioned influencing factors, the candidates for presidency persuaded voters and managed to get them to cast a favourable vote; that is to say, if the campaign appearance of a candidate in a particular co


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