We the People 5th editionby Benjamin Ginsberg, Theodore J. Lowi and Margaret Weir Chapter 10. Campaigns and Elections
Elections in America Types of Elections American politics makes frequent use of elections to: • Select representatives • Nominate party candidates • Make policy directly
Midterm Elections In the United States, elections coinciding with Presidential elections are held every four years. Midterm elections, for example, are congressional and gubernatorial elections held in the even-numbered years that do not coincide with presidential elections.
Primary Elections are elections used by political parties to select their candidates for general elections; these can be either open or closed. Open primary defined: a primary in which the voter can wait until the day of the primary to choose which party to enroll in to select candidates for the general election. Primary Elections Closed primary defined: a primary in which voters can participate in the selection of candidates for a party to which they belong prior to election day.
Twenty-four states have provisions that allow for citizens to vote directly, by referendum, on proposed laws or other government actions. Eighteen states have provisions for recall elections that allow voters to remove governors and other state officials prior to the end of their term. Referendum
The means by which elections are conducted, votes are counted, and winners are determined play key roles in elections. In majority systems, candidates must receive a majority (50 percent plus one) of the votes in a district in order to win a seat. In plurality systems, like most elections in the United States, candidates need only receive the most votes in an election, regardless of whether it constitutes a majority. The Criteria for Winning
Proportional Representation Some electoral systems are proportional representation systems in which multiple seats are awarded for a particular geographic area, and each party receives a percentage of those seats proportional to the percentage of votes it received.
Majority and Plurality Majority and plurality electoral systems tend to reduce the number of political parties in a political system. Proportional representation electoral systems tend to increase the number of competitive political parties.
Districting and Re-districting Majority and plurality electoral systems tend to accentuate the importance of geographic district boundaries. Redistricting refers to the process of drawing election districts. When redistricting is viewed as an unfair process designed to give an unfair advantage to a particular group, candidate, or party, this is often called gerrymandering.
The Ballot The very structure of an election ballot can have profound effects on electoral outcomes. First, flawed balloting systems or variations from one voting district to the next can advantage some voters over others.
Straight Party Ticket Second, in the 19th century, many Americans voted by a party ballot that meant that they had to vote a straight party ticket. Ballot reforms at the end of the 19th century, made it possible for voters to split their ticket and vote for different party candidates for different offices.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? • Do you think that the use of referenda and recall are good for policy-making and the political system or might they make the system too democratic? • Do plurality electoral systems generally care too much about “lines on a map” and too little about voter sentiment? • In recent years, critics charge that redistricting has become too partisan and political. Is there a better way to draw election districts?
Election Campaigns Election campaigns are efforts by political candidates and their staffs to win the backing of donors, political activists, and voters. These elaborate organizations rely on a complex of pollsters, consultants, political professionals, party activists and volunteers to achieve the goal of winning political office.
Presidential Elections After the 1830s, parties used national nominating conventions to select their presidential candidates. These party meetings played key roles in brokering intra-party deals and selecting the candidates themselves.
Party Conventions Since the mid-20th century, party conventions tend more to ratify decisions that have already been made by party voters in caucuses and primaries. This has left some to question whether party conventions are all that important in contemporary politics.
Electoral College Of course, an important election rule in American politics is the use of the electoral college in which presidents are selected by electors from each state. Because, to win, presidents must win a majority of the electoral college, presidential candidates often focus more on key states rather than on winning majority or plurality popular support.
How Voters Decide In making their decisions, voters balance a mix of cues and information including: • partisan loyalty • issues • candidate characteristics
Money and Politics As contemporary election campaigns have come to rely more on media, polls, and other “capital intensive” means of reaching voters, candidates and their campaigns increasingly rely on donors.
Donors & PACs Individual donors largely contribute based on issues and ideology, whereas professional givers like political action committees often donate money to campaigns to advance their cause and gain access to political officeholders.
In recent years, campaign finance reforms have sought to reduce the impact of money and fundraising on political campaigns. For example, the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) sought to reduce the amount of soft money contributions to political parties. Soft Money
527 Committees Still, critics charge that BCRA led to an increase in the influence of independent 527 Committees that funnel large amounts of money into elections through issue advocacy ads but are less accountable than political parties.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? • Do you think it is best to vote for the party, based on the issues, or for particular candidates? Why? • Do you think the electoral college should be abolished in favor of direct popular election of the president? How might this affect presidential campaigns? • Is there too much money in elections? Is there a way to reduce the impact of large donors without trampling on their free speech rights?
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